Rich’s son Ryan finally graduates from law school and is anxious to start practicing law. While in law school he meets and falls in love with Amanda, Sherman, a classmate who doesn’t want to practice law but has her sights set on becoming a literary agent. When Ryan hears of this he remembers that his father has written a true crime book about the murder of Martha Collins, his mother's aunt. He tells Amanda about the book and she is ecstatic with the prospect of it being her first placement. Unfortunately, she soon discovers Rich and his wife, Erica, don't want the book published but won't say why. She suspects it is because it contains some incriminating evidence against one or both of them.
While Amanda schemes to get Rich’s book published, Matt Coleman petitions the court to overturn his conviction for bankruptcy fraud, now that everybody knows he was set up for the crime. Besides clearing his name he wants to get his law license back. Rich tries to help him as he wants Matt to begin a crusade against predatory mortgage lenders who he believes are pillaging consumers all across the nation. The need to get Matt reinstated becomes more urgent when a client comes in with a great case for the firm to prosecute and Rich lines up a mole in Reliable Mortgage Servicing, the loan servicing company involved, and wants to help bring them down.
Matt, still grieving his first wife Lynn's murder two years earlier, finally strikes up a relationship with the owner of an escort service named Candy. The relationship starts off slow but eventually blossoms into a full blown love affair. But just when he thinks he is finally getting his life back on track, Candy is kidnaped and Matt fears she's going to suffer the same fate as Lynn.
Having a son graduate from law school should have been a proud moment for Rich Coleman, but he had an ominous feeling as he watched the line of SMU Law School graduates in their blue caps and gowns make their way to the folding chairs lined up in front of the stage. His decision to become an attorney, rather than a stockbroker as everyone had expected, turned out to be a huge mistake. The graduates were all smiling and talking excitedly now that law school was behind them. Rich remembered his own graduation a little over thirty years earlier. He remembered how relieved he had been, so full of hope for the future. He was engaged and looking forward to a long life with Paula, the woman he loved and cherished more than the air he breathed. Rich thought his life was perfect . . . for a while, anyway. He had made partner in record time and his dreams of becoming a successful attorney seemed to be coming true. But it had been too good to last, he supposed. Every Sunday at mass he’d thank God for all his blessings, particularly for bringing Paula into his life. But in one shocking and horrific twist of fate she was taken away by a drunk driver who’d run a red light and broadsided them. Rich never saw the car—just felt the impact and heard Paula’s neck snap.
For months he was a wreck, dreaming each night of the car wreck and hearing horrific crack of Paula’s neck over and over. Depressed and unable to sleep for more than an hour or two at a time, he was mentally and physically exhausted and barely able to drag himself to work each day. It wasn’t long before his casual drinking became a frequent crutch to get him through each day. He found if he drank enough he’d pass out and wouldn’t dream. Of course, he suffered with nausea and dizziness at night and headaches in the morning, and his productivity at the firm came to a standstill. He often wondered why the other partners hadn’t fired him. By all rights they should have, and probably would have, had it not been for the intervention his college roommate, Joe Weston.
Joe had been a business major and gone on to get his MBA. After graduation he’d joined a major investment brokerage firm and Rich had been one of his first clients. Joe had been the best man at Rich’s wedding and was nearly as devastated as Rich when Paula was killed. He warned Rich not to drink too much, but his warnings fell on deaf ears.
One weekend Joe called Rich to see how he was doing, and when he didn’t answer, Joe went over to his apartment to check on him. He found him drunk and passed out. After that Joe insisted he get some counseling. Rich resisted, of course, as drunks usually do, but eventually he came around and started seeing a counselor. Over a period of a year and a half, she helped him learn to cope with his loss. She told him part of his problem was survivor’s guilt. Why had God taken Paula and not me? It was a question for which there was no answer, of course, but she finally got Rich to accept that fact and move on.
About this time Rich met Erica Fox. She was the teenage daughter of one of the firm’s good clients, a millionaire named Franklin Fox. At the time he was the only one in the firm with any financial expertise, so he ended up being appointed Erica’s trustee in the event of Franklin’s death. Franklin was in good health and nobody expected him to die any time soon, so Rich thought nothing of the appointment until he got a frantic call one night from Erica with the news that her father had died in a skiing accident in Switzerland.
Since Erica had no family (that she was speaking to, anyway), Rich had to fly to Switzerland to take charge of her person and arrange for Franklin’s body to be returned to the States. When he left Dallas he thought of Erica simply as a client in need, but as they spent time together getting Franklin’s affairs in order, they fell in love. It wasn’t because Rich was irresistible or anything like that, but more likely due to the fact that they had both recently lost someone they’d dearly loved and had opened up to each other in a way only two grieving souls could. Even though he’d fallen in love, he didn’t acknowledge it to Erica and had no intention of acting on his feelings. He knew their relationship was wrong and forbidden, but Erica didn’t care about that. She was a millionaire’s daughter used to getting her way, and as it turned out, Rich didn’t have the strength to resist her.
