In November of 2000, my former law partner, Mike Manners, became a circuit judge in Jackson County. While I was elated that he was appointed, it brought a significant change in my life as we had spent the previous 20 years practicing law together. Mike and I tried a number of cases together and spent countless hours together working on cases, talking about the law, and trying to advance the cause of justice for our clients. I learned a lot from him and hopefully I taught him a thing or two through the years.
Our relationship as partners was truly a blessing. Mike was an outstanding courtroom lawyer and taught me a lot about presenting a case to the jury. We each had talents that we brought to the table. Mike was extraordinary at cross examination. If you have ever seen Jimmy Stewart in "Anatomy of a Murder," you have a sense of how Mike conducted cross-examination. Many times lawyers would complain that Mike was speaking directly to the jury during cross-examination rather than addressing the witness directly. Mike knew that the well-crafted questions during cross-examination were the keys to the process and when conducted properly, the witness almost became puppet-like as he maneuvered the strings of questions.
Mike never liked working with doctors in our cases, and so from an early point in our relationship, I became the lawyer dealing with the doctors. I would question them during trial and when necessary cross-examine them when used by the opposition during the defense of the case. It worked out well for me, because I developed a fearless attitude when relating with doctors that has carried me to this day in my medical malpractice cases. I enjoy the encounters with doctors and it is one of my great strengths as a lawyer today forged by the experiences with Mike.
Mike was also an outstanding appellate lawyer and argued most of the cases for the firm in the appellate courts. In particular, I remember one argument in St. Louis before federal appellate judges. One of the judges thought he had Mike trapped in a corner when Mike answered what the judge thought was a tricky question by citing a footnote in a case. The judge was left speechless. I wanted to stand up and cheer, but thought better of it.
I learned a lot about appeals from Mike and argued many cases myself. There was one case in particular that I took with me to my new firm that Mike had looked forward to arguing. It was a case that would involve changing the law of Missouri on fraud by insurance companies and Mike knew we could win. He was right and it was one of the great moments in my legal career when I led that case to victory. The many discussions Mike and I had about the case before he went to the bench played a huge role in the outcome of the case.
It’s fascinating how things turn out. Mike’s departure from the firm led me to join my current firm in January of 2001 which has led to 13 of the most enjoyable years in my life. I would not ever try to compare the two periods in my law career, but can only say that no lawyer has been as blessed as I have been to be to be surrounded by such good partners in a legal career.
Last summer, Mike informed me that he was going to retire from the bench. He was eligible to retire after spending 12 years as a judge and it made no sense for him to continue to work as a judge. It was a well-kept secret for a while, but I knew that Mike was going to join one of the best firms in Missouri, if not in the country, so I was very happy for him. I was ecstatic when Mike announced he was joining the law firm of Langdon & Emison in Lexington, Mo.
It is a match made in heaven. The two main partners in the firm, Bob Langdon and Kent Emison are two of the best trial lawyers in the country and two of the really good guys in our profession. They have tried product liability and catastrophic injury cases all over the country and have enjoyed incredible success. They have surrounded themselves with a number of very bright lawyers including Kent’s son, Brett. Not to downplay the skills of any of the lawyers in this firm, but Mike brings a feature to this firm that few firms have. Many judges retire and go on to have successful careers as lawyers, but few have the intellect and skill of advocacy of Mike Manners.
Having been on the bench for 12 years gives him extraordinary insight into the perspective of judges and so when he argues cases in front of trial judges and appellate judges, he will bring to the table years of experience as a judge and a practicing lawyer. Mike was recognized twice judge for being the outstanding judge in Missouri, which means that he is widely respected by judges and lawyers all over the state.
Mike began practicing again less than two months ago, and one of his first acts as practicing attorney was to argue a very significant case in the Missouri Court of Appeals. I am sure those appellate judges chuckled when they found out Mike was going to appear in front of them. They knew they were in for a treat as few lawyers in the history of Missouri have the skills that Mike exercises in appellate argument. I want to tell you about the case, because if it becomes the law of Missouri, it will have far-reaching consequences, but I am going to have to wait until next week to tell you because I am out of space.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org