A man in a business suit holding papers and a briefcase runs urgently towards the Lincoln Memorial. Two scary-looking guys are following Mitch McDeere, so when he slams into a pedestrian, he quickly scoops up his papers and keeps running... right into the reflecting pool. Mitch hightails it through the pool to the street, where he hops into the bed of a passing pickup truck, effectively evading his captors. As soon as he can, he hits a pay phone to call his wife Abby. This is a Code Red, and she needs to get out. He can't explain because "they" might be listening. Right now, she needs to follow the emergency plan. He'll meet up with her as soon as he can. It's happening again. Mitch proceeds to a room in The Westin Hotel to meet nervous Daniel Moxon, who sniffs anxiously. Realizing Mitch is wet, Moxon knows he was followed.
Mitch withdraws a photo of a client from his briefcase, asking Moxon for an ID. A woman is dead and the trail leads to Moxon and his company. Moxon insists "they" will kill him for the truth; he can't live with the horrible things he's done. When several guys pound on the door claiming they're hotel security, Mitch knows they're lying. Security would have a key. Saying, "I can't help you, and you can't help me," Moxon jumps out of the hotel room window to his death. The action flashes back to six weeks earlier, on the morning before Mitch's daughter Claire's 10th birthday. Mitch is filming with his cell phone as he presents Claire with special birthday pancakes. He promised cake for breakfast - and delivered. Claire's a little downcast for a birthday girl. Even though she's been at her new school for six months, she's taking a big chance by inviting all the popular kids to her birthday party. What if they don't come? Claire explains that she tries to be cool, but it's hard, especially since her mom teaches at her school.
Abby grabs Mitch on his way out the door for a talk. She went through the books again last night, and the situation isn't good. After six months, they're barely making the rent on Mitch's new law practice. Mitch assures Abby he has eight good clients, who will pay eventually. Althea Sanderson is a great client, whose case is about to settle, guaranteeing six figures by the end of the week. Outside, Mitch is accosted by Federal Marshal Louis Coleman, who's clearly been staking out the McDeere home. Mitch flashes back to Boston, 10 years ago, when they first met. Coleman and his partner Farraday had orders to take Mitch to see FBI Special Agent Wayne Tarrance - little did they know a shooter was training his rifle on Mitch. Farraday took the bullet instead. Later, a distraught Abby met Mitch at Tarrance's office to learn that mobster Joey Morolto contracted a hit on them and Mitch's brother Ray.Mitch insisted there was a mistake; what he gave the FBI only incriminated the law firm where he works, Bendini, Lambert & Locke, for overbilling their clients. Tarrance informed that two Bendini partners flipped and cut a deal with the Department of Justice, divulging everything they knew about Morolto's business. Since Mitch set the chain of events in motion, the mob was after him too. Angry that the FBI knew all of this for six days and didn't tell him, Mitch stormed out when Tarrance suggested the witness protection program.
Abby stopped Mitch in the hallway with big news: she couldn't go on the run; she was pregnant. Suddenly, witness protection looked like the only option. Back in the present day, Tarrance cautions Mitch. Just because the McDeeres are out of the program doesn't mean they're safe. Joey Morolto may have died nine months ago in prison, but Joey Morolto, Jr. is very much alive, and he just turned 25. His birthday gift? He was made boss of the Morolto family. Nevertheless, Mitch is unwilling to listen to Tarrance. After 10 years on the run, his family finally has a chance at a "normal" life.
Tammy Hemphill shimmies her hips and stubs out her cigarette butt as Mitch walks into the former travel agency that serves as his office. Judge Trott called to ask Mitch to show up early for an arraignment today - where's he been? All Mitch can focus on is the Sanderson settlement - they really need it, as does Althea and her family. She had a heart attack because the stent implanted in her chest was defective. With thousands of plaintiffs in similar straits, this could be the biggest tort case of the year. Tammy points Mitch towards his office, where her boyfriend and his brother Ray has his feet up on the desk, watching TV. After doing a 15-year stint in prison for manslaughter, Ray went into witness protection with Mitch and now serves as his private investigator. Even though Tammy went into witness protection with him, they're still having the same old fight because Ray won't ask her to marry him.
Mitch is hoping Ray has something on the Sanderson case, but he doesn't. The stent manufacturer, DC-Tech, knows better than to leave a paper trail. Mitch heads off to the courthouse holding pens to meet with a new client, Sarah Holt. Mitch explains that the court randomly appointed him to her case last night, and they pay him a discounted rate. Sarah's skeptical, but Mitch explains that he's been in her shoes: the government is going to do everything they can to put her in jail for the rest of her life. So why would a 27-year-old insurance broker with a family and a chip on her shoulder kill a 71-year-old woman in her sleep? Sarah insists she wouldn't and she didn't. The judge won't listen to merits of the case today because it's a bail hearing. And no, Sarah won't be allowed to go home.
Mitch proceeds to the courtroom, where Judge Trott is already annoyed by his tardiness. Asking Mitch to approach the bench, the judge explains that he wants to assign another new client. Mitch tries to decline, and the judge correctly guesses he's trying to reserve his already limited bandwidth for a paying client. With respect, the judge asks Mitch to meet 14-year-old Donnell Heywood and then decide. Mitch takes Donnell to one of the pens to talk, but has trouble getting through to him. Donnell is in the eighth grade, and was at school when the cops say he stabbed a classmate, Nathan Williams, to death. Donnell claimed that Nathan was waiting for him on the walk home from school, then picked a fight over a girl. Donnell didn't want to fight, but Nathan kept pushing and he had a knife. Afterwards, Mitch meets with Donnell's father, Lavell, who swears Donnell doesn't own a knife, though there have been some problems. Donnell's a little lost. Determined to persuade the court to try Donnell as a juvenile, Mitch takes the case.
