We open in the car of Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey) being driven to the courthouse by his driver Earl (Lawerence Mason). He gets inside, and bails bondsmen Val (John Leguizamo) comes up to him and tells him he has a great client for him. The client's name is Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillipe) and he's accused of beating up a hooker Reggie Campo. All Val wants Haller to do is make sure went bail is set that the client's family goes with a bond instead of collateral. Haller would have to be on the other side of town at noon. Haller says he will think about it.
Haller bribes a bailiff to let his client go first. Haller goes to see his client Harold and tells him when they will say they are not ready for trial. The real reason is that Haller has not been paid to work, and he wants his money. Haller tells the judge they need to find a witness and need time to prepare. The judge honors the request. Haller gets into his car, telling Earl he needs to get to his next case. Earl asks if his position will be permanent even after Haller gets his license back (Haller was busted for DUI; that's why he has a driver). Haller tells Earl he got his license back three months ago; he likes having him around. Earl smiles.
Haller's car is surrounded by bikers and Haller tells Earl to pull over. One of them Eddie (Trace Adkins) comes up and tells Haller they already paid him five thousand dollars. Haller says he needs more to fly in an aerial expert who will testify that the FBI violated air space regulations when they took pictures of Harold's "farm". Eddie gives Haller another ten thousand and the bikers leave. Haller reveals to Earl that it was a hustle; they didn't need an expert from New York, they have plenty in Hollywood. Earl says Haller would of done good on the street.
Haller goes to see Roulet. Roulet says he is innocent of what he is being charge with. Another inmate Corliss (Shea Whignam) tries to recruit Haller, but Haller tells him to back off since he is with a client. Roulet tells Haller about himself; he's thirty two, lives in Bel Air, sells real estate, and has nothing on his records but parking tickets (important later). Haller tells Roulet he will try to get him out on bail.
Haller goes to the acting prosecutor Maggie McPherson (Marisa Tomei) who happens to be his ex-wife (they have a daughter) and thus will have to excuse herself from the case (as they personally know each other; conflict of interest). Maggie is mad but says she will drop into Ted Minton's (Josh Lucas) lap after the initial bail hearing. Haller successfully argues for bail, the one condition being Roulet wears a tracking bracelet at all times. Haller meets the family lawyer Cecil Dobbs (Bob Gunton) who admits that Roulet specifically picked Haller which surprises him. Nevertheless, they set a meeting for four pm Haller leaves the courthouse because he has to meet another client. He tells Dobbs that he will need 100K upfront, another 100K when they go to trial, and more if the trial goes beyond two weeks.
Haller goes to see Gloria (Katherine Moennig), a prostitute that got collared again, this time with cocaine. She thinks she is screwed, and Haller says she might have to go to jail. However, Gloria remembers the man who paid her had a lot of drugs and she saw his passport. He's a wanted fugitive, so Haller cuts a deal; Gloria gets pre-trial rehab and the charges are dropped in exchange for the location of her john, which the police presumably arrest.
Haller goes into the client meeting with his investigator Frank (William H. Macy). They meet up with Roulet, Dobbs, and his mother Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher). Mary tries to pay Haller but Haller makes it clear that Roulet will have to pay him, not her. She will also have to leave because anything her son says she could possibly have to testify for, as attorney client privilege does not include her. She leaves and Roulet tells his story:
He was at the club when he saw a woman who seemed interested in him. She was with another man though. She brushed by him and gave him her address, to which he went to later, noticing the previous man leaving. She opened the door to him and let him in, only for someone to knock him out. He came to being restrained by the woman's neighbors and the girl already talking to the police. He never laid a hand on her, the man before him must of done it to possibly spring an extortion plot.
The police have a different story. As narrated by Frank, Roulet broke into the Reggie Campo's apartment and a struggle ensued where he threw her around and held a knife to her throat only for her to grab a bottle of vodka and knock him in the head. Roulet notices a flaw in the story; the knife they supposedly show in the report Frank brought isn't his knife. Haller asks if there is anything he should know. Roulet says no.
Haller and Frank are getting a drink that night. Haller tells Frank to start with the club Roulet was at, and go from there. Maggie is at the bar and seeing how drunk Haller is, takes him home.
Frank comes the next morning with the security footage. Despite a slight discrepancy or two, it follows Roulet's version of events. Haller is happy he can spin this in his client's favor.
