Attorney at Law Magazine Dallas Publisher PJ Hines sat down with Chief Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn to discuss her legal career.
AALM: Describe your legal career.
Lynn: I attended SMU Law School from 1973-1976. My husband, Mike, was also a law student at SMU for the first two years I attended. We were newly married, and life was really stressful during exam times. I can’t begin to count how many frozen dinners we ate!
I clerked at Carrington Coleman the summer after my first year in law school, and then joined the firm after I graduated. I was the first female clerk and first female associate, and I became the first female partner in 1986. Within two years of becoming a partner, I joined the firm’s executive committee.
I remained at Carrington Coleman until the end of 1999, and then I assumed the bench as a federal district judge, a position for which I had been nominated at the end of 1998. I took office Feb. 14, 2000, and I became the first female chief judge in all of Texas May 1, 2016.
AALM: What do you miss and not miss about being a lawyer?
Lynn: I loved practicing law. I had wonderful and brilliant colleagues and my firm had an approach to practice that did not put undue pressure on billable hours. I loved the creative aspects of advocacy and the opportunity to use my skills and talents to help people in need. I really miss making opening statements and closing arguments and cross-examining witnesses, and I miss not being able to parry with a good, well prepared judge.
I don’t miss keeping track of my time in six-minute increments. I don’t miss dealing with difficult and unreasonable lawyers, and I don’t miss dealing with those few clients who had unreasonable expectations of, and who made unfair demands on, their counsel.
AALM: Describe your style in the courtroom and advice you have for lawyers trying a case before you.
Lynn: Based on my training at Carrington Coleman, I have high expectations for myself and others. I am generally very well-prepared and I expect counsel to be well-prepared, thorough and professional. I insist attorneys do what they say they will do. I try to exhibit a sense of humor and I hope they will respond in the same way.
I am not crazy about PowerPoint presentations, because they often slow down an argument. At the least, I want a printed copy of the slides so I can make notes as we go.
I am a typo nut, and I find it disappointing that so many papers are filed that contain typographical errors and poor grammar, which suggests a lack of care and attention that inevitably negatively impacts the advocate’s ability to persuade the court.
Finally, I expect lawyers to answer the court’s questions or admit that they don’t know the answer and seek additional time to answer.
AALM: What do you love about your job?
Lynn: Apart from the pretty astonishing deference extended to my office, one of the things I enjoy the most is the incredible variety of my job. I have been a lawyer for 40 years, and I still see matters filed in my court that involve issues with which I have no prior experience. That makes my job interesting (almost) every day. I did very little criminal work as a lawyer, and now that accounts for a not insubstantial part of my time as a judge. I love to observe excellent attorneys and the wonderful and inspiring work of juries. Finally, I greatly appreciate that my work can make a positive difference in the lives of the parties before me.
AALM: What do you do in your spare time?
Lynn: I am delighted to spend time with my parents, my husband, my daughters, and especially my wonderful granddaughters. I love to play mediocre golf in a beautiful setting with a temperature between 70 and 80 degrees, with people who encourage me to move my ball to a better lie. I really like to travel, especially to Santa Fe and Tuscany and to visit our daughters and granddaughters. I enjoy going to the movies with my husband. I like to play cards, board games and Words with Friends, and I love great food, with great wine and the company of great friends.
AALM: Who are some of your legal heroes and heroines?
Lynn: Jim Coleman of Carrington Coleman, who I regard as the Atticus Finch of Dallas lawyers, and who is still active in the bar at 93, taught me, as did our other senior partners, Bob Mow and Fletcher Yarbrough, how to practice law with fairness, toughness and compassion, at the highest level of professionalism, and with ethics and integrity. Jim and I still have lunch every month or so. It has been one of the great joys of my life to be thought of as Jim’s protege.
I greatly admired Louise Raggio, who paved the way not only for women lawyers, but also for women in our state. One of my proudest achievements was to be selected as the first winner of the Louise Raggio Award given by the Dallas Women Lawyers Association.
AALM: What are some of the “outside” activities you have engaged in as a judge?
Lynn: For seven years, I served as a member, and then as chair, of the Committee on the Administration of the Bankruptcy System, a part of the Judicial Conference of the United States. In that capacity, I was able to sit in on the semiannual meetings of the Judicial Conference, which is the policy making body for the Judicial Branch. I was also a member of the Strategic Planning Committee.
I chaired the Judicial Division and the Federal Trial Judges Conference of the American Bar Association, and I was a member of the Federal Judicial Improvements Committee of the ABA. I have also been the chair of the Judicial Intern Opportunity Program of the Litigation Section, which places minority and disadvantaged students in state and federal clerkships. I am currently a member of the Commission on the American Jury.
I have been a member and president of the Higginbotham Inn of Court, a member of the Barbara M. G. Lynn Inn of Court (Intellectual Property), a judicial advisor to the work of the Sedona Conference on patent litigation, and a member of the board of the American Inns of Court Foundation.