Meet Barbara and Mike Lynn, Dallas’ legal power couple
As a Dallas County jury read its verdict in February, Mike Lynn pulled his iPhone from his coat pocket and sent a message.
“We won. $319 million.”
A few blocks away, U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn was on the bench in the middle of her own trial when she received the text. “I wanted to be there in court with Mike when he won such a huge victory for his client,” she said.
Early in her career, Barbara was a pioneer in breaking down gender barriers in the legal profession.
Now a U.S. District Court judge, she has presided over some of the most controversial and important trials in North Texas during the last 15 years, and Mike is a pit bull trial lawyer who stunned the legal community two decades ago by leaving the comforts of a large silk-stocking law firm to start what has become one of the most successful and respected litigation boutiques in Texas.
Mike and Barbara Lynn are Dallas’ undisputed legal power couple.
“Barb and Mike are two of the smartest, most talented and ambitious lawyers I have ever met,” said Patrick Higginbotham, a judge on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals who has know the couple since they were in law school together at Southern Methodist University in 1974.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Barbara is one of the five best federal judges in the country and should be on the president’s short list for the Fifth Circuit or the Supreme Court,” Higginbotham said. “And Mike is simply one of the best trial lawyers in the country.”
Interviewed at their home facing White Rock Lake, the Lynns say they feed on each other’s success.
“A lot of people ask me which one of us is the dominant one in this relationship,” Mike said. “Neither of us — or maybe both of us at different times.”
Barbara Golden and Mike Lynn met 43 years ago at the University of Virginia, where he was a junior and she was a freshman.
“Mike led a very active social life, which included meeting most of the women in the freshman class,” Barbara said in 2012 when accepting the Dallas Bar Foundation Fellows Award. “He finally made his way around to meeting me.”
Their relationship solidified a few years later. Barbara had tried repeatedly to become the first woman admitted into the Jefferson Literary and Debate Society, a 190-year-old school organization that is considered one of the university’s most prestigious. Woodrow Wilson and Edgar Allan Poe had been members.
Each time, the group’s Southern conservative male leaders denied her petition. But she had a secret weapon: Mike.
“One weekend in February, when the anti-women cabal had left for New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras, I called for a vote to change the bylaws to admit women,” said Mike, who was vice president of the Jeff Society at the time.
That same day, Feb. 12, 1972, Barbara was voted in as a member by a single vote, according to UVA officials.
“That no doubt cemented our relationship,” Mike said.
The couple went to law school at SMU, where she graduated first in her class.
As graduation neared, Barbara and her women classmates noticed that they were receiving few offers from large Dallas firms.
“We had this crazy idea that if we worked hard, did well in law school and demonstrated our skills, that we would get job offers,” she said. “We noticed that men who graduated well below several of the women in our class were getting offers while those same law firms were ignoring the female law students.”
Barbara and her classmates sued a half dozen major law firms. Most settled instead of going to trial. The one case that did go to trial was unsuccessful, but most law firms in Dallas quickly changed their hiring policies.
“There was definitely fallout from Barb taking this very public stand,” Mike said. “We were never going to receive offers from any of those law firms that were targeted. But we did OK.”
Mike was hired by Akin Gump. Barbara became the first woman lawyer at Carrington Coleman in 1976. Seven years later, she became its first woman partner.
“We had a firm policy to never hire students right out of law school,” Jim Coleman said. “But once we saw Barbara’s résumé and once we met and interviewed her, we eliminated that policy. And it was one of the best decisions we ever made.”
The couple practiced at different law firms and represented scores of competing clients, but they never faced off against each other in court.
“Oh no, that would not have been fun,” Mike said. “We would have taken each other’s heads off.”
Added Barbara: “There would have been blood.”
Barbara Lynn’s career as a trial lawyer blossomed at Carrington Coleman, where she frequently defended large corporations being sued for employment and labor matters. But every once in a while she represented the plaintiff.
President Bill Clinton nominated her to the federal bench in 1999 to replace U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders.
In the 15 years since, Lynn has heard such high-profile cases as the 2009 criminal prosecutions of Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill and the Hosam Maher Husein Smadi downtown Dallas terrorism case.
She has gained the reputation as an advocate judge.
Legal experts point to a 2011 opinion she delivered in a potential securities class action lawsuit against Halliburton.
In her decision, Lynn ruled that Fifth Circuit precedent required that she decide for Halliburton, but she made it clear that she didn’t like it and believed that the Fifth Circuit made it too difficult for plaintiffs in such cases to achieve class-action status.