Haller goes to see Minton to "officially" get the D.A. report. Haller thinks he has this one in the bag, but Minton doesn't look he is backing down. As Haller is leaving, he is accosted by Detective Kurlen (Michael Pare). Kurlen hates what Haller stands for, including clients like Jesus Martinez (Michael Pena). Kurlen thinks Haller is scum, so Haller spins a story about how a client of his decapitated his wife and the D.A. got greedy and tried to stack more murders on the guy. Haller destroyed their case. The justice system is scum both ways Haller tells him.
Haller, Frank, Haller's daughter Hayley, and Earl are hanging at the park and Haller is trying to figure out why Minton is not backing down from the case. They realize their file and the official file are the same with one distinction. The knife in the official file is different. It is covered in blood and has the initials "L.R." engraved in the handle. Haller confronts Haller and tells him he should not of lied. Roulet says he didn't; he kept the knife on him since his business is quite dangerous. His mother was raped a few years ago showing a house alone and he has kept a knife on him since then. Haller tells him never to lie again.
Haller takes Hayley home to Maggie. Though they are divorced it is clear they still care about one another. Maggie says at least they did one thing right (Hayley). Haller said they did a couple.
The next night Haller is out at a bar and Maggie is their too. They drink a lot and go back to the house and have sex. Haller leaves before Hayley wakes up because it wouldn't be fair for her to think her parents are back together. Haller looks at the case file and realizes that it reminds him of Jesus Martinez's case. He looks at the case file and sees it is similar to Roulet's. The difference was, the other girl was murdered.
Haller remembers his meeting with Martinez. Martinez staunchly proclaims his innocence but Haller says the prosecution has DNA evidence and circumstantial witness statements that make him look bad. Martinez will have to take a plea if he wants not to get the death penalty. Martinez is crushed but eventually takes a deal; Life with a chance of parole in 15 years. That was about four years ago.
Haller goes to see Martinez in San Quentin and tells him he is trying to "make it right". Though not convinced with his sincerity, Martinez tells his story, making it clear he didn't hurt the girl. There was another guy at the bar. Haller shows him a series of pictures, ending with Roulet. Martinez flips out and though not directly stating it, Haller realizes the truth.
Haller goes to Frank's house, drunk. Haller tells Frank that they were set up from the beginning. Roulet is a killer; he murdered the woman Martinez went to prison for and would have killed the other girl if he hadn't been stopped. Roulet picked him because he was part of the other case and attorney client privilege bars him from saying anything for fear of losing his career. Frank realizes that's Roulet's MO: He not only likes to commit a crime, but to also make sure someone else goes down as the guilty party. Frank asks Haller what is he is going to do.
Later that night, as Haller is going home, he calls Frank and tells him to deeper into Roulet, including the parking tickets. He then gets a call from Maggie telling Hayley has soccer on Saturday. Haller sees his door is open. He goes inside to see Roulet has broken inside. Roulet tells Haller that he knows he went to see Martinez and directly states he killed the woman and there is nothing he can do about it. Roulet comments on Hayley's picture, and Haller realizes he is being threatened. Haller tells him to leave.
That Saturday, Haller goes to see his daughter play soccer. Maggie is there and tells him she's taking Hayley home. Frank has been murdered.
Haller goes to Frank's house. The lead investigator, Dectective Lankford (Bryan Cranston) makes it clear he thinks Haller is a suspect. Haller has a good idea who really did it; Roulet.
Haller goes home and finds a message on his answering machine. It's Frank just before he died. He looked into Roulet and found "Martinez's ticket home". There is a knock at the door and Frank hangs up. Haller calls Dectective Sobel about the call and Sobel reveals that Frank was killed with an antique .22 pistol. Haller goes to his desk; he has a .22 pistol. It is gone; Roulet stole it when he broke in. Haller screams in anger; Roulet is blackmailing him with a murder he committed.
Haller goes to see Val and angrily confronts him, saying he was picked by Roulet and Val lied. Val admits it but says he knows nothing about what was going on. Haller thinks Val helped Roulet kill Frank because he was the only one who could fake the tracking device but Val vehemently denies it.
Lankford comes with a search warrant and searches Haller's house. They notice the empty gun case, and make it more clear they think he killed Frank.
The first day of the trail Minton makes it clear that Roulet assaulted and planned on killing that girl. Haller counters saying the woman is a prostitute and was looking for an easy payday.
The court had tracked down Roulet's "second man". The man claims he had consensual sex with the woman but left her unharmed. Haller attacks his credibility and alleges since the woman's bruises are on the left side of her face and he's left handed, that he was the one who actually beat her.
