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Rudy Baylor is an idealistic, up-and-coming law student in Memphis set to graduate and take the bar exam in a few months. He has a few creditors growing more impatient, but he will graduate in the top third of his class, has a job lined up at a respectable firm as soon as he graduates, and he's ready to change the world.
When the firm is bought out by a competitor, all the associates are fired and Rudy's job prospects dry up. Rudy grows more and more desperate, and soon he's evicted from his apartment, filing for bankruptcy and calling in favors to get employment and a place to sleep. Faced with the gritty reality of practicing law in a town overcrowded with attorneys, he's soon left with nothing but a single case - a bad-faith lawsuit against a health insurance company. Unfortunately, the case is defended by a team of high-powered, high-paid lawyers and tried by an unsympathetic judge.
The story follows Rudy as he deals with the transition from studying law to practicing law, his battle with the insurance company, and various subplots with his landlady and a battered wife he meets while ambulance-chasing in the hospital
Not to be confused with the play of the same name.
- Ambulance Chaser: Rudy's partner Deck Shifflet qualifies except for one thing: he hasn't managed to pass the bar exam. Rudy dislikes the practice, but is forced to do it just to make ends meet when he hits rock bottom.
- Amoral Attorney: On both sides. Rudy discovers that Tinley Britt (the opposing law firm) has tapped his phones. He realizes that he'll never prove it was them, so he takes a different strategy. He leaves the taps in place, and feeds them false information, making them look like fools in the courtroom. Rudy, however, never actually breaks any part of the code of ethics. He does, however, come very close, which contributes to him giving up his license at the end.
- Not only do they look like fools, but the key point was that Rudy got Drummond to fight with a potential juror he thought would be sympathetic to the defense, and get him thrown out, thus rigging the jury in rudy's favor
- Army of Lawyers: Rudy Baylor has an Oh Crap moment when he meets the opposing legal team.
Rudy: I do believe that centuries of cumulative legal experience are seated at this table, all in opposition to me.
- A subtle yet deadly approach to this trope, as (in the movie) he's talking about eight Evil Old Folks - as in eight senior citizens who have been getting Mega Corps Off on a Technicality since they were his age. In the book, Leo's team is a bunch of younger associates he uses to bury Rudy in reams of paperwork.
- Batman Gambit: Rudy pulls off an impressive one that only works because he knows Tinley Britt has tapped his phones. It gets him exactly the jury he wanted, and kills any sympathy they might have had with his opponent. See Amoral Attorney.
- Broken Bird: Rudy first meets Kelly in the hospital with a shattered ankle, the aftermath of her husband's latest temper tantrum.
- Chew Toy: Leo Drummond, lead counsel for the defense. His client withholds documents and information from him repeatedly, making him look like an idiot, and Judge Kipler is constantly humiliating him. Even Rudy feels sorry for him occasionally.
- Deus Ex Machina: The corrupt judge in cahoots with Drummond dying and getting replaced by one sympathetic to Rudy comes across as this.
- To be fair, it was foreshadowed that he had a heart condition, so it wasn't a total example.
- Domestic Abuser: Kelly's husband.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Tinley Britt's tapping of Rudy's phones backfires on them in a big way.
- Hollywood Law: Notably averted as with most of John Grisham's work, the author being a former attorney.
- Jerk Jock: Kelly's husband
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: Drummond is smug and unethical, and he represents a very shady company, but Judge Kipler can be downright mean to him.
- Oh Crap: The defense's reaction when Rudy informs them that his client will not settle for any amount, because she doesn't care about the money and just wants to expose them.
- Protagonist-Centered Morality: Rudy pulls some very underhanded, if not downright illegal, tricks during the trial, but he's the P.O.V. character and we're meant to sympathize him because he's suing a company that's even worse, and doing it to get justice for his client rather than for the fee.
- It helps that the defense is even worse (see Amoral Attorney), and while Rudy doesn't actually do anything illegal himself, rather just taking advantage of his opponent's illegal actions when he finds out about them, he recognizes how close to crossing the line he came, and quits the law before he does something as bad as Leo Drummond.
- Shown Their Work: A lot of detail is given about the down-and-dirty of litigation. Grisham knows his stuff.
- Smug Snake: Drummond at first. He is knocked down several pegs throughout the course of the trial.
- The Film of the Book: Notable in that Rudy's job is actually much, much harder in the movie than it is in the book. He forgets basic trial procedure (leading the witness, asking to approach the witness, etc), and at one point, his key piece of evidence, the infamous Section U, is rendered inadmissable due to being stolen, requiring him to consult Bruiser Stone to get it readmitted (he likely would have lost the case otherwise).
- Wife-Basher Basher: Rudy gets a very cathartic scene where he beats Kelly's abusive husband to death with his own softball bat (in the movie, Kelly finishes him off).