In Iron County, Michigan, former District Attorney Paul Biegler has limited legal work and spends his new found time fishing and playing jazz piano. However, he, with the assistance of his alcoholic aged colleague, former lawyer and friend Parnell McCarthy (who is past the prime of his professional life) and his no nonsense secretary Maida Rutledge, decides to take the case of Army Lt. Frederick "Manny" Manion, who is charged with the murder of local bar owner Barney Quill. Biegler's decision to try the case is despite his dislike of Manion's brash and insolent attitude, and despite the fact that Manion currently has no money to pay for his services (Manion agrees to sign a promissory note once out of prison). Biegler realizes that he will have an uphill battle as Manion doesn't remember the actual act of shooting Quill but acknowledges that he did indeed kill Quill. The killing was prompted by Quill's alleged rape of Manion's wife, Laura. There is no physical evidence of that act beyond Laura's black eye and other signs of physical abuse. The rape may also be a problem for Biegler as Laura is a seductive woman who many may consider the instigator of an extra-marital liaison. Biegler instructs the Manion's not to tell a lie to him or in court, but he still plans on getting Manion off on the charge and having Manion plead not guilty. In court, he faces the unknown in the form of Judge Weaver. In court, he also faces not only the current District Attorney, but also the bulldog of an Assistant Attorney General, Claude Dancer.