The state star witness is the victim herself, Reggie Campo. She says she is not proud of her profession but her life is hard and she has to make choices. Haller asks her if she going to try to sue Roulet in civil court, which she declines to make public knowledge, saying she only talked to a lawyer. Haller can only do so much without badgering a witness, but plants a seed of doubt in the juror's minds about who is the real victim here. The state rests.
On the defense, Haller calls Roulet's mother Mary. She explains her son carried a knife ever since someone close to him was attacked and he never had to use it himself. She does not directly reveal it was her. When Minton cross examines her, and claims the defense gave her that story to use, Mary tells him she was the one who was raped. Minton is aghast, realizing he looks like he was badgering a rape victim. Minton ends the questioning before he causes more damage.
Roulet takes the stand. He vehemently proclaims his innocence and plays to the jury's sympathy about being falsely accused of a crime. The Defense rests. Minton says before the state officially rests, they would like to call a rebuttal witness the following day. The judge grants it.
Haller deduces by a witness list that Corliss is the one that will be called. Realizing there is a way to make it all right, he hatches a plan. He pretends to see Gloria and asks her to pass a message to Corliss which she does. He then has his assistant dig up some dirt on Corliss. He gets a subpoena for Kurlen to be in the courtroom. Also, he asks his driver Earl to "get him something." Haller realizes at this point what Frank was talking about on his phone message; a parking ticket could tie Roulet to the murder and clear Martinez. He calls Maggie about it and tells her to take Hayley and herself to her sister's until he calls.
Corliss is called and Haller pretends to be appalled by the action asking his objection to be put on record. He makes a quick call to his assistant telling her to come in at 10:15 am. Corliss goes on the stand and tells the jury that Roulet told him he was in prison for "giving a bitch what she deserved." Roulet asks Haller how Corliss knows this and Haller plays cool asking who Roulet told about what he has done. Corliss continues his testimony saying that Roulet not only bragged about that, he bragged doing the same crime and killing the previous girl. He tells them Roulet said the girl had a dragon tattoo on her chest, which makes Kurlen perk up and leave the courthouse. Haller then proceeds to destroy Corliss credibility, showing he previously testified in four other trials, one in which a wrongly convicted man spent eight years in jail for raping a child. Minton is flabbergasted as the entire trial has been torpedoed by this.
Haller and Minton meet with the judge and the judge is appalled that Corliss was allowed to be a witness which has destroyed the trial. Minton goes to the D.A. Realizing they cannot win, they dismissed all charges against Roulet.
Mary and Dobbs congratulate Haller on a job well done. The police then come and arrest Roulet for the murder of the previous girl. Haller tells Roulet he did his job and now he will need a new lawyer. Roulet says he still has Haller's gun, the one that Frank was killed by. Haller says Roulet will have to explain how he got it. Mary just tells Dobbs to get her son out of jail.
Earl gives Haller what he wanted; a gun that is untraceable. Haller finds out Roulet made bail and calls Val since Roulet still has his tracker. Roulet is going to Maggie's house. Haller beats him there and stands on the porch with his gun. Haller warns him to leave, and Roulet asks if he will be there all the time (insinuating that he will kill Maggie). Haller says he won't have to. He called Eddie and his biker friends, who cause damage to Roulet's car and beat him up. Haller warns to only do enough to get Roulet into a hospital and leaves.
Haller gets a call from Maggie; they found a ticket Roulet got near the murdered girls address. Roulet is finished, and Martinez can be cleared. Haller goes home and sees some broke in again. This time it is Mary Windsor, Roulet's mother. Haller says her son's a monster and he will enjoy destroying him for many things among them Frank's death. Mary tells him he doesn't know how powerful they are. Haller tells her to leave, and she shoots him with his .22 pistol. She was the one who killed Frank NOT her son. She realized Frank was close to figuring out what her son had done and didn't want him to go to jail. Haller has his gun he got from Earl on him and shoots her back, killing her before passing out.
Haller gets out of the hospital alive. Earl drives him away and says he found they freed Martinez, what Haller confirms. As for Roulet, he is under arrest and is looking at the death penalty for all he has done.
Haller's car is surrounded by bikers again. Earl pulls over and Eddie talks to Haller asking if he really shot a client's mother, which Haller saying he did. Eddie is glad Haller is OK because Harold got busted again. Eddie asks for a reduced rate for the favor they did him, but Haller gives him one better; he'll do Harold's case pro bono. Satisfied, Eddie leaves. Earl asks his boss if he lost his mind. Haller just shrugs, saying they are repeat customers and he can just charge them more later. Earl and Haller drive off.