The Rainmaker is available on Netflix. In my earlier snobbier days I scoffed at lawyer movies and written legal thrillers. I’m either not as picky as I once was, or I’ve learned to find actual value in this kind of entertainment in spite of the inaccuracies. I’ll start with a no-spoilers overview of the plot and proceed to tell you my five big takeaways from the film.
Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon) plays a recent law school graduate who goes to work for shady personal injury lawyer, Bruiser Stone (Mickey Rourke). Assisted by Bruiser’s long-time law clerk, Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito), a guy who can’t pass the bar, Rudy ends up taking on a huge personal injury case against an insurance company where he is pitted against Leo F. Drummond (John Voigt) and his team of defense attorneys. He also falls in love with Kelly Riker (Claire Danes. Remember her?), a domestic violence victim he meets while studying for the bar/trolling for clients in a local hospital.
An earlier snobbier version of myself would have been obsessed with the inaccuracies, such as how is it that cases go to trial so fast in legal thrillers, particularly one like this which likely would have been in the discovery phase forever. But I’ll move to the lessons.
- Rudy Builds a Practice by Connecting the Everyone He Meets and Looking for Ways to Be Helpful. Rudy builds his practice essentially from two people he meets in a law school clinic. The first, Miss Birdie, is a wills/estates client. From his work with her, he finds an inexpensive place to live and a safe place for his girlfriend to hide from her estranged abusive husband. And his other client becomes his big break. The girl he meets at the hospital becomes his first criminal client, a murder case he successfully negotiates to a dismissal without formal charges. When his boss flees the FBI, he and Deck go off to start their own firm. Rudy’s marketing comes from being helpful to those around him and his willingness to ask for help. He’d have killed it in the modern era of social media marketing.
- Rudy is Adept at Technology, Even with a Limited Budget. Rudy goes to battle with a big firm. But he used essentially a video camera and tripod to interview his client for later use in his closing. He also took a critical document and presented it effectively in court. While taking his client through the document, he puts the document up on screen with a pull quote. Nothing fancy here. It’s just one document being put to great effect. And he leaves it up so that his opponent has to demand that it be taken down. And note that Rudy is using his own tech. He’s not relying on the defendant’s stuff as many of us do when against the government or a techier opponent. He’d have killed it in he iPad era.
Rudy Courts the Judge by Being Honest and Humble. When judicial sentiment is against your opponent, it’s best to stay quiet. And if you feel outgunned, it’s okay to say so. But even better if the judge makes a truthful observation about your position, it’s good to be candid. Later in the movie, the judge assists Rudy every every way he can.
As Important as Niceness is, You Have to Stand Your Ground at Times. Leo Drummond tries to act as a condescending patronizing version of a mentor figure. Rudy takes is well for the most part. However, during depositions, Leo tries to dictate the order of deponents. He also does some shady stuff to hide witnesses. At which point, Rudy is firm, threatens to involve the judge, and refuses to be pushed around. There are limits to the nice approach. And Rudy stands up when the moment requires it.
A Paperless Office is a Good Idea But a Good Staff is Even Better. Rudy is not a one-man show. His paralegal is constantly out there taking care of him, gathering information, and helping with points of evidence. Every office needs at least one Deck Shiflett. Rudy would do well to get a case management system in place though.
There you have it, five lessons from The Rainmaker to be a better trial lawyer. (1) Build a Practice by Connecting with everyone you meet; (2) Being adept at technology will put you on par with even the biggest opponent; (3) honesty and humility will carry you far with the Court; (4) be nice but don’t back down when the fight is on; and (5) You can’t go it alone. Build a good reliable team.