MICHAEL T. REAGAN MAKES HIS CASE
The Ottawa appellate attorney is all about the details
INTERVIEW CONDUCTED AND EDITED BY BETH TAYLOR
Q: Why did you want the law degree as a
A: [Laughs] Like I said, the plan was half-
precursor to becoming an entrepreneur?
baked. I just wanted to be self-sufficient.
Q: When you started out in civil litigation,
were you on the defense side?
A: Defense for a long period of time. Then
as I moved into appellate work, I [would] get
referrals from both clients and law firms on
both sides—and I still do. It’s probably 50-50.
Q: Do you enjoy one more than the other?
A: No, I enjoy the issues as opposed to the
side of the fence.
Q: Can you describe one interesting case?
A: Last year, I did a case pro bono for
Chicago Volunteer Legal Services. It
involved two mortgage foreclosure cases,
which I’d never done before. A very smart
judge on the circuit court—the trial court
in Cook County—had ruled in the case of a
foreclosure against two deceased borrowers
… that the foreclosure case could not
proceed unless a personal representative
had been appointed to represent the
decedent or the decedent’s estate. The
lenders refused to do that, and the judge
dismissed their cases, and then the lenders
appealed. So I got into it, along with
Chicago Volunteer Legal Services.
Now, what made the case complicated
is that we did not have a client. We were
not representing the estates, because
nobody had ever been appointed as a
representative, and so we were only in the
case solely as amicus, arguing in favor of
the propriety of what the trial judge had
done. We lost in the appellate court, and
the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to take
the case. We had a very interesting oral
argument, and the Supreme Court agreed
Q: What do you like best about
A: I get to work with a wide variety of
great lawyers. There are, most of the time,
already lawyers in the case, and most
of the time the cases are of some size
and have sufficient interest to warrant
somebody taking an appeal. I’m lucky.
On the more substantive side, appellate
lawyers are, in my view, part of the world
of the appellate courts. Appellate lawyers
are not appellate judges, but nonetheless
the appellate judges and the lawyers
ultimately have a responsibility to figure
out how the particular case is going to fit
into the law … or whether the law should
be changed to accommodate the case. So
in one way, the judges and the lawyers do
the same thing.
Q: When did you decide to go into law?
A: I had a half-baked plan to get a
degree in mechanical engineering,
which I did; to get a law degree; and
then to get an MBA. I wanted to be an
entrepreneur. So I worked hard getting
the mechanical engineering degree
from Purdue [University], and then in
the first couple of weeks at Georgetown
law school, I realized that this was
going to be three more years of a
great deal of work. So I sat on a bench
outside the Court of Military Appeals
in D.C.—it just happened to be near
Georgetown law school—and thought
about what I wanted to do: whether I
wanted to pursue this plan of being an
entrepreneur or whether I ought to be a
lawyer. Because I was not really relishing
the idea of getting a second degree
which I also wasn’t going to use directly.
That was the day that I decided I was
going to focus on being a lawyer.
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REAGAN SHARES WHAT HE LIKES BEST
ABOUT PRACTICING APPELLATE LAW