Judge Trott is thrilled to hear Mitch is taking Donnell's case and complements him as both a good person and a good lawyer. Later, Mitch meets with a new friend, hotshot D.C. lawyer Andrew Palmer, with whom he plays pickup basketball on the weekends. Andrew works for a 60-lawyer firm named Kinross & Clark, which does all high-level civil work. The only problem? They need someone to start up a criminal division, which is why Andrew has come to Mitch. Mitch politely declines, since he's starting his own firm - however, at Andrew's insistence, he agrees to visit Kinross & Clark. Meanwhile, Ray visits the schoolyard, researching Donnell's case. When security guard Manuel spies him taking photos, Ray poses as a reporter and introduces himself. Ray recognizes Manuel's gang tattoo, and the men bond over their time in prison. Manuel admits that by the time he got to the scene, Nathan was down, and Donnell was fleeing alongside another kid named Tommy Breen.
By the time Mitch returns to the office, Ray has already visited Tommy's father. Clearly the prosecution knows about Tommy, and his father refused an interview with Ray. So why wasn't Tommy arrested, and why did Donnell lie to Mitch? Tammy butts in, having gotten the lowdown on Donnell from the school's vice principal. Donnell's got a file, and he's got issues: he's failing most of his classes, and there's been profanity, threats to students and throwing books at teachers. Whereas Nathan, the murder victim, was loved by all. Mitch insists Donnell said it was self-defense, then heads back to the pens to explain that it's his job to defend Donnell, but he can't do it if Donnell is lying, which he is. Donnell finally admits he didn't think Tommy would say anything. Donnell wasn't fighting Nathan; he was fighting Tommy, and it was personal. Nathan was being a good Samaritan, trying to stop the fight, and got in the way. And yes, the knife belongs to Donnell - but it was all a mistake.
That night, Claire does homework while Abby makes dinner. Mitch is in his office, working on Donnell's case for the hearing tomorrow, and he's worried. He's represented a lot of guilty clients, but never this young. Since the prosecution will put Tommy Breen on the stand to make their case, Mitch feels like he's going to have to destroy a 14-year-old kid who's telling the truth to do his job. Abby reminds that all kids are redeemable, and none of them will get better in the adult system. The next day, U.S. Attorney Diane Ruckeyser questions Tommy on the stand. Tommy claims Donnell's mission in life is to harass him. They had an assignment to write an essay on "Native Son," the first book Donnell claimed to like. Donnell was upset when he got an F, and Tommy took his crumpled essay from the garbage and hung it in the hallway. After school, Donnell waited for Tommy and started beating him up. Nathan pulled Donnell off Tommy, and then Donnell stabbed Nathan in the neck.
Mitch asks Tommy if he hated Donnell. He posted the essay to humiliate him, to get revenge. But did he hate him enough to lie to the court? How could he have seen Donnell stab Nathan when he was on the ground covering up to protect his head? The truth is Tommy never saw Donnell pull the knife. Mitch suggests that it was Nathan who pulled the knife and brought the fight to another level. Donnell was responding to a public act of humiliation. It's not long before Ruckeyser and Mitch are arguing so hard that the judge silences them, promising to respond within a few days. Ruckeyser wants to defer the decision on bail, but Judge Trott refuses to hold a minor like an adult until he's decided whether or not he is one and releases Donnell into the custody of his father. Mitch knows he's done his job well, but he's not necessarily happy about it. After the hearing, Mitch runs into Nathan's parents, Karen and Richard, in the hallway. Clearly, they're devastated, and holding Mitch responsible. Karen reminds Mitch that an attorney argues facts; he doesn't say whatever needs to be said so his client goes free.
That night, Claire's 10th birthday party is well underway - and a great success! - when Abby finds Mitch in his office, staring at a copy of "Native Son." Abby used to teach the book, about growing up poor and black in 1930s Chicago. The lead character can't escape his circumstances and winds up going to prison for murder. Abby pulls Mitch out of his reverie to put candles on the cake. He's just relaxing when he catches a glimpse of a suspicious car parked across the street. When Mitch steps outside, the car drives off, so he declines to mention it to Abby. After the best birthday party ever, Mitch and Abby clean up. She mentions seeing him looking at Kinross & Clark's website, and she already knows he turned down their job offer. But she is surprised to hear Mitch promised Andrew he'd visit the firm. Abby points out that Mitch isn't built for "those" firms. Mitch claims it's about being relevant, having potential; when he graduated Harvard, he wanted to make law that mattered - and that was taken away from him. The phone rings. It's Tammy. There's someone at the office Mitch has to talk to right now.
Mitch finds a powerful guy named Derek sitting in his office with Ray. Derek works for a construction company owned by Nathan's father Richard. Today, Richard offered Derek $10,000 to kill Donnell. Derek had to tell someone, but he sure as hell wasn't going to the police. And while Derek's not uncomfortable with violence, he doesn't kill kids. Even if he's not willing to kill Donnell, Richard will surely find someone who will.