“This was a great opinion because Judge Lynn followed the law as set by the Fifth Circuit, but she also noted how she thought that precedent was wrong or at least too burdensome on plaintiffs,” said Nina Cortell, an appellate law expert at Haynes and Boone in Dallas.
Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Halliburton case, citing Lynn’s opinion.
“The Halliburton case demonstrates that Judge Lynn is certainly brilliant. She possesses great common sense and is able to convincingly share that common sense with her colleagues on higher courts,” Cortell said.
With the DA
After three years at Akin Gump, Mike Lynn was growing frustrated that he wasn’t able to try more cases in court. His mentor, Akin Gump partner Jack Hauer, advised him to leave the firm and join the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.
But Henry Wade refused to hire him because he had no trial experience.
“When I told Jack that Mr. Wade refused to hire me, he ordered me to go sit outside Mr. Wade’s office until he hired me,” Mike recalled. “I reported to Mr. Wade’s office every day at 8 a.m. and sat there until 5 p.m. for two weeks.”
Finally, one of Wade’s assistant’s, Doug Mulder, “took pity” on Mike and hired him to prosecute cases.
“Doug took me in to see Mr. Wade, who told me that if I fell below the average conviction rate for two months that he would send me back to Jack as a loser,” Mike said.
The experience was invaluable, as Mike tried more than 50 cases to a verdict. He has now led 98 jury trials to a verdict, nearly all of them civil cases since he left the prosecutor’s office.
Mike returned to Akin Gump, where he was elected partner in 1982.
A few years later, the Lynns started a family. They have two daughters.
“Mike was so committed to saving enough money for our daughters to be able to go to Harvard that he refused to trade in his old silver Toyota Celica with a very leaky sunroof,” Barbara said. “So Mike would drive around town having to wear a raincoat in the car to stay dry.”
In 1993, Mike did the unthinkable, quitting the security and comfort of Akin Gump, a high-powered national law firm founded in Dallas, to start his own small litigation firm.
“A lot of people said I was crazy,” Mike said. “It was certainly a scary decision to go out on my own.”
The firm, now called Lynn Tillotson Pinker & Cox, has two dozen lawyers and a plan to grow to about 50 lawyers over the next few years. With an hourly billing rate of $725 an hour, it provides clients quality representation at $150 an hour less than larger firms.
Mike has experienced some extraordinary litigation successes. He represented Alcatel in 2000 in a high-dollar trade secret dispute with Samsung, which he said settled “very favorably” for Alcatel. While the terms of the agreement are confidential, lawyers familiar with it say it is the largest corporate settlement agreement of its kind ever reached in Dallas County court case.
Visa International hired Mike in 1998 to defend the company against charges made by Dallas-based Zixit Corp., an Internet credit card processing company, that a Visa executive had used 432 aliases to post critical messages on Yahoo’s investment website. Zixit sought $800 million in actual damages and $1 billion in punitive damages. Lynn employed the “so what” defense.
“Sure we did it, but so what?” Mike said. “The jury gave us a complete victory.”
Mike Lynn is currently representing Chilean-based Inppamet in a $60 million international business dispute against RSR Corp., a Dallas-based lead smelter. The case made news when Lynn accused his opposing counsel, Bickel & Brewer, of improperly hiring a former executive of Inppamet in an attempt to gain insider information. The Dallas Court of Appeals has upheld Lynn’s request to disqualify Brewer from the case, which is now on appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.
“Mike is fierce and unpredictable,” said Jeff Tillotson, his longtime law partner. “Mike loves to find the weakness in the other side’s case and then exploit that weakness completely.
“Despite his toughness and aggressiveness in court, Mike is the most loyal and kind-hearted man I know,” Tillotson said. “He’s an extraordinarily gentle and sentimental father, and he treats everyone who works at the firm as if he is personally responsible for them.”
Mike’s biggest courtroom victory came two months ago when he persuaded a Dallas jury to rule that Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners LP had violated its partnership with Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners in order to do a more profitable deal with a competitor.
The jury awarded ETP $319 million in actual damages and found Enterprise liable for potentially an additional $595 million.
“This was a huge win for Mike and his firm and instantly elevates his reputation among corporate general counsel as one of the leading go-to trial lawyers for high-stakes business litigation in Texas,” Stroh said.
Lawyers who have tried cases with and against Mike say his approach is unorthodox and he can come across as abrasive or overly confrontational in court.
“I don’t need a warm and cuddly lawyer representing me,” Stroh said. “I want my lawyer to be fearless and loyal, and that is Mike.”