A lawyer's ambition takes him from the east side uptown until he learns what kind of lawyer he wants to be.
Lawyer Anton Adam (William Powell) has just got a client acquitted against the uptown New York lawyer Granville Bentley, who then offers him a partnership. Adam's secretary Olga (Joan Blondell) advises him that a successful man leaves the "dames alone." They move into a fancy office on the 49th floor. Adam is attracted to Bentley's sister Barbara (Helen Vinson). He wins a case against the political machine of Gilmurry, who complains and asks him to join his organization; but Adam says no. Attractive actress Virginia meets Adam and shows him love letters from a doctor who abandoned her. She finds Adam fascinating, and they sue Dr. Gresham for breach of promise. Then on the phone Virginia tells Adam she is dropping the case, recording his damaging response. The press questions Adam, and he discovers the doctor's letters are gone. He is indicted by a grand jury for blackmail. Bentley ends the partnership, and Adam defends himself. A hung jury does not help his reputation.
Adam decides to become ruthless and gets high fees from women. In a steam-bath he finds a client, who wants to sue Gilmurry but can't find a lawyer to take on the political boss. While the jury is out, Gilmurry (David Landau) offers Adam $20,000; he gets that for his client plus $10,000 for himself. Then they discover the jury would have acquitted Gilmurry. Adam gets Gilmurry to recommend him for assistant district attorney. He goes after Gresham even though Gilmurry warns him to lay off; Adam says he is the "monkey wrench in the machine." Two hoodlums visit Adam; but he persuades them there is no future with Gilmurry, and they start working for him. Judge Gresham is convicted. Gilmurry and two thugs visit Adam, who gives his two bodyguards back to Gilmurry because he doesn't need them anymore. Gilmurry wants to appoint Adam a judge; but he says no, because he is going back to help his own people. In the final scene Adam is walking happily with Olga in their old neighborhood on the east side.
By identifying with the young lawyer or his wise secretary the audience gets to face the challenges of feminine seduction while taking on the political machine. We see how a lawyer can work to help people, go after the corrupt, or fight for revenge. One can seek wealth and power or concentrate more on helping people in need.