For a while they were able to keep their illicit affair a secret, but eventually they were discovered by Erica’s estranged aunt, Martha Collins, and one of the firm’s partners, Peter Phillips. It got ugly after that and Rich lost his job at the firm, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Erica’s aunt Martha was murdered, and of course Erica and Rich were the prime suspects. Erica claimed she hadn’t killed Aunt Martha but insisted on pleading temporary insanity nonetheless. She claimed to be protecting Rich by admitting to be guilty and forced him to make a pact that if either of them were convicted they’d commit suicide together as a show of their love.
Rich thought it was pure insanity, but he loved Erica and felt he had no choice but to accept the pact or lose her forever. Fortunately, she put on quite a performance at trial and was acquitted. Rich was greatly relieved, since he really didn’t want to take the cyanide pill Erica had prepared for him. He didn’t make out as well with the State Bar of Texas, however, even though he and Erica had gotten married by then. He’d breached his fiduciary duty to Erica by entering into a personal relationship with her, not to mention the fact that she was a minor at the time. So, he had to accept a public reprimand and agree not to act in a fiduciary capacity again for five years. This was pretty light treatment for his transgressions and could only be attributed to Erica’s refusal to cooperate in the State Bar’s prosecution and the fact that he’d made Erica over a million dollars since being appointed her trustee.
His eldest son, Matt, had even worse luck when he started his bankruptcy law practice in 2005. He had met a SMU student named Lynn Lakey at a New Year’s Eve party at the Hotel Continental in Dallas. It was love at first sight, and within six months they were happily married. Lynn was a marketing major, and she got this crazy idea about getting rich by setting up a bankruptcy mill. It wasn’t a new idea, but she took it to a new level. She thought with so many Americans over their heads in debt but afraid to file bankruptcy that the right marketing approach would bring them in in droves.
It took a little fine-tuning but Matt and Lynn finally came up with an effective TV campaign, and the Debt Relief Centers of Texas took off. Much to their delight, within just a few months, bankruptcy filings in North Texas were up 13 percent.
Unfortunately, this sudden increase in filings got the attention of Frank Hill, chairman of MidSouth Bank, a subprime lender in Houston with thousands of customers in North Texas.
Hill immediately launched an investigation, which eventually determined that the Debt Relief Centers of Texas and their unique marketing approach was responsible for the unprecedented rise in bankruptcy filings in North Texas. In response Hill enlisted Douglas Barnes, a corporate troubleshooter, to devise a strategy to put the Debt Relief Centers out of business. At first he went to the State Bar and lodged a complaint. When that didn’t work, he played some dirty tricks on Matt designed to embarrass and discredit him. Finally, when the dirty tricks failed he hired an ex-marine thug named Hans Schultz to coerce one of Matt’s employees into setting him up for bankruptcy fraud. At first Matt was going to fight the indictment, but while he was in jail awaiting his bond to be posted, he was visited by several inmates who told him to plead guilty or they’d kill his wife, Lynn.
Matt took the threat seriously and, against the advice of counsel, pled guilty. But Frank Hill broke his promise and had Hans Schultz kill Lynn anyway, just hours after Matt had been locked up and it was too late to back out of his plea bargain. Matt was obviously devastated losing Lynn and vowed to get even with Hill one day. As soon as he was released from prison he made good on his vow. Not only did he get the banker indicted for ordering Lynn’s murder, but he tricked MidSouth Bank into issuing thousands of credit cards to penniless prison inmates all over the country. Needless to say, the bank regulators came in rather quickly after that and seized control of the bank.
So, both Matt and Rich had tried to dissuade Ryan from going to law school. It had been a perilous profession for them, and they didn’t want him to get hurt like they had. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t listen, since he was hell-bent on becoming a criminal defense attorney. The more Rich and Matt argued against it, the more determined he became to take that perilous career path. Finally, they gave up and just prayed his luck would be better than theirs had been.
Ryan’s motivation for wanting to be a criminal defense attorney was fairly obvious. He’d seen his brother wrongfully accused of bankruptcy fraud, and it outraged him that an innocent man could be framed and end up in prison. Rich told him that it happened all the time and that one more criminal defense attorney wouldn’t change the fact that powerful people usually got what they wanted. Being idealistic, as most new attorneys are at that age, he couldn’t accept that perception of reality. Somehow he’d find justice for his clients no matter what the cost. But he was wrong, and they all paid a dear price for his stubborn quest for justice.