Bill Munck: The Lawyer from Long Island

It’s hard to imagine it today, as he has such a commanding presence, but Bill Munck was bullied as a child. The son of a Long Island police officer, he became a favorite target of kids whose older brothers and sisters had run-ins with his dad. At first, Munck ran away from them. “I became the fastest kid in town,” he says. “I’d run away from a 5-year-old.” But then, his dad found out. 

“When I was 7, my dad sat me down and said, ‘You’re not in trouble. But I’m not going to stop being a cop, so you’re going to have to learn how to fight.’” His father taught him to box and hit a speed bag during sparring sessions in the family’s garage. He moved up to jujutsu and karate classes from a dojo who taught hand-to-hand combat to police officers, and by the time he was 14, he was a third-degree black belt.

That feeling of knowing what it’s like to be the underdog has never left Munck. He has built one of the nation’s most successful technology-focused law firms, but he’ll take cases outside his area of specialization if there is justice to be meted out. “I hate bullying, from my own life experiences,” Munck says. “I hunt bullies; I always have. I don’t care what it takes. It’s in me.”

The Dallas-based firm he co-founded and leads as managing partner, Munck Wilson Mandala, started 25 years ago with a team of six. Today, it has more than 200 employees and 95 attorneys. Many of its lawyers hold engineering degrees and worked in tech before moving into law. Collectively, they’re fluent in 13 languages. 

Munck Wilson Mandala is known for having a strong cadre of women leaders, especially for a firm that specializes in serving tech clients. It’s also known for its family-friendly culture. Both were intentionally cultivated by the cop’s kid from New York—an only child.

He grew up in the Bellmore hamlet of Long Island, about four miles from Jones Beach State Park. His mom was an office manager whose father was a policeman. His dad was the son of a self-taught engineer; he had a thriving contracting business in Brooklyn but lost it during the Great Depression and never recovered. “My dad went from being upper-middle class to being dirt poor, warming bricks and putting them under the mattress,” Munck says. “He lied about his age and joined the Navy when he was 16. He was a rebel who hated everything about school, but he was brilliant.”

Before leaving for the service, his father participated in a championship swimming meet. “He got a silver medal,” says Munck, smiling at the memory of his dad telling him the tale. “The reason he didn’t win gold was because he fired up a Camel while he was on the diving stand. The gun went off, he took a drag, flicked his cigarette at his coach, and dove into the pool.” Like his father, the younger Munck excelled in sports.

He was recruited to play lacrosse at the college level and chose Hofstra University, where he earned undergraduate and graduate degrees, then worked at a high-tech company, where he met his wife, Sue. He saved up money for law school, and decided to stick with Hofstra.

He had always wanted to be a lawyer; he just didn’t know what kind. He also was put off by the “cutthroat” environment and wondered to his father whether he could be successful there, or if he had made a mistake. His father straightened him out. “He said, ‘When are you going to learn? It’s not about being the best; it’s about doing the best you can possibly do,’” Munck recalls. “He had been telling me that my whole life. For the first time, I listened.”

After grades were posted, other law students would race to see their scores. Munck never bothered. “I decided that if I was doing my absolute best, the grades would take care of themselves,” he says.

He and Sue married in January 1992 during Munck’s third year. He went to the library and dug up a Martindale-Hubbell law directory, and he and his new wife began searching for firms that had anything related to intellectual property in California, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and Dallas. (They had gotten to know the city after visiting some family members who moved from New York to North Texas to work for JCPenney.)

Many law firms were struggling at the time, but tech lawyers were in demand, and firms in Silicon Valley were especially interested in Munck due to his industry experience. Out of 20 interviews, he got 19 offers. But Winstead in Dallas wanted to talk, too.  

The firm was looking to build an IP practice, and they made Munck an offer that closely matched what the Silicon Valley firms said they’d pay. “I looked at the fact that, for the work I wanted to do, there was an enormous number of people doing it in Northern California,” Munck says. “In 1992, here in Dallas, there were just a handful. I also thought about why California was so successful. Dallas basically had the same infrastructure; it had the airport, universities, money, and Texas Instruments, which was underwriting UTD. I was staying at The Adolphus, and I walked to my interview at Renaissance Tower. I looked around and thought to myself, ‘This town is going to explode. This could really work.’”

SEARCHING FOR A FAMILY

Munck was a “miracle child,” born when his mother, Mildred Grace, was 36. And he was an only child—a rarity for the times, his extended family, and the German-Irish neighborhood in which he lived. Born out of sync with his many cousins, Munck was too young to play with most of them. “I didn’t have any siblings, so I had to find my own brothers and sisters,” he says. “I had these needs, and my friends filled them. There are about 25 of us, and we’ve remained close.

“What’s interesting is, I grew up in a very blue-collar town, but everyone in my group of friends has been wildly successful in one form or another, whether they went to Wall Street, or became teachers, policemen or firefighters,” Munck says, “My mother would always tell me, ‘Your expectations of your friendships are unrealistic because they’re not your siblings.’ But for me, they became my siblings; for them, I was a very close friend.”

