Name: Michael D. Hatcher
Practice Group: Intellectual Property Litigation (primary)
Michael Hatcher is a partner in the firm’s Dallas office, where his practice focuses on patent litigation at the trial and appellate levels with an emphasis on electronics, telecommunications, drug and biologic patent cases. He has worked as a lawyer with a disability throughout his career in the legal profession and recently helped to establish Sidley’s Disability Diversity Alliance.
How long have you practiced at Sidley?
I’ve been with the firm for most of my legal career, beginning as a 1L and 2L summer associate in Sidley’s Dallas office. After graduating from Georgetown Law in 2000, I worked for a year in the Dallas office before moving to Atlanta to clerk for the Honorable J.L. Edmondson.
Following my clerkship, I then worked in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office for several years. After the birth of our first child, my wife and I decided to move back home to Texas. Sidley was kind enough to let me return to the Dallas office, and I’ve been here ever since.
How has your disability affected your career?
My disability is actually the thing that drove me to the practice of law. After college, I was halfway through undergraduate fighter pilot training for the U.S. Air Force when I got on the back of a motorcycle for the first time in my life. One of my fellow student pilots was driving, and he lost control going around a corner. We hit a bridge head-on at 50 miles per hour.
I broke my neck and sustained 13 skull fractures, four facial fractures and multiple compound fractures throughout my body. The impact of the crash also pulled all the nerves that go to my right arm and my spinal cord, which caused my permanent disability. My right arm and most of the upper right side of my torso is paralyzed.
When I woke up in the hospital a few weeks after the accident and became cognizant that I was paralyzed, I cried at first. Then I began to think about what I was going to do with my life. I realized that I could never compete physically at a high-level again. I took a deep look at my life — what drove me and mattered to me — and I realized that I was competitive to a fault. I started to think about how I could compete intellectually. What I came up with was litigation and trial work. I decided to go to law school, where I could compete mentally on an even playing field with others.
What is your experience at the firm working as a lawyer with a disability? How has this affected your work as a trial lawyer?
Sidley has been great. I’ve never had to worry about accommodating my disability. In Dallas, the office manager, Gayla, has always looked out for me. For instance, I have a table outside the exterior office doors to put down whatever I am carrying so that I can use my badge to unlock the door. The firm has always proactively reached out to see if I’ve needed or wanted anything.
It’s interesting — what to do with my disability when I’m before a jury. Over the course of a trial, the jury is going to notice and wonder why I only use one arm. I’ve talked to jury consultants about whether to introduce myself at the start of a trial and explain that my right arm is paralyzed. There’s been no consensus from the four or five consultants that I’ve spoken with so far, and I haven’t asked a judge to let me address a jury about it yet.
However, in a trial, I do have to think ahead when I’m on my feet, cross-examining someone or working with an exhibit. If I’m arguing a motion, I have to think about how to get my binder and a cup of water up to the podium, where to place them and the like. A reception, or any place you typically hold something and may shake hands, can be challenging. There’s all kinds of little logistical issues that require foresight.
You recently helped to establish Sidley’s Disability Diversity Alliance. What was the impetus for the group and what do you want to see the group accomplish in the next year?
I reached out to Sally Olson about a disability network when I noticed that many of our clients, Microsoft in particular, had started to focus on disability as part of their diversity programs. This triggered in my mind that it was important to make sure I was disclosed as disabled and that we had a network in place at the firm to support others who also had a disability.
I hope having the Disability Diversity Alliance in place encourages other lawyers to disclose. The only way to strengthen our disability diversity is to grow the numbers. When we can grow the numbers, this naturally shows disabled lawyers on the outside, who may be considering which firm to join, that Sidley is committed to them. There is nothing else really, other than having lawyers with disabilities visible at the firm, to demonstrate that Sidley “walks the walk” and “talks the talk.”
I also hope that we can expand this network and use it to connect with our clients. I think it’s an excellent platform for business development.
Why do you think there has been an increase in law firms paying more attention to the lack of lawyers with disabilities in the profession recently?
As the understanding and importance of diversity has grown generally, there is the realization that disabled lawyers offer another unique set of viewpoints. There is a sizable chunk of the population with some type of disability, and companies want to be representative of the population as a whole. Law firms are starting to do the same.
What advice would you give to lawyers who have a disability they have not disclosed?
I would absolutely encourage lawyers with disabilities to disclose. Becoming an attorney, be it an associate, counsel or partner, at a firm like Sidley is extremely difficult. The fact that you have overcome a disability shows your strength and ability to persevere in the face of a great challenge — a greater challenge than typically faced.
Letting it be known that you are working in this profession with a disability is not a negative — it’s very much a positive.