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.
Things go downhill from there.
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.
The book contains examples of:
- 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. Rudy never actually signs up a single case.
- There's a moment towards the beginning of the novel where Rudy is all but dragged by Deck to the scene of a horrible riverboat accident that has resulted in the death of several dozen teenagers. With each confirmed death a group of lawyers try to approach the bereaved parents to offer their representation in the sure-to-follow lawsuit. Rudy runs away, disgusted at the profession.
- 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 the opposing counsel 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.note
- 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 partners 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.
- Author Tract: The Rainmaker doesn't have nice things to say about insurance companies. While Grisham does make it clear that the practices of Great Benefit are not common and are clearly wrong from any side of the political spectrum, the characters are not kind with regards to any insurance company.
- Bait the Dog: Leo Drummond at first presents himself as affable and courteous, volunteering to stand for Rudy while he takes his legal oath and appearing to be, at worst, a Punch-Clock Villain. The rest of the film and book then show him to be a Smug Snake and Amoral Attorney of the highest calibre, making it hard for the audience to feel especially sorry for him during his multiple setbacks (see Chew Toy).
- 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.
- Another in the novel. Rudy is questioning Jack Underhall about the signed agreement with Jackie Lemancyzk. When Underhall denies it, Rudy grabs a piece of paper from his briefcase and keeps it just out of Underhall's sight. It's a total bluff, but Underhall is so incredibly nerved out by the ploy that the jury knows he's lying anyway.Rudy: So you never signed a deal with Jackie Lemancyzk?
Jack: No. There is no such agreement.
Narrator: I hold up the paper and the entire courtroom is waiting for a repeat of Section U, for me to pull out the agreement and catch another slimy corporate hack. But I can't. I throw the useless paper onto my desk.
Rudy: No further questions.
- Another in the novel. Rudy is questioning Jack Underhall about the signed agreement with Jackie Lemancyzk. When Underhall denies it, Rudy grabs a piece of paper from his briefcase and keeps it just out of Underhall's sight. It's a total bluff, but Underhall is so incredibly nerved out by the ploy that the jury knows he's lying anyway.
- Bluff the Eavesdropper: Rudy's plan in the Amoral Attorney entry, in which Tinley Britt taps Rudy's phones, so Rudy and Deck have someone impersonate a potential juror, making the opposing counsel look like fools when they try to confront the real juror. Of course, they could have taken this information to the judge and had them disbarred instead.
- 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.
- Even the novel puts the blame on him for the decision, for withholding a settlement offer from Great Benefit and his firm being fired by them.
- Contrived Coincidence:
- Judge Harvey Hale dies just before he can dismiss the case, and he gets replaced by the very sympathetic Judge Tyrone Kipler. This is Lampshaded multiple times.
- The various Great Benefit employees scheduled to be deposed being "laid off," "downsized," or "resigning" just before they had to testify also qualifies. Although this is an in-universe example it's heavily implied that Great Benefit and Tinley Britt were working behind the scenes to stop them from testifying.
- Deus ex Machina: The corrupt judge in cahoots with Drummond dying and getting replaced by one sympathetic to Rudy comes across as this.
- Domestic Abuser: Kelly's husband.
- Evil Lawyer Joke: Lampshaded.Rudy: How do you know when a lawyer is lying? His lips are moving. What's the difference between a hooker and a lawyer? A hooker will stop screwing you after you're dead. Lawyers love lawyer jokes. They're even sort of proud of them. Why do you suppose that is?
- 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).
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Tinley Britt's tapping of Rudy's phones backfires on them in a big way.
- In the Film of the Book, Drummond standing up for Rudy so that he'll be the lawyer for the case, believing they can use his own inexperience against him. That really comes back to bite them in the ass later.
- Hollywood Law: Notably averted as with most of John Grisham's work, the author being a former attorney.
- Jerk Jock: Kelly's husband.
- Jury and Witness Tampering: Rudy's Bluff the Eavesdropper gambit, which is even referred to by Deck when Rudy comes up with it. An exploited trope in that technically speaking Rudy pretending to call a juror is not illegal. It is, however, ethically wrong: the more ethical move would've been to take this information to the judge and get Drummond's firm disbarred. This is part of why Rudy quits the profession at the end of the book.
- 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.
- Last Ditch Move: In the novel. During his summation, Drummond admits that Great Benefit should have paid for the transplant and merely asks the jury not to destroy a company for the actions of a few bad apples who have been fired. It's an incredibly stupid thing for a lawyer to do (admit fault), especially when he knows there will be many more lawsuits in the near future, but it's all he can do to attempt to control the damage because he already knows that they lost the case.
- 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.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: A very long subplot with Rudy joining a respected firm as a paralegal is dropped, as is Donnys twin brother.
- 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 with 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 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.
- Reality Ensues: Rudy wins a massive lawsuit against an insurance company, worth millions of dollars. The company then declares bankruptcy, meaning he and his client get nothing at all.
- Rudy lampshades as well that he had a case with a company that did something so blatantly illegal and immoral. An incredibly sympathetic judge, and such an obviously corrupt opposing counsel. He knew that would never happen again and that hed peaked with his first case, which means his career as a lawyer is over just as it's begun: there's no way he'll ever hit the jackpot that perfectly again, but every client he ever takes will be expecting that magic. The only way left for him to go is down, unless he's willing to become just as slimy and compromised as the lawyers he's grown to hate. So he quits the legal profession instead.
- Rock Bottom: Rudy isn't there at the beginning of the story: he's in debt up to his eyeballs, sure, but he's got a promising job with a firm after he graduates and knows that he'll be able to make ends meet soon. Then the firm is bought out and he's fired before he even starts. Then he gets evicted. Then he declares bankruptcy while basically living in his car. Then the law firm that he desperately tries to get a job with by giving them his two best (and only) clients backstab him and try to steal his clients. Then he gets a job with a law firm that threatens to put him even further in debt. Things are looking up for him at the end of the story, but only slightly.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Played with: at the end of the story, Rudy has won a miracle verdict against the insurance company, though because they declared bankruptcy, he'll never see a dime in fees. Rather than riding his reputation to a successful legal career, he decides he has no interest in practicing the law after seeing the blatant disregard for ethics, along with recognizing that any future client he has will expect the same magic and he'll never be able to deliver without resorting to increasingly underhanded tactics. Instead, he leaves town, heading for the West Coast where he's less likely to be recognized, maybe to teach the law. We also can't forget Keeley either, attempting to leave the country after his testimony goes bad, apparently having looted his own company.
- Shown Their Work: A lot of detail is given about the down-and-dirty of litigation. Grisham knows his stuff. The film is also no slouch, as this video analysis points out.
- Smug Snake: Drummond at first. He is knocked down several pegs throughout the course of the trial.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: What caused the fire that destroyed Jonathan Lake's office? The police call it arson and the hero muses that there's something fishy about it, but by the end of the book, everybody's forgotten it.note
- 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).