Lawyers in Literature and Film; Jake Brigance



A post by the Office Ninja; all views expressed are entirely her own and not that of the firm.

This one covers both literature and film.

When John Grisham published his first book, A Time to Kill, in 1988 he was working 60 or 70 hour weeks as a criminal and personal injury lawyer in Mississippi. He was inspired to write his first book after witnessing the testimony of a twelve-year old rape victim and wondering what would have happened if her father had set out to murder her attackers in revenge. He wrote before work and during lunchtimes and, after several rejections, A Time to Kill was published in the USA in 1988 and in the UK a year later. His second book, The Firm, set him on the path to global stardom, being made into a film with Tom Cruise. I'm doing Mitchell McDeere in a future post, but today is about the young protagonist in A Time to Kill.


Jake Brigance is a 32 year old lawyer, happily married with a 4 year old daughter and a beautiful old house he is fixing up. At the start of the story he is a real, down to earth character, a lawyer who mixes with the ordinary folk, rather than seeking out and sticking with high-falutin' professionals. I think there's a lot of John Grisham in him, since this character, the accessible and human lawyer who has great sympathy with his fellow man, surfaces again and again and again.

When the young black girl is raped by white supremacists and her father seeks out Jake to ask if there would be any chance of the men getting off due to the area they live in, Jake knows his first duty is to warn the father, Carl Lee, not to do anything stupid, although his own, instinctive response would be to go after them himself. When Carl Lee does shoot them outside the court house, Jake knows he has to represent him.

Jake faces setback after setback, with warnings and towns people refusing to talk to him, attacks on his car and dog and the burning down of his home. His family have to move out, and he has to work on through all the pressure.

I won't spoil the story by giving out the ending. The book is really good, and one I like to listen to on Audible over and over. The film, made in 1996 and directed by Joel Schumacher, is an enjoyable watch. Starring Samuel L Jackson as Carl Lee and Matthew McConaughey as Jake, it shows the tensions and plot twists well. I expect you can guess the ending anyway.

Jake makes an interesting hero for a lawyer because he is so patently not the city slicker, sharp suited lawyer type, not out to make money or a name for himself, and not out to be top dog in a large firm. He works with the small people of the town, and is happy to live a small life. His aim is to get by, without making so much that he looks grand and without making so little that he can't survive. He has a great affinity for the other inhabitants of town, and does what he can to help them out. In many ways he is the archetypal small town lawyer that sits at the side of other crime novels while the heroes go about their business, but moved to centre stage and kept as the focus. It's the only Grisham (I think) to have a central character that he re-introduces in a second novel, Sycamore Row, set 3 years later although surprisingly written 25 years later.

Click here to  read Den of Geeks' review of A Time to Kill, the movie. The paperback is available at most bookstores  and a Kindle version is available from Amazon here;

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