Among his close childhood friends is former Apollo Global Management president and top Goldman Sachs exec Marc Spilker, who has known Munck since both were in kindergarten.

“You’re not dealing with a wishy-washy person who is trying to find himself,” Spilker says. “He didn’t ever have to search for who he was—his core principles and how he lives. He’s just very authentic. … People always wanted to be around him because he was so clear.”

That sense of self comes from deep within, Spilker adds. “If there’s a spectrum of people who are guided by extrinsic motivation versus people who are guided by intrinsic motivation, Billy is way on the intrinsic side. He has a natural desire to do things, what he wants to do, and how he sees things. He doesn’t care what other people think. His principles are built upon his own intrinsic motivation. It’s very powerful. And he’s exceedingly loyal. I mean, you have to do a lot to get on his bad side.”

Both boys had a fiercely competitive streak that sometimes caused the two to clash. But the fistfights were brief and quickly forgotten. Not forgotten, though, is a particularly memorable elementary school game. Billy always had to win. He was playing it all out every single moment—which, for better or worse, is like how I am,” Spilker says. “We were playing this game of hide-and-go-seek or tag or one of those games that kids play, and Billy is literally hiding up in a tree. Someone sees him and starts shaking the limbs. Billy falls out of the tree and lands on the ground and clearly, his arm is broken. It’s hanging down. For kids, it was a little freaky. We say, ‘Billy, we’ve got to take you home.’ And he says, ‘The game is not over; we’ve got to keep playing.’ I say, ‘You gotta go home; you have a broken arm.’ But he didn’t want to quit. He was mad that he had gotten shaken out of the tree; it was a perfect hiding spot. He says, ‘We gotta redo the game!’ It was like he was saying, ‘I want to win. Even if it’s hurting me, I’ve got to excel, and I’ve got to do well.’”

THE HUB OF THE WHEEL

Munck was just getting his law career going at Winstead in Dallas when he learned that his father’s lifelong habit of smoking Camels had caught up with him. He had been battling emphysema but hid his congestive heart failure from his family and died of a sudden heart attack. Munck and Sue moved back to New York so they could help his mom.

By this time, they had a son, William Peter James. When the child was an infant, he was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes. A doctor in New York suggested that a warmer climate might help the boy be more physically active and less insulin dependent. “Sue and I looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s go back to Texas,’” Munck says.

He initially went to work with some former Winstead colleagues, but they wanted to focus on a patent preparation boutique. Munck wanted to build a different kind of firm. In the summer of 1998, he and three other partners and a couple of associates formed the law firm that would eventually become Munck Wilson Mandala.

His goal from the start was to build a different kind of firm. Most have a practice area at the hub of the wheel, Munck says. “Whether it’s IP boutiques, corporate practices, or litigation practices, they all start out around a small circle and expand from there,” he says. “I wanted to build a firm around a client base—high-tech clients. I wanted everything from Joey Bag O’Donuts who’s working late at night in his garage trying to invent something, all the way up to Fortune 50 tech companies at the hub and build around that.”

“Our tagline for 25 years has been ‘trials, transactions, technology,’” Munck continues. “We built a trial practice, a transactional practice, and a labor and employment practice—all based on a type of client. Most of our relationships started because the client had a tech issue, even something as simple as a software agreement. Then things would expand from there often into us handling a whole bunch—if not all—of their legal work.”

Despite the clear-sighted business plan, the early years were not easy, and there were plenty of times when the fledgling firm could have failed. But advice from his father echoed in Munck’s head: “Just do the job right, and everything will take care of itself.” As he was building his firm, Munck also became actively involved in coaching the sports teams of his sons, Billy and Garrett. Both are diabetic, and he wanted to be on the sidelines in case anything happened. He also wanted to show gratitude for the coaches who influenced him along the way.

During his 10-year run of leading various teams, there came a point when some travel-team coaches tried to pressure him out of coaching; when the pressure extended to his son, Munck fought back. “Everyone thought I was crazy because I filed this insane lawsuit, and I won, but they asked for it,” he says. “You know, if you invite an ass-kicking, it’s impolite to not give it to you.”

An outside public relations exec he was working with at the time tried to talk him out of filing the lawsuit, saying it could destroy his firm. Munck told him, “I don’t believe you’re right. I think people will applaud the fact that I’m calling them out into the street and saying, ‘Let’s go.’”

Following the suit, Best Lawyers in America added to Munck’s patent, trademark, copyright, and venture capital honors by naming him DFW’s Sports Lawyer of the Year. Before long, people began reaching out with matters involving injustices. “Anytime I found a kid getting bullied, particularly a kid who didn’t have resources, I’d come in,” he says. “I went after some of the private schools in town, and I took national cases, too. I made no money on them, but it was the right thing to do. I like to fight, and I like to win. I like reasons for fighting—you know, causes.”

‘THE BABE RUTH OF CANDIDATES’

Munck’s work in sports-related cases also led to a 2019 call from an executive recruiter who was looking to find a spot for an attorney who was relocating from Las Vegas to North Texas, as