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Literature / The Lincoln Lawyer

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The Lincoln Lawyer is a 2005 Law Procedural novel by Michael Connelly, the first in a series featuring Mickey Haller.

Mickey Haller is a comfortably Amoral Attorney, gladly defending his lawless clientele even when he knows they're guilty. He is also extremely competent, and his services command substantial fees. His trademark: the Lincoln he rides around in so that he can work while moving between Los Angeles County's many courthouses. His willingness to defend known criminals has given him a reputation, and that reputation is about to get him tangled up in some serious trouble...

Enter Louis Roulet, a rich trust fund kid accused of attempting to rape and murder a young woman he met at a bar. With his wealthy parents' money, Roulet retains Haller as a lawyer. Roulet insists that he is absolutely innocent, but the young lady tells a different story. Within a few days revelations from both sides of the case send things spiraling out of control, and Mickey Haller finds himself and his loved ones in serious danger but struggling to defend them due to the machinations of a dangerous psychopath. But perhaps the would-be mastermind has underestimated the cunning of the Lincoln Lawyer...

In 2011 The Lincoln Lawyer was adapted as a film directed by Brad Furman, starring Matthew McConaughey as Haller, with Marisa Tomei as Haller's ex-wife Maggie McPherson, Ryan Phillippe as Louis Roulet, William H. Macy as Frank Levin, Bryan Cranston as Detective Lankford, John Leguizamo as Val Valenzuela, Katherine Moennig as Gloria, Shea Whigham as prison snitch DJ Corliss, and Bob Gunton as Cecil Dobbs.

The Netflix series The Lincoln Lawyer is actually not an adaptation of this novel, but of the next novel in the Mickey Haller series, The Brass Verdict.

The Lincoln Lawyer provides examples of:

