Mike Lynn is ‘Simply One of the Best Trial Lawyers’
By Patricia Baldwin
When Mike Lynn turned 40, he seemingly had everything going his way. He was a partner in the litigation section at Akin Gump, a prestigious law firm that was home to Robert Strauss, Vernon Jordan, Jack Hauer and Alan Feld.
Despite the success, Lynn told his mentor, Jim Coleman, that he wanted to be in court more often and that he was growing tired of Big Law. Coleman suggested he quit and start his own law firm.
“That’s a bit drastic, don’t you think?” Lynn responded.
Even so, he decided to take the enormous risk. More than two and a half decades later, Lynn has one of the most successful litigation boutiques in Texas. The firm has nearly 30 lawyers and has been hired by some of the largest corporations on earth to handle their trial work, including ExxonMobil, Alcatel, Visa and Southwest Airlines.
During the past two years, Lynn and his team scored a $536 million courtroom victory for pipeline giant Energy Transfer Partners and a $146 million win in West Texas for legendary oilman T. Boone Pickens. In between those two trials, he hiked the Appalachian Trail.
“Not bad for a 66-year-old,” he says introspectively.
Lynn said he learned by example to “think out of the box.” His late mother, once Arlington’s mayor pro tem, helped integrate schools and parks. His father, a prolific inventor at Bell Helicopter, is credited with the research and engineering for the world’s fastest helicopter.
Colleagues, however, contend the Lynn Pinker Cox Hurst founder is a fierce competitor who doesn’t even see the box.
The truth is, the SMU Dedman School of Law graduate’s entire career reflects creative risk-taking. It started 45 years ago at the University of Virginia when he met Barbara Golden, who is better known today in the legal profession as U.S. District Court Chief Judge Barbara Lynn.
He was a junior and she was a freshman. In fact, she was in the first freshman class of women admitted to the historic college and she wanted to join the Jefferson Literary and Debate Society, a 190-year-old organization that is considered one of the oldest and most prestigious clubs at the University of Virginia.
Woodrow Wilson and Edgar Allan Poe were members. No women had ever been.
When Golden applied, Jeff Society leaders – led by southern conservative male leaders – rejected her petition. But Lynn had a plan.
“One weekend in February, when the anti-women cabal had left for New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras and I knew I had the votes with them gone, I called for a vote [of the remaining members] to change the bylaws to admit women,” says Lynn, who was the vice president of the Jeff Society at the time.
Golden was elected as a member by a single vote, according to UVA officials.
“That no doubt cemented our relationship,” Lynn says. “There’s a plaque on the wall at UVA celebrating Barb as the Jeff Society’s first woman member. No mention of me, though. I guess it got me married, so that is reward enough.”
Those who have known the Lynns for decades say they are a force to behold.
“Barb and Mike are two of the smartest, most talented and ambitious lawyers I have ever met,” says Patrick Higginbotham, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, who has known 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,” Judge Higginbotham says. “And Mike is simply one of the best trial lawyers in the country.”
After law school, Lynn became an associate at Akin Gump. After three years on the job, he grew frustrated that he wasn’t trying more cases in court. Akin Gump partner Jack Hauer advised him to leave the firm to join the Dallas County District Attorneys Office, where he would get more trial experience.
Henry Wade, however, refused to hire Lynn 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,” Lynn says. “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 assistants, Doug Mulder, “took pity” on Lynn and hired him to prosecute cases. The experience was invaluable, as Mike Lynn tried more than 50 cases to a verdict. He has now handled more than 100 jury trials.
Lynn returned to Akin Gump, where he was elected partner in 1982. The very next year, Barbara Lynn made partner at Carrington Coleman.
Then came the conversation Lynn had with Jim Coleman in 1993, leading Lynn to leave the security and comfort of the high-powered and extremely influential national law firm to start his own small litigation-focused law firm.
“A lot of people said I was crazy,” he says. “It was certainly a scary decision to go out on my own.”
Lynn says that he’s “never been particularly worried about failing.
“I tell young lawyers I don’t like working with them until they’ve lost several cases,” he says. “That’s the only way you learn.”
Still, Lynn’s “W” column is lengthy.
In 1998, Visa International hired Lynn when an Internet credit card processing company charged that a Visa executive had anonymously posted hundreds of critical messages on Yahoo’s investment website. The firm sought $800 million in actual damages and $1 billion in punitive damages.
Lynn’s defense was “So what?” The jury agreed that the postings had no material impact on the market.
In 2000, his representation of Alcatel “helped rebuild the Dallas courtroom” with multi-media support for defending what some say was the largest trade secret settlement agreement ever reached in a Dallas County court case.
Lynn is currently representing Chilean-based Inppamet in a $60 million international business dispute against RSR Corporation, a Dallas-based lead smelter. The case became newsworthy when Lynn accused his opposing counsel, Bickel & Brewer, of improperly hiring a former executive of Inppamet in an effort to gain insider, privileged information. The case is still pending.
“Mike is fierce and unpredictable,” says Jeff Tillotson, a former long-time law partner of Lynn. “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,” says Tillotson. “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.”
In 2014, Lynn scored one of the largest judgment in a complex commercial dispute when he convinced a North Texas jury that his client, Energy Transfer Partners, had been victimized by competitor Enterprise Partners for improperly cutting them out of a business partnership.
During a month-long trial, Lynn convinced the jury to rule that there is a business version of common law marriage. The result: a $535 million decision. The case is on appeal.
In 2015, Lynn fulfilled a 40-year dream by hiking for three months on the challenging Appalachian Trail. The adventure was his way of “pushing back against getting old.” Because of his two knee replacements, he adopted the trail name of “Tin Man.”
He recorded his “transformational” adventure in a blog for his family and was surprised when views surpassed 15,000. In a final posting, he wrote about his lessons, which could have been penned by his namesake Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz”
“I learned again that giving up was mental and when you have to climb, you inevitably climb and finish the journey,” he says.