The American Inns of Court mourns the sudden passing of Michael W. Coffield, Esq., of Chicago, Illinois. Mike was a founding member of the Chicago American Inn of Court in 1988. Mike later went on to serve on the AIC Foundation's Board of Trustees from 1990 to 1997. In 1999, Mike received the A. Sherman Christensen Award in recognition of his significant leadership in the American Inns of Court movement.
A funeral service was held on Tuesday, April 3, 2007 at Old St. Patrick's Church in Chicago. Following is the eulogy offered by Kevin Flynn, Esq., a longtime colleage of Mike's and a former member of the Markey-Wigmore American Inn of Court.
"I had the pleasure of practicing law with Mike Coffield for almost thirty years. Mike gave me my first job as a lawyer; something that so many of us in this church today could also say. That job offer was an opportunity that I probably didn’t deserve at the time, but Mike made me feel as though I did. Mike always made others feel good about themselves.
"I accepted Mike’s job offer, and although we each started our own separate firms about ten years ago we continued to share office space and work on cases together until the day that he died. I have never practiced law without Mike being just down the hall.
"I want to begin by telling you how very proud I am to have known Michael Coffield. I watched and admired and learned from Mike as he fulfilled his roles as husband, father, lawyer and friend; and more recently as an active member of this wonderful church community.
"Throughout my professional relationship with Mike, I was guided by him; encouraged by him; inspired by him; humored by him; and, most importantly, loved so greatly by him as a friend and as my mentor. I have neither laughed nor cried harder with anyone than Mike. We shared victories and tragedies and throughout them all, Mike was always there for me. Mike was always there for so many.
"Despite the rigors of his professional and personal lives, Mike had time for everyone. It seemed as though every time I’d walk into Mike’s office he’d introduce me to someone who was seeking his help. One day it would be a law student who was struggling with whether or not to complete her degree. Another day it would be a young lawyer seeking Mike’s guidance on how to start his own law firm, as Mike had done. Another day it would be a state’s attorney or assistant U.S. Attorney who’d prosecuted a case against a client of Mike’s, had struck up a friendship and sought his advice on how to transition into the private sector. Another day it would be a managing partner of a law firm seeking Mike’s advice on a dispute among his partners. Although it wasn’t only lawyers who sought Mike’s help, over the years he developed the reputation as being a lawyers’ lawyer. Many Chicago law firms owe their creation or their continuation to Mike’s good counsel.
"Mike’s passion for the law extended to his commitment to its teaching. Mike was a founding board member of the Chicago Public School District’s Law and Public Service Academies. Mike not only helped formulate policy and curriculum for the LPS Academies, but for several years he taught a mock trial class at four inner-city high schools that were part of the LPS program. He’d bring the kids down to our offices to prepare for their mock trials and they’d conclude their evening sessions with pizza. One of Mike’s mock trial students was a standout basketball player for his school, but he told me that winning his trial competition was the most fun he’d ever had in high school. Winning is always fun; but winning with Mike was something special.
"Mike’s interest in mentoring prompted him to help found the Chicago Inns of Court, a professional organization that provides opportunities for judges, law professors, practitioners and law students to meet in a collegial atmosphere and develop relationships that foster professionalism and civility between and among the bench and bar. The Chicago Inn of Court has become one of the best Inns in the country. Mike also served on the Board of Trustees for the American Inns of Court Foundation, which establishes and assists American Inns throughout the country.
"Mike was the epitome of the work hard-play hard philosophy. Ask anyone who ever tried a case with Mike and they’ll tell you that they never had more fun working so hard. I spent many late nights at the office with Mike trying to finish a brief or prepare for a trial. I’d go home exhausted knowing that Mike would stay even later and then be at the East Bank Club at 6:00 the next morning for three sets of racquetball. In his day, Mike was a gifted athlete, whose grace on a ski hill was matched only by his eloquence in the courtroom.
"I remember my pride in watching Mike argue before the Supreme Court of the United States. It was the second day of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s tenure on the Court, and the gallery remained full of press from throughout the world observing the first female Justice of our highest court. It was Mike’s first appearance before the Court; indeed the first time he’d ever been in the courtroom, and he waited his turn for oral argument observing the surroundings and listening to the two cases being argued before his. Both involved highly technical constitutional issues and the arguments elicited few questions or comments from the Justices.
"Supreme Court proceedings have a style and decorum that are unique to that venue. Of course, we all know that Mike’s style, with its lack of decorum, is likewise unique. Just before he stood to argue, Mike handed me his notes and told me that he intended to handle the argument without them. As the attorney responsible for preparing him for that day, I protested as vigorously as the circumstances would allow. But Mike just smiled and patted my arm. He told me that he wanted to engage the Justices as seven men and one woman all sharing a common pursuit of justice and that he didn’t need his notes for that dialogue. He made his argument that day with the same warmth, congeniality and sense of humor that we all know Mike for. He began by noting that the Justices didn’t necessarily need to rule in his client’s favor for justice to be served in the case. He told them that it was only important that the Justices rule in a way that provided his client, and others in his client’s position, with clarity on the legal issue in question. I remember Mike arguing that a unanimous ruling by the court -- he referred to it in the argument as “the big 9-0” -- would serve to eliminate the uncertainty that had existed in the applicable law up to that time. As he did in every setting, Mike seemed to make the Justices feel at-ease and the entire courtroom seemed far less tense than it had been during the prior two arguments. That was one of Mike’s greatest gifts and it always served him well.
"My brother Marty was in the gallery that day. Marty had clerked for the Supreme Court and had argued several cases before it. He told me that Mike’s argument was one of the best he had ever seen. The Court subsequently ruled unanimously in favor of Mike’s client. He had gotten “the big 9-0.”
"Fifteen years later I watched Mike return to the Supreme Court, this time for a black-tie dinner and ceremony honoring him as the recipient of a prestigious award given annually by the American Inns of Court. Justice Clarence Thomas hosted the event and sat with Mike and his family at the dinner. We dined in the great hall just outside the courtroom and then proceeded into the courtroom itself for the award presentation.
"As it had been the first time I was with Mike in that courtroom, Mike’s unique style contrasted sharply with the grandeur of this black-tie affair. Justice Thomas made some opening remarks, welcoming us all to this special place for this special occasion, and then Mike was introduced and presented with his award. Mike began his remarks with an allusion to the controversy surrounding Justice Thomas’ confirmation hearings, still very much in the news at that time, noting that it appeared that he and Justice Thomas had much in common. As I struggled for my next breath, Justice Thomas erupted in laughter, literally slapping his knees in response to Mike’s continued roasting of him. For the next 20 minutes, Mike proceeded with an extemporaneous comedic monologue that had everyone in attendance in tears. I’m sure it’s a night Justice Thomas remembers fondly.
"Mike taught me so much over the course of our thirty years together. He taught me to honest with myself and with others. He taught me that good advocacy can be performed with courtesy and civility. He taught me to have faith in God’s will. He taught me to never focus on life’s burdens but on its blessings.
"I could have, and should have, learned so much more from Mike. But I believe that the single most important thing he would want me to remember is that life is a gift from God. Mike was always thankful for the gift of life. He was thankful for every day God gave him on this earth with his family and his friends. He’d often joke that his own life proved that God clearly has a great sense of humor.
I will always be thankful that God blessed me with the gift of Mike Coffield in my life."