by Jared M. Slade
“I’m very competitive and like to win. If you are not passionate about winning—and by that I don’t mean trivial scorekeeping, but turning your client’s situation into a success for them—then I don’t know how you go to work everyday,” revealed Thomas M. Melsheimer, the Managing Principal of Fish & Richardson’s Dallas office and this year’s recipient of the Dallas Bar Association’s Trial Lawyer of the Year. It is clear from his winning record and praise from colleagues, adversaries and jurists alike that Tom brings passion, skill and success with him everyday.
“He’s a superlative lawyer, truly the whole package,” remarked Judge Craig Smith, who presides over the 192nd District Court of Dallas County. Judge Smith, who not only has seen Mr. Melsheimer in action from the bench, but faced him as an adversary years before, calls Mr. Melsheimer “the best oral advocate I know or have seen—he has the voice of a stage actor and mixes humor and wit while being great on his feet.” Baker Botts L.L.P.’s Rod Phelan agrees and summed up Tom as “the complete package:” “He is virtually a unique combination: exceptionally bright, articulate, passionate, earnest and likeable. He has good judgment, and he works like hell.”
Plus, Judge Smith noted, Mr. Melsheimer is provocative with his very convincing arguments. A perfect example is likely the most viral motion to dismiss ever: Mr. Melsheimer’s famous inclusion of a “true and correct copy of one of many victory celebrations” of the Dallas Mavericks Championship in support of a successful motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging Mav’s owner Mark Cuban mismanaged the NBA franchise.
It is that sort of lawyering that makes Mr. Melsheimer one of the most sought out advocates around and has secured a track record of phenomenal jury verdicts for his clients, including numerous cases cited by the National Law Journal as among the nation’s top cases, two nine-figure jury verdicts as a plaintiff, and last fall’s insider trading defense for Mark Cuban against the SEC. “Simply put, Tom Melsheimer is, without a doubt, the best trial lawyer I have ever had the privilege of trying a case with,” effused Juanita Brooks, a San Diego-based partner of Tom’s at Fish & Richardson, “It doesn’t matter what the case might be, from complex patent litigation to securities fraud to mass tort, Tom handles all of the issues with his classic charm, wit and intelligence. Juries love him because he’s genuine and has a unique ability to connect with people from all walks of life.”
Mr. Melsheimer admits that his wife of over 30 years, Miki, is his unsung hero and secret weapon. As an accomplished playwright and director, “she provides insight and perspective.” Plus, Tom shared, “she keeps me level so I don’t get too high or too low.” In addition to Miki, Mr. Melsheimer attributes his success to following two values: looking to work with “people who inspire me” and pursuing the “the gift of insecurity” (which he borrowed from the title of former federal judge and special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh’s autobiography).
Mr. Melsheimer was proud to have had “the good fortune to work with good people.” After clerking for the Honorable Homer Thornberry on the Fifth Circuit, Tom cut his teeth at Akin Gump before joining the U.S. Attorneys’ office. Those experiences were formative and taught Tom about being a trial lawyer. He learns from others, though counsels young attorneys that “you can’t be an impressionist—you have to learn from the best but make it your own.” Eventually, you “have to be comfortable in your own skin” and employ what works for you. Judge Smith agreed, noting that Mr. Melsheimer has earned the loyalty and allegiance of a “great team of attorneys that surround him and have helped him become a great lawyer.”
The gift of insecurity provides Mr. Melsheimer with that sense of purpose that pushes him to work harder and do more. He notes that gift cannot become all consuming—at some point the advocate must have the confidence and self-assuredness to take action—but it must drive the lawyer to persevere. Arguably the best example of Mr. Melsheimer following this approach came long before the Dallas native left town to earn his bachelors from Notre Dame and his law degree from the University of Texas. In elementary school, Tom stuttered. Though he is quick to point out his situation was not as profound as depicted in The King’s Speech, he pursued speech and debate at Jesuit in part to overcome the challenge.
Were he not regaling juries, convincing judges, challenging opposing counsel, and leading his Fish & Richardson team, Mr. Melsheimer likely would still be behind a podium, teaching. He notes that he has enjoyed teaching law school classes as it, like practicing law, offers “lots of feedback and personal interaction.”
Fortunately for our Bar, Mr. Melsheimer has no plans to step away. In fact, “Tom’s main problem may be that he’s peaking too soon,” joked Judge Smith after learning that Mr. Melsheimer is the youngest recipient of this award. “Tom is a worthy recipient of the Trial Lawyer of the Year Award not only because of his record of excellence in the courtroom, but also because of his dedication to the craft of being a great advocate and his desire to follow in and continue the long line of great Dallas trial lawyers,” added Dallas Bar Association President and Jackson Walker litigator Scott McElhaney.
Jared M. Slade litigates for Alston & Bird LLP, serves as Co-Chair of the DBA Publications Committee, and can be reached at email@example.com.