11/27/2013 01:27 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Arnie Becker, Meet Atticus Finch

Back in 1989, applications to our nation's law schools reached a record high. The reason? An NBC show airing on Thursday nights called "L.A. Law" was on top of the entertainment TV ratings. A New York Times article the following year noted that the show had "come to shape public perceptions about lawyers and the legal system." Students wanted to become lawyers like the ones on "L.A. Law." Heck, real lawyers wanted to become lawyers like the ones on "L.A. Law."

Some law school deans and legal scholars were mortified. Popular culture influencing people's desire to attend law school? I don't think so!

I think so. It happened before, for generations of law students. And, thank goodness, it will happen for generations to come.


Ask any lawyer that ever read "To Kill a Mockingbird" if the book influenced their decision to attend law school. More than likely, they will think about it for a few moments, smile with pride and say yes.

Published more than half a century ago, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is one of nearly 100 titles of fiction, nonfiction, plays and poetry (with more being added via suggestions from the public) included on "Books that Shaped Work in America" - a centennial project of the U.S. Department of Labor.

The book was added to the list by U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, a civil rights lawyer himself. He notes that legal luminaries including Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center, author Scott Turow and federal judge Richard Matsch have all stated the book influenced their law careers.

I know another lawyer who tells the same story. Terri Deleon has worked at the U.S. Department of Labor for more years than she cares to admit. She read the book as a girl, and it not only inspired her to enter the legal field, but also informed her decisions about the courses she would take at the University of Detroit School of Law and the type of law she would practice. She's dedicated her entire career to civil rights and public service. Her love of the book even extended beyond her professional life and into her personal life. As a young working mother, when her daughter was 1 year old, Deleon named the family dog Atticus as a tribute to Atticus Finch, the legal hero of "To Kill A Mockingbird."

Dozens of other attorneys here at the Labor Department have shared similar experiences.

Books play an extraordinary role in shaping not only our own view of careers and occupations, but also our collective notion of work, workers and workplaces. What titles would you add to the list?

Carl Fillichio heads the Labor Department's Office of Public Affairs and serves as the chair of the department's centennial. Learn more about the department's 100 years of service by viewing an interactive timeline and watching a special centennial video.