  • Abusive Offspring: It's not clarified if he actually did, but Louis Roulet is revealed to be the rapist who attacked his own mother—though it's left ambiguous if she was ever a victim.
  • Acquitted Too Late: Mickey's client Jesus Menendez/Martinez spends several years in San Quentin for a murder he didn't commit. In the book he's HIV+ due to Prison Rape.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Jesus Menendez becomes Jesus Martinez in the film.
  • All Bikers are Hells Angels: Some of Haller's repeat customers are the members of a motorcycle gang that makes its money running drugs.
  • Alliterative Title: The two most important words in the title both start with with L, although the word "the" does not.
  • Amicably Divorced: Haller and Maggie, who is a prosecutor for the DA's office. Also, Haller and his second ex-wife, who works as his secretary.
  • Amoral Attorney: An interesting exploration of the concept. Defense attorney Mickey Haller is seen by prosecutors (including Maggie) as one. Haller points out that all too often, the prosecution tries to pin unsolved crimes on defendants and pull other questionable legal maneuvers. The prosecutor who took over Roulet's case after Maggie left to avoid conflict of interest provided an example. Mickey himself makes his living using whatever technicalities or loopholes he can find to help his clients, who are usually guilty as sin. However, Mickey is horrified to learn that Menendez/Martinez, a prior client he advised to plead guilty to the rape and murder of a prostitute was actually innocent, and that his current client Roulet was the real killer. True to his professional obligations, Mickey defends Roulet to the point that the DA drops charges with prejudice, then promptly burns him for the greater charge of murder to get Menendez exonerated.
  • And This Is for...: After Mickey exposes Louis Roulet as the real culprit of a murder another client of his was wrongfully convicted for, he told Louis it was for Raul Levin, an investigator killed while looking for evidence.
  • Anti-Hero: Haller is an Amoral Attorney but he's also a good father, a good boss and he will burn you if cross a line.
  • Artistic License – Law: A Downplayed example, since Haller is in a pretty unusual situation and might not have thought of this—not to mention his primary concern is not simply his job but the physical safety of his family—but the "attorney-client privilege" aspect that Roulet is counting on doesn't necessarily apply to this case, since a) Haller is free to report to the police that his client broke into his home and threatened his family, which would put Roulet in jail by itself, b) California lawyers are legally required to disclose information that might result in the "grevious bodily harm" of a third party, which would apply to Martinez who is wrongfully imprisoned and in fear of his life inside (in fact in the novel he has even contracted HIV from prison rape), and c) in any event he is free to simply talk to the judge in private, let him know in sufficiently vague terms that he has found himself in a compromising situation, and try and work something out without breaching his legal ethics.
  • The Atoner: Mickey Haller becomes driven to make amends after he finds out he once strong-armed an innocent client into pleading guilty.
  • Batman Gambit: Haller knew that the DA would be so eager to pounce on DJ Corliss, that he wouldn't look into his past and learn about his history of being a jailhouse snitch and his record of lying. Not only did this put the final nail in Roulet's case, but it caused the DA's office to take another look at the Menendez case. Which is what Haller wanted all along.
  • Battle in the Rain: It is pouring rain outside when Mickey opens his door to see Marie Windsor, who is soaked, pointing a gun at him. She then shoots him.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In the book. Menendez is freed and Roulet goes down for the rape and murder that Menendez was convicted of, but Mickey is penalized with temporary disbarment for breach of professional ethics and gets sued for malpractice by Menendez. The "but" is left out of the movie.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Haller might be an Amoral Attorney who knowingly defends guilty clients, but he's up against much worse.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Early on, Roulet mentions that the only criminal records against him are parking tickets. It turns out a certain parking ticket he received links him to the murder of the hooker Roulet killed and pinned on Menendez.
    • A literal gun in the case of the one Haller gets from his driver (at his request). It looks like he's going to use it on Roulet, but he only uses it to ward Roulet off until the bikers arrive. He actually uses it on Mrs. Roulet, who shot him after confessing that she killed Levin.
  • Continuity Nod: The entire book, really. Harry Bosch's father is revealed in the second Bosch novel, The Black Ice, as lawyer Michael Haller Sr. Then there's a random reference to Michael Haller Jr. in Blood Work when Terry McCaleb, in some pretty deep trouble, sees a Haller ad and thinks about hiring him. Finally in this novel Connelly gives Mickey Haller his own story, and in fact his own series.
  • Distant Finale: The last chapter of the book skips forward five months, as Mickey Haller updates the reader on Roulet trying to avoid the death penalty and Jesus Menendez suing him.
  • Dying Clue: Raul Levin is found making the "devil" sign with his left hand (index and pinky fingers extended, ring and middle fingers curled up). Mickey knows what it means—they had referred to Louis Roulet as a devil. However, when he finds out who really killed Raul, Mickey wonders if Raul was actually trying to make an M or a W for "Marie Windsor".
  • Evil Gloating: Mickey had already figured things out, but Roulet makes a point of telling Mickey literally two minutes before the start of the trial that he, Roulet, has killed people. Including the victim in the Jesus Menendez case.
  • Evil Lawyer Joke: "You know the difference between a catfish and a lawyer?....One's a bottom-feeding, shit-eating scum-sucker. The other's a fish."
  • Foreshadowing: There's a lot of talk about Jesus Menendez in the early part of the book, but the foreshadowing is really strong when Levin notes that the Campo-Roulet case is a lot like the Menendez case, except for the DNA Menendez left at the scene.
  • For the Evulz: Why Roulet picked a low-rent attorney like Haller, when he had the resources to hire a bigger name. He knew Haller had represented a man he'd framed for an earlier murder, knew Haller would figure it out, and knew Haller couldn't do a damn thing about it without sacrificing his career. Or so he thought.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The ending has Haller mentioning that he is taking "a vacation to CUBA"—namely, a 90-day suspension due to Conduct Unbecoming an Attorney.
  • Good Parents: Haller and Maggie are loving parents to their daughter Hayley.
  • GPS Evidence:
    • The parking tickets that Roulet accumulated were able to show where he was on the night of the murders he's indicted for.
    • Then there's the matter of the tracking anklet that Roulet has to wear while he's on bail. Haller can't figure out how Roulet killed Raul Levin while the anklet shows that he was not at the scene. The answer? Roulet didn't kill Levin, his mother did.
  • Guile Hero: Haller excels at setting up situations in advance to benefit himself.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Gloria, who has a friendly relationship with Haller, her lawyer, and helps Haller find out about DJ Corliss.
  • I Always Wanted to Say That: In the novel, Detective Lankford is warning Haller.
    “So get out there and enjoy yourself while you can. But don’t leave town.”
