|photography by Bode Helm|
“Don’t put this in your story.”
Mike Boone says this toward the end of an hour-long interview. He’s seated at the corner of a long conference room table, facing a bank of windows that overlook downtown Dallas and beyond from Haynes and Boone’s 31st-floor perch. He makes the request—let’s call it a command, albeit a gentle one—off-handedly, with a small flick of his wrist. He then tells a story that begins with a contract review and ends in bloodshed.
There are at least five reasons to defy Boone’s wishes and tell you this secret tale:
1. Boone is reticent to share many personal details, preferring to praise his team, his partners, the entirety of the firm of which he is a name partner. That is admirable, and it suggests why other lawyers love working for and with him. But it is also, let’s admit, boring to read.
2. Haynes and Boone is D Magazine’s law firm. The magazine’s editor and publisher, Wick Allison, is friends with Boone. Allison thinks so highly of him, he says, “Mike Boone may be the smartest man in Dallas.” If writing a profile of him isn’t a conflict, one that might make readers suggest we rigged the vote, it’s hard to say what is. In fact, it made Mike Boone say it. “I’ll only do the interview,” he said, “if you promise me I won fair and square. Wick didn’t rig the vote, did he?” Only after being told he could look over the vote tally did Boone agree. Ignoring his request not to tell the story could go a long way toward establishing the journalistic independence of this article.
3. Boone is a good enough lawyer—he’s the most respected lawyer in Dallas*, for heaven’s sake—that he knows he can’t force the Fourth Estate to ignore pertinent information in its quest for the truth. So it very well could be a test to see if this magazine has the guts to tell the story. And you know what? We just might.
4. Boone spent much of the interview distinguishing between “smart” lawyers and “effective” lawyers. In general, private-school kids put an emphasis on “smart”—test scores, verbal acuity. But Boone is a public-school kid. He knows that while “smart” is important (several times, he praises the intelligence of the 450-plus lawyers in his firm), he says book learnin’ can only take you so far. LSAT scores are all well and good, but if you don’t know how to work people—how to cajole, bully, shut up, compliment, listen, or yell when necessary—then you’re not much of a lawyer. And this story illustrates that, under those parameters, Michael M. Boone is much of a lawyer.
5. It’s kinda funny, because a Yankee gets what’s coming to him.
We’ll try to be good, at least for now, and tell you Boone’s story minus the bleeding Northerner.
Mike Boone wanted to be an accountant. He’d grown up in Highland Park, gone to HP schools, then received his undergraduate degree at SMU. He was set to begin a life of number-crunching. “I know it sounds boring,” he says, “but I was not only going to do it, I was excited to do it.”
Until he got the law bug. It wasn’t Perry Mason that interested him. He never saw himself as a trial lawyer. Despite his easygoing, backslapping, quintessentially Southern personality (the sort of person with whom you could easily see a jury falling in love), his analytical nature was drawn to the contractual side of the law. He’d found his passion.
And once he enrolled in SMU law school, he matched his calling and ambition with a mentor: his professor Richard Haynes, a solo practitioner teaching evening classes and looking to find someone who would come to work for him full time. When he read Boone’s work, he targeted the young lawyer. “I just knew,” Haynes once said, “that if I could hire Mike Boone, I would have hit a home run.”
Boone was unsure at first. In 1967, large firms had 40 to 50 lawyers, and he was interviewing at several such established companies. It didn’t make sense to take a chance with someone in private practice, no matter how much he liked Haynes. Didn’t seem “smart.” He did it anyway. Went with his gut. “It was one of those things,” Boone says, “that you just felt was the right thing to do.”
Mike Boone is known as one of the greatest creators of malapropisms ever. D Magazine published many of them in 1997, but here are some of our favorites:
“We don’t have a foot to stand on.”
Boone smiles and shakes his head. “I don’t know how they happen,” he says. “They just happen. Like the other day, we were in with a bunch of New York lawyers, and I said, ‘Well, we’ve got to kill it in the bud right now.’ And I wondered why they looked at me so funny.”
The Law Office of Richard D. Haynes grew slowly, adding about a lawyer a year. In 1969, a law student from the University of Oklahoma, Don Templin, was beaten out for editor of the school’s law review and had to scramble to find summer work. He answered a notice attached to the law school bulletin board and spent the summer working in the conference room at Haynes’ offices. The next year, he was offered a job. Templin said he had to turn it down because he’d been drafted and had a three-year commitment to the Marines. He was told not to worry. The offer would stand until he returned.
