Getting Around the Normal Armor Involved in Litigation
Mark Mueller adds Eastern thinking to the Western practice of law
Published in 2010 Texas Super Lawyers magazine on September 13, 2010
Mark Mueller of Mueller Hillin may hail from rural Wisconsin and reside in Austin, but he isn’t a man whose body of work can be defined by wholly tangible properties.
A teacher at Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers College in Wyoming, Mueller’s 29-year career path has been noteworthy not only for the quality of his cases but his unique approach to them, which is rooted in Eastern philosophies. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working. His handling of the controversial “condom rape case” in Austin in the early ’90s resulted in a reform of the grand jury system’s use of counselors in rape cases. His dedication to Native American land rights placed him in a decade-long pro bono battle over oil drilling on sacred Montana ground, during which time he was given rare participatory access to Blackfoot Indian ritual and practice. He also succeeded in preserving the land.
“There has always been a piece of me that imagined making a big contribution,” he says. “Motivating people to change or see something they didn’t see before. I’ve always felt that a lot could be accomplished with the power of focus, the power of belief. And here’s where the law part comes in: persuading other people that what you think is important. That it’s worth it to them to do something about it as well.”
To achieve that focus, Mueller has long been a student of myriad forms of spiritual study.
“I try to balance out my life,” Mueller says. “Because I have extremes.”
Mueller’s spiritual journey often mirrors the intensity of his case load. He’s a practitioner of the healing study of Qigong, an active participant of hot yoga, and just finished a two-year study in Shamanism that found him traveling the world to “nature power spots” in such countries as Ecuador and Mexico. Mueller doesn’t consider himself a Shaman, and is limited—as per the agreement of his group—about how much detail he can divulge about their study. But the Austin attorney can speak about what the practice means to him and his legal process.
“I’ll get a heightened appreciation of how things work in the world,” Mueller says of his Shamanistic practice and pursuits. “A heightened feeling of connection with people. My awareness, understanding of things and my intuition will be increased.
“A few years ago,” he adds by way of example, “I had all these cases coming in waves—we were top-heavy with cases of all different types. One day I looked up and thought, ‘This is out-of-control.’ I ended up working with one of my Shaman teacher guides and we wrote down a list of all these cases. Then, for each one he’d say the name of the case and instructed me to say the first thing that popped in my head about an image, an animal, or an element of nature that came to mind. For example: one case may have been an eagle, another may have been a badger. Then we found a hurdle for each case, and then went through again and found a dollar amount that might be the right number for each one. So I had a list of all the cases, a list of all these intuitive helpers, and a tight range of value for each. There were about 20 cases on that list and in the next six months we were able to resolve about 15 of them. And it wasn’t a fire sale.”
Explaining the clarity that came with the process, Mueller says, “One of the things that happened was that I was looking for alternate ways to negotiate and approach people. In normal practices, you beat each other up in court and fight out your differences. You can’t do that in this short of time with this many cases. There had to be some way to get around the normal armor involved in litigation. It gave me the idea that a lot of limitations we put on ourselves are because of tradition. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
While Mueller has continually evolved his focus and communicative skills by placing himself in situations that most would find unusual—he also owns a film production company called Voodoo Cowboy, which is just two doors down from his law office—he’s careful about oversharing his methods.
“I certainly didn’t tell [most people] that, ‘In this case: the eagle tells me it’s going to be this result,’” Mueller says with a laugh.
But he tells some people. And the reactions to his alternative approaches can be profound, and useful.
“When I came back from the Amazon with bones and teeth and beads—people thought that was real strange. But I’ve found that the more I’ve been out there publicly announcing my other interests, the more I talk about my experiences, the more people seem to open up themselves,” Mueller says. “So there might be somebody on the opposite side of a case that looks like a nasty person. But when I share these sides of my story, things start popping up in their life, too. And they share it. It’s like permission to say, ‘We don’t have to play by these standard rules.’”