I confess my bias because the Honorable Michael W. Manners and I were partners for 20 wonderful years. Few will disagree with me when I say he has one of the brightest legal minds in the state.
He was an amazing trial lawyer, as I was privileged to watch him try many cases. His ability to cross-examine witnesses was extraordinary. He reminded me of Jimmy Stewart’s character in “Anatomy of a Murder,” one of the great legal movies ever. Instead of facing the witness during cross-examination, he would speak to the jury as he questioned the witness. Mike believed that cross-examination was the foundation of closing argument and with the use of leading questions, he would begin framing his closing argument with cross-examination questions of witnesses. It was delightful watching him slice and dice witnesses with perfection. Mike always believed that you won most cases in cross-examination of opposing witnesses.
Mike was also an outstanding appellate lawyer. I was able to watch him argue a few cases in the appellate courts. One was a federal case that he argued before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals at the Washington University Law School in St. Louis in 1982. We stayed the night before the argument in the old Cheshire Inn in Richmond Heights, which was near Washington University, and we walked to the argument the next morning. It was a long walk down Skinker Road in Clayton near the St. Louis Zoo, probably too long to walk before an important argument, but we arrived on time.
Mike loved oral arguments because he loved to joust with appellate judges. He always said oral argument rarely changed a judge’s mind, but he viewed it as an opportunity to highlight the important issues to the three-judge panel. Those who argue a lot will tell you that they prefer to engage in debate with the judges rather than just regurgitate arguments that had already been briefed. The best judges will have read the briefs before argument and know the briefs and the arguments well enough to be able to engage in debate with the lawyers arguing the case.
The Socratic method was something we learned in law school although I don’t ever remember a professor referring to Socrates in my legal education. Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, believed that you could arrive at the truth by engaging in a form of debate.
There are three steps in the Socratic method. It is used to find truth and question assumption through a series of steps. These steps include examining a claim, questioning that claim and finding true knowledge. Good law professors train you for argument by utilizing the Socratic method.
The best appellate judges use the Socratic method and welcome an opportunity to debate the issues with superb appellate counsel. Mike Manners was such a lawyer.
Mike began his career writing briefs before word processing was invented. A crude form of word processing called a Mag Card Word Processor. A Selectric typewriter was hard-wired to a magnetic card reading base. It was possible to write multiple drafts of briefs, but this became much easier when word processing became readily available on computers. Mike wore out the Mag Card Word Processor as he took great pride in his briefs, fine tuning them over and over again.
Read and learn
Mike especially liked relying on old law. Early in our career, the law books were not on computer and we had some of the more recent Missouri law cases in books called the Southwestern Reporter in our library. We still have some of the reporters in our current office, but no one has used them for years. They are headed to a landfill. We did not have the old cases dating back to the 19th century, but they were available in the courthouse library across the street from our office on Kansas Avenue. Mike and I spent countless hours in that library researching the issues. I must confess Mike spent more time there than I did. He loved reading the dusty old cases because they were written with much flair and style.
That case in St. Louis back in the early 1982 involved application of antitrust laws to business entities created by government. It was actually a novel approach we were taking, and we expected that the judges on our panel would not be friendly to our position. I don’t remember much of the argument, but I do remember a judge from Arkansas challenging Mike’s knowledge of a particular case with a very difficult question.
Most lawyers would not have been able to answer the question, but I was so proud when Mike told the judge to examine a footnote on a particular page of a particular case to answer a particular question. You could tell that the judge was dumbfounded that Mike could answer his question so clearly with specificity. It did not change the outcome of the case, but Mike gained the respect of that judge.
Mike and I separated as partners in 2000 when he became a circuit judge and I joined my current firm. I learned a lot from being with him for all of those years. Judge Manners retired from the bench a few years ago and is in private practice. Many lawyers call upon him to handle appeals because of his outstanding reputation as an appellate lawyer. Mike should be on the Missouri Supreme Court as it could use his wisdom and experience, but that is a story for another day.
Even though we are no longer partners, he still shares his knowledge frequently. I never quit learning from him.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, www.wagblaw.com. Email him at email@example.com