Legendary Chicago Trial Lawyer Max Wildman Dies at 91; Founder of Major Firm Mesmerized Juries

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A legendary Chicago trial lawyer with an “aw shucks” Jimmy Stewart style that belied his business acumen and mesmerizing skills in front of a jury died today.

Max Wildman, a co-founder of Wildman Harrold Allen & Dixon, was 91 years old.

His warm, easy-going manner, both in court and in everyday life, combined with extraordinary trial skills that made him one of the legendary lawyers of his time, colleagues told the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (sub. req.).

Judge William J. Bauer of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals described Wildman as a “tiger” in court who nonetheless was routinely considerate and friendly to others even as he reduced witnesses to a somewhat speechless state..

“He took them where he wanted to go,” Bauer said of opposing witnesses questioned by Wildman, “and he had one of the beautiful attributes of a cross examiner: He knew when to shut up. I never heard him ask one question too many.”

Tom Allen, a co-founder of the Wildman firm, described Wildman as a master trial strategist in a tribute published online by the law firm today.

“I often ran strategy questions by him for his opinion,” Allen said. “He spent a lot of time representing large corporations. His technique was to humanize the corporation. He was a master at taking a case as he found it and making the best of any fact situation. He was a brilliant cross-examiner. He could make any opposing witness his witness.”

A veteran of World War II, which interrupted his legal studies at the University of Michigan Law School, Wildman returned to graduate in 1947. He also earned a master’s in business administration from the University of Chicago in 1952.

In an unusual move at the time, he left Kirkland & Ellis in 1967, after 20 years with the firm, to form Wildman Harrold with five other lawyers. The firm now has about 200 attorneys on its roster and is expected to merge soon with Boston-based Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge.

Asked before his death why he left Kirkland, Wildman explained that he was ready for a new challenge, the law firm tribute recounts. “I thought: What am I going to do? Am I just going to plod along here the rest of my life or am I going to have fun? Try something. That had great appeal,” Wildman said.

The nephew of a U.S. Attorney in Indianapolis, Wildman enjoyed going to court with him and knew by the time he was 11 that he wanted to be a trial lawyer.

His law firm told Crain’s Chicago Business that he won a Model A Ford in a high-stakes poker game at Butler University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, then polished his future trial court skills by selling cars.

Routinely focused on listening to others and meeting their needs, Wildman was exceptional not simply because of his legal skills but because of his philosophy and attitude toward life, according to his firm.

“He was a savvy businessman and a masterful trial attorney who had a genuine affinity for every person he met,” said said partner Craig White, who chairs Wildman Harrold’s litigation practice. “He presented the same self to everybody: The glass is half full, the sun will come up tomorrow, and you are a great person.”

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