    He laughed, almost giddy with himself.
    “Man, I thought they only said that in movies. But there, I just said it! I wish my partner had been here."
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Louis is getting arrested again when C.C. Dobbs angrily protests, saying that everything Corliss said about the Martha Renteria murder was a lie. Kerlen's Armor-Piercing Question response is, "How'd you know it was Martha Renteria?", since neither Corliss nor Kerlen had mentioned the victim's name.
  • It Was a Gift: Haller's rare model of gun, which was handed down to him by his attorney father, who received it from gangster Mickey Cohen decades ago. This becomes very relevant when it turns out the the LAPD still has the ballistics done on Cohen's gun way back in the day, which means they may still be able to tie Mickey to Raul Levin's murder even if they never actually get the gun.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Haller may be a sleazy lawyer but he is also a caring friend, loving father and generous boss. He is clearly appalled at Louis' viciousness.
  • Justice by Other Legal Means: As Roulet gleefully reminds Haller, he cannot reveal Roulet's crimes due to attorney-client privilege. Haller contemplates doing so anyway and just accepting being disbarred. But instead he cooks up a scheme where Gloria Dayton approaches DJ Corliss and prompts him to snitch, in open court, about Roulet's other crime, the murder of Martha Renteria. He even uses a fake subpoena to make sure that the lead detective on the Renteria case is in court when Corliss delivers his testimony. It works, as the state drops the charges in the Campo assault only for Roulet to be immediately rested for the Renteria murder.
  • The Killer Was Left-Handed: One plot point revolves around the injuries to Reggie Campo—all on the right side of her face. That implies a left-handed attacker; Roulet is right-handed but Campo's customer from earlier in the evening is a lefty. It's eventually revealed that Louis punched Campo with his left hand on purpose as part of a frame-up.
  • Kirk's Rock: Haller gets a payment from the Road Saints at the "jagged formation" called Vazquez Rocks. He sees some hikers eating sandwiches on a precipice and thinks that it's a bad place to have lunch.
  • Knight Templar Parent: Mrs. Windsor goes as far as murdering lawyers to prevent her son, Roulet, from paying for his sadistic hobby.
  • Land Poor: In the book, it's revealed that Mickey Haller bought his home ignoring maintenance costs. He believes bail bondsman Fernando Valenzuela wouldn't accept it as collateral for a five-thousand-dollar debt.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Just to be a dick, Det. Lankford keeps pronouncing Raul Levin's last name as "Levine" even after he's corrected.
  • Meaningful Name: Haller's client has the surname Roulet, "like a roulette wheel" according to Haller's friend. Roulet's mother, a rich and overbearing woman, remarried and is now Mrs. Windsor.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: A prostitute was raped and killed and a client she had recently met was wrongly arrested for that.
  • Mythology Gag: Mickey thinks about how his father had a soft spot for "women of the night" in that he often defended them for free. Readers of the Harry Bosch series know that Michael Haller Sr. fathered Harry through an assignation with Harry's mother, a prostitute that Haller Sr. often represented in court.
  • Naughty by Night: Roulet, such a nice boy, playing golf during daylight, killing prostitutes at night.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Haller is a great boss and friend to his driver Earl, even keeping him on long after he no longer needs him.
  • Off on a Technicality: Some of Haller's clients benefit of his legalese in the following manner. One such case is an officer in a motorcycle gang busted for growing pot. Mickey gets the charge thrown out on account of the flyover to confirm the pot having been at a low enough altitude to be considered unreasonable search and seizure.
  • On the Rebound: It's revealed in the book that Mickey's second failed marriage started fresh of the first failure.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain:
    • An early hint to Louis's true nature is his grievous lack of tact. He says, "I woke up with two faggots on top of me", refusing to tone down his language for the court.
    • He's not nearly as bad a villain, but Lankford the asshole cop wonders if Levin's murder could be "a gay thing", and he makes some ugly remarks about homosexuals.
  • Real Person Cameo: Roger Mills and Dan Daly, two Real Life lawyers who help Michael Connelly with his research, appear as minor characters.
  • Reminiscing About Your Victims: Kinda lampshade-hung, when Haller sets Roulet up by making Corliss swear they talked about his killings, with details, though it never happened.
  • Sequel Hook: The last paragraph of the novel has Haller thinking about how soon, once he's done healing up from his gunshot, he'll be back in a courtroom. Five more Mickey Haller novels have followed.
  • Serial Killer: Louis Roulet likes killing and raping prostitutes because he knows he'll get away with it even if he's taken to court over it.
  • Shame If Something Happened: Roulet makes a veiled threat to Haller about Haller's daughter Hayley. Haller calls on his Road Saints motorcycle gang clients to protect Hayley and Maggie.
  • Shout-Out: Louis Roulet watched The Conversation on DVD.
  • Shown Their Work: Mickey describes going to the Dodgers' home opener and watching them fall behind the Giants 5-0 in the first inning, before he gets the call about Levin. That was a real game.
  • Sinister Switchblade: Roulet's knife with a "five-inch retractable blade", found at the scene. Besides being sinister it's an important plot point, because it has Louis's initials on it.
  • Spin-Off: From the Harry Bosch series. It follows Bosch's paternal half-brother.
  • Spiteful Spit: After Jesus Menendez makes the ID on Louis Roulet's photo, Haller puts his palm up against the glass in a gesture of solidarity. Menendez spits at the glass.
  • Straight Gay: Levin is gay but this doesn't show in his behavior. He basically just doesn't like it when people like him are called "faggots".
  • Stupid Evil / Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Roulet choosing Haller was really just a sadistic ploy on his part, since had he chosen any other lawyer not only could he have been given as good or better representation, but no lawyer but Haller was likely to have even made the connection between the two crimes in the first place. It could also be a case of Evil Cannot Comprehend Good—Roulet may think that Haller will fight extra-hard for him with his career on the line, not realizing that he'll just try extra-hard to find a way to screw Roulet over and make sure he is sent to jail. Ultimately Roulet seems simply to think that in choosing Haller he is being diabolically clever and showing that he, a rich kid with no career or real qualifications to speak of, is smarter than a lower-middle class professional lawyer (especially if Haller didn't make the connection), not to mention he probably just wanted someone to brag his crimes to safely.
  • These Hands Have Killed: Haller feels guilt about killing Marie Windsor even if it was in self-defense.
    "I'm a killer now."
  • This Is Reality: After Minton the inexperienced prosecutor objects that Haller is "badgering the witness", Haller in his narration sneers that, "It must have been something that he had seen in a TV or a movie."
  • Vanity License Plate: Haller's plate: IWALKEM in the book, NTGUILTY in the movie.
  • Work Off the Debt: Half of Haller's driver's wages are to pay for his fees.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Roulet shows no problems with making threats against a ten-year-old.

