Why does Jake choose to take up and continue the defense of Carl Lee?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Jake Brigance certainly does not take up Carl Lee's case for the money. Carl Lee is a poor man and does not have the money that most of Jake's other clients usually have. Rather, Jake is compelled to take up the case because he can empathize with Carl. At home, Jake describes to his wife the feeling that he has when he imagines what happened to Tanya, Carl Lee's daughter, as if it were his own daughter, Hannah. He knows that he would have (or at least would have wanted to have) taken justice into his own hands as well if it were his daughter who was raped. It is this sense of empathy that ultimately convinces Jake to take up Carl Lee's defense in spite of the many threats he is receiving from the KKK. It is this appeal to empathy in his closing statements that eventually helps convince the jury to acquit Carl Lee.

It also helps that this is a high-profile case. In addition to feelings of doing the right thing, Jake relishes the attention that he receives from this case. Author John Grisham often created lawyers who chase the spotlight, and Jake is no different. Jake sees this case as a way to propel his career. He knows that if he can win a tough case like this one, he will be considered one of the greatest attorneys in Mississippi.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In some ways, one can say that Jake feels partially responsible for what has happened. When Carl came to see him, he came right out and asked him what he would do if his little girl was raped. Jake frankly tells him that he would kill the rapist. Having done so, Jake has a moral responsibility to defend Carl for doing something he himself would do. Indeed, one might say that Carl interprets Jake's remarks—however wrongly—as a tacit approval of what he is already planning to do.

Moreover, Jake fancies himself as a hotshot lawyer. The Carl Lee case is the biggest thing to happen to Clanton for many years. The whole town can talk of nothing else, and the previously quiet, sleepy Southern backwater becomes the center of worldwide media attention. This is a great opportunity for Jake to grab some of the limelight and make his mark as an attorney. He will not just be a local celebrity after this, he will gain a national reputation for his legal defense skills, and that is an opportunity that is just way too good to miss.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is a great question. There are several reasons why Jake takes up the case and decides to defend Carl Lee.

First, we must admit that Jake is not doing it all for the sake of altruistic motives. For example, Jake knows that if he wins this case, he would win great renown and that he would be considered one of the great lawyers in Mississippi. This is an important motivation and his showmanship in the novel points to this motivation at times.

Second, Jake sees the injustices; he see the evils of the KKK and the oppression of the the black community. As a lawyer, he also wants to do the right thing. In this case, it is to defend Carl Lee.

Finally, he feels empathy. Part of the reason for this is on account of the fact that he has a daughter as well.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team