“They don’t just think about today, they think about what’s best for the firm long term,” Templin says. “Mike is the one who talks about law practice being a marathon and not a sprint, about having integrity today and tomorrow. He does things that may not be good for us in the short term, but are the right thing to do long term.”
In 1970, Boone became a full partner, and Haynes and Boone was born. It was still small, still run like a family business. The partners and associates would still retreat every year to a lake house or hotel to study other firms, small and large, so as to incorporate their best practices. But Haynes and Boone grew in the same manner it was managed: cautiously, conservatively, with an emphasis on teamwork instead of individual accomplishment. It’s a cliché, but one reiterated so many times by lawyers who work there even today that it has the ring of truth. It’s what George Bramblett, a partner hired in 1974 and who was the firm’s first litigator, says attracted him to the firm.
Which doesn’t mean Bramblett wasn’t then, and isn’t now, able to see why Boone is so respected by peers. “First, you must be an exceptional lawyer,” he says. “Second, you must use that knowledge to help clients in a creative, useful way. He’s both, and that’s that’s why he’s so respected by clients and fellow lawyers.”
Which brings us to the story that isn’t supposed to be told.
In 1982, D Magazine named haynes and Boone one of Dallas’ “Big 12” law firms. It employed 62 lawyers. In the ’90s, “we just exploded” Boone says. Now it’s one of the biggest firms in Texas, despite never having merged with another firm, with offices around the country and plans to expand into Europe and the Pacific Rim. And although half of the firm still handles corporate transactions, half of it is involved in litigation. “This is all driven by finding great talent in sophisticated areas of law,” he says. “That’s what big companies need.”
During this run-up, Boone has become known almost as much for his commitment to Texas public schools as he is for his law work. When he was elected to the Highland Park School Board, he studied public school financing. The intricacies—and absurdities—awakened that dormant accounting gene. “Besides my parents and my church, public schools are what made me what I am today,” Boone says. “Finding ways to improve them—it makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing for everyone, not just for me. Like I’m giving back.”
“He’s one of the few people who really understands [school funding],” Bramblett says. “And that’s what he does so well: he masters a difficult subject, which is a great skill as a business lawyer.”
In fact, he’s legendary for being able to balance his law practice with his education work (besides public school work, he’s on the SMU Board of Trustees), as well as his charity (he tells all new lawyers they have three years to figure out in what charitable way they will give back to their community), his churchgoing (Preston Road Church of Christ), and time with his family (wife, lawyer daughter, investment banker son). He says it’s tough to do, because the law can consume you.
“Look, at the end of the day, we like to win. We don’t like losing,” Boone says, leaning forward. “And those New York firms, they don’t take time off. Day and night, they come at you. It’s like a hockey team. One line goes off the ice, they send five more guys back at you while they rest up. And we’re competitive as hell, so that means you can lose sight of what’s important real easy. But you can’t do that. You’ve got to take time for yourself, your family, God.” He laughs. “After we win the case, of course.”
It’s always the New York lawyers. Like the Ivy Leaguer who flew to Dallas to go over a complicated contract. Boone had told this gentleman that there was a certain provision that he did not want to see in the contract because there was no way his client would agree to it. In going over the contract proposal sent by the New York firm, Boone noticed they had tried to slip the proposal back into the contract. He warned his client, who had little stomach for confrontation, “Something’s going to happen, and you just need to be quiet, no matter what.”
The Ivy Leaguer sat across from Boone at the conference room table. Boone cheerfully, in his best Southern drawl, went page by page through the document, noting minor concerns and agreeing to minor changes. “Okay, we’re good with page 18, then,” he said. “Now, on page 20–”
Ivy Leaguer stopped him. “Wait. What about page 19?”
Boone smiled. But he could sense his client, seated next to him, was growing nervous. “Well, page 19 doesn’t exist,” Boone said. “It has that thing I told you not to include. You did, so it doesn’t exist. So on page 20–”
Embarrassed and insulted in front of his co-workers, the Ivy Leaguer stood, chastised Boone, and stormed out of the room. Or tried to. He didn’t know the door didn’t push open. It pulled open. He slammed into it face first and with shocking force, crushing his glasses and busting his nose, from which blood poured.
An hour later, after careful negotiations with third parties, he returned. The incident was never discussed, and the clause was removed from the contract.
Not how they teach it in law school. Effective. Pretty funny. Maybe even a little smart.
*This year, in conducting balloting for the Best Lawyers in Dallas, we asked attorneys to name the most respected lawyer in Dallas—besides Jim Coleman, who won the honor two years ago.