Tropes unique to the 2011 film:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The Film of the Book leaves out the downside of the novel's Bittersweet Ending. In the book, while Mickey gets Martinez exonerated, he ends up disbarred for several months for breach of professional ethics and is sued for malpractice by Martinez for originally convincing him to plead guilty. Additionally, Martinez is now HIV-positive due to Prison Rape.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Investigator Raul Levin becomes Frank Levin, judge Connie Fullbright becomes Jameson Fullbright, and Jesus Menendez becomes Jesus Martinez.
  • The Alleged Car: Haller's Lincoln in the book was an up-to-date model that he replaced every three years. In the movie it was a 1980's model that would be an overheating, unreliable beast under the kind of use he puts it through.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Pissing off your lawyer is always a bad idea, but going up against a lawyer who deals with dirty-tricks, cops AND criminals for a living, while you're just a pampered rich boy who gets away with your crimes because all your victims are sex workers and other low-status individuals? Not smart. After Haller has thoroughly outwitted Roulet in the courtroom by pinning a murder on him, Roulet decides to go for round two and try to kill Haller. Haller is waiting for him with a gun and some of his other clients... a motorcycle gang.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Roulet vs. the aforementioned biker gang. It is glorious to behold.
    Haller: Hospital, not the morgue.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: As an example that prosecutors can be as amoral as he is, Mickey mentions a case where he represented a man who killed his ex-wife and kept her head in a fridge. The prosecutor could've easily won that case but instead tried to pin two unsolved murders on the defendant, allowing the murderer to get Off on a Technicality.
  • The Film of the Book: Overall a pretty faithful adaptation, with the main change being a scene of the Road Saints motorcycle gang beating up Louis Roulet, which does not happen in the novel.
  • Gender Flip: Judge Fullbright is a woman in the book and a man in the film.
  • Kick the Dog: The cops mention that whoever killed Frank Levin also killed his dog. (The book specifies that Levin's murder was discovered when a neighbor saw his very-much-alive dog on the loose.)
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Minton, the prosecutor for the Roulet case, has this look when Roulet reveals his reasons for always carrying the weapon with which he was accused of assaulting the victim, thus blowing a huge hole in Minton's case.
    • A big shock happens when Roulet's mother tells him that she was found raped by her son. Josh Lucas is handling it.
  • Papa Wolf: There's a scene where Haller stakes out in front of Maggie's house to protect his daughter from someone who declared himself to be a threat.
  • Race Lift: In the book, Haller was half-Mexican. Here, he's portrayed by a white actor.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Roulet, upon seeing an entire biker gang busting up his car, walks up to them and demands to know what the hell they think they're doing. They then proceed to brutally show him exactly what the hell they think they're doing. It's very plain that if Haller had not been there to keep them on a leash, Roulet would have been sent to the morgue and not the hospital.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Most of the trailers make no effort to hide that Roulet is very guilty of what he's being accused of; those that don't show it outright heavily imply it.
  • Walk and Talk: The early scene where Valenzuela the bail bondsman tells Haller about Louis Roulet is delivered via an Epic Tracking Shot that follows the two as they walk and talk through the winding corridors of the court building.