In Memoriam: J. Michael Hennigan

April 17, 2024
Hennigan Headshot

The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law mourns the passing of distinguished alumnus, J. Michael Hennigan (JD ’70, BA ‘66), who leaves behind a legacy of excellence, integrity and unparalleled dedication to the practice of law.

Hennigan, a founding principal of McKool Smith Hennigan, was widely regarded as one of the nation's foremost trial lawyers, specializing in complex commercial litigation. Over the span of his illustrious career, he served as lead counsel in more than 45 major jury trials in state and federal courts, securing judgments and settlements exceeding $8 billion for his clients.

His impact on the legal profession was profound, earning him recognition in prominent legal publications such as Chambers USA, Chambers Global, Who’s Who in American Law, and The Best Lawyers in America. Hennigan's exceptional trial advocacy skills and unwavering commitment to excellence garnered him acclaim as one of the country's top litigators.

"Mike’s impact on the legal profession cannot be overstated,” said Marc Miller, dean of University of Arizona Law. “His tireless advocacy, unparalleled expertise, and unwavering integrity set him apart as a true titan of the courtroom. His passing leaves an irreplaceable void in our community, but his legacy will continue to inspire generations of legal professionals. He was also a great friend to our College — to his College — and to me."

Throughout his career, Hennigan remained deeply connected to the University of Arizona Law community. He regularly reflected on the lessons he learned while in school, going so far as to have a copy of “The Ares Doctrine,” a series of professional and personal beliefs championed by the late College of Law Dean Charles Ares (’52), including “Be an honest lawyer,” and “If clients want anything less, let them find a new goddamn lawyer,” hanging in his office. In recognition of his outstanding contributions, the college awarded him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. He also delivered the prestigious annual Peter Chase Neumann Lecture on Civil Justice in 2022, where he shared invaluable insights gleaned from his illustrious career as a top-tier trial lawyer. In 2023, Hennigan and his family contributed $1 million to the “A New Day in Court” initiative to transform the college’s advocacy program. Upon completion of the construction phase, the J. Michael Hennigan Courtroom will emerge as a modernized space in the heart of the college, a poignant reminder of his lasting impact. 

“Mike was a titan in the legal profession and a remarkable mentor to those of us privileged enough to have practiced with him,” said colleague Shawna Ballard (’91). “He was a great intellect and an out-of-the-box thinker with an innate ability to read witnesses and jurors alike.  His strength of character and passion for justice stood out as an example for all of us.”

In his retirement earlier this year, Hennigan was celebrated for his remarkable contributions to the legal industry. Distinguished by his signature bowtie, another nod to Dean Ares, and renowned for his courtroom prowess, he leaves behind a legacy of excellence that will endure for years to come. 

Read J. Michael Hennigan's full obituary here