Trailblazer Series Welcomes SMU Dedman Law Alum Mike Lynn

Mike Lynn has been a practicing attorney for nearly 50 years and one of the most successful trial lawyers in Dallas. A 1975 alumnus of SMU Dedman School of Law, he has taken on high profile clients from around Texas, received numerous awards, and won big cases that have propelled him to the top.

Lynn returned to SMU Dedman Law for the inaugural Trailblazer Speaker Series event to share his journey of becoming a lawyer, how the field has evolved over the years, and share some of his “war stories” – an appropriate term for an elite attorney who calls his cadre of trial lawyers the “special forces of litigation.”

The Trailblazer Speaker Series is designed to bring speakers like Lynn to SMU as part of an educational and networking opportunity for Dedman Law students to hear from the legal profession’s most successful practitioners and gain a head start when they graduate to begin their careers with substantial connections in the legal field.

Lynn stands out as the first speaker in the series for being not only a Dedman Law graduate, but someone who has taught classes at the school as an adjunct professor and who was honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2019. He has enjoyed an illustrious career as the founding partner at Lynn Pinker Hurst & Schwegmann, and he has tried to verdict more than 120 civil and criminal jury trials. Ironically, he attributes part of this success to his early learning differences.

“I am not the easiest guy to teach. It takes me a while to figure things out. I found out that the way I learned is if there is a competition, and I’m allowed to express myself in the competition, I will generally win.”

With this attitude, he discovered unique ways to improve his trial capabilities, especially in opening statements, which he identified as one of his major weaknesses. To solve the problem, he took a trip to the library and local book stores and combed through the science fiction sections. “I don’t read science fiction, so that’s why I did this. I spent the next six months reading the introductions and outlining what I thought they were doing in the introductory paragraphs. That’s how I learned to do opening statements.”

He clerked for a federal judge for two years and learned federal procedure and jurisdictional issues. His mentor, Dallas lawyer John L. “Jack” Hauer, a senior partner with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, encouraged him to become a trial lawyer and sent him down to meet with famed Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade to gain some experience. Wade had gained national notoriety in the 1960s for prosecuting Jack Ruby and took a no-nonsense approach.

He asked Lynn pointed interview questions. When Lynn confessed that he had no trial experience, Wade dismissed him. When Lynn returned to tell Hauer what had happened, his mentor dug in and instructed him to go “sit outside the office until he hires you.”

“So, I did,” said Lynn. “I went back down and I sat outside his door next to his secretary for two weeks.” The strategy paid off. He was hired by Wade, and the rest is history. Lynn considers it one of the best decisions he’s ever made.

After an educational stint at the DA’s office, he resumed private practice armed with more than 60 courtroom cases under his belt. He became a partner at Akin Gump in 1982 and became a founding partner of his current firm in 1993 where he has excelled in hundreds of jury, non-jury, arbitration, and injunction matters. He’s won over a billion dollars in verdicts before juries since 2014 and some of the largest single verdicts in Dallas and state history. For defeating over a billion dollars in claims, Lynn is the only one he is aware of to have been recognized twice for “Defense Win of the Year” by the National Law Journal.

Part of his later success stems from an ability to adjust to changes that have unfolded in the courtroom since he first began practicing. Juries, he said, have changed over the last few decades from being comprised primarily of white men to being composed of persons of diverse age, gender, race, and ethnicity. Whereas speaking directly to a jury full of men back in the day demanded a certain strategy, modern jury diversity requires a subtler approach.

“Now what wins at trial are people who are very humble, people who are there to empower the jury to make its own decision. You don’t tell the jury what to do. If you do, you’re not going to win.”

As for war stories, Lynn has plenty. He recounted working with famous Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens. He also discussed the ethical dilemmas that lawyers face from time to time and how best to advocate for your client in those situations.

He spoke lovingly about his wife, the Hon. Barbara M. G. Lynn, Senior District Judge for the United States District Court, Northern District of Texas. He and Barbara met as undergraduates at the University of Virginia, and they both graduated from SMU Dedman Law.

In response to a student’s question, Lynn said his firm looks for new lawyers who are “losers” – those who know how to get hit and get back up. “It’s a very hard life being a commercial trial lawyer,” he said. “You lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, you win. I can’t hire people who can’t get back up off their knees. It is also no coincidence that among this elite group of business trial lawyers, 75% of LPHS lawyers have served as federal law clerks at the district and circuit levels and Texas Supreme Court clerks, while the entire team shares an unparalleled love of law and passion for winning.

“You know what we’ve seen is a predictor? People who play sports from the time they were six years old and learn to lose a lot. The debaters who started debating very early in life learn to lose. So, we hire a lot of athletes and a lot of debaters.”

He concluded with a word of encouragement to the students and thanked Dean Jason P. Nance for the invitation.

“I am absolutely excited to see what you all do in the next two or three years. I think this is going to be a great class. You’re in a great environment, and you have the support of the faculty and the staff to be all that you want to be. My goal is for all of you to go work for a year or two, and then what I want you to do is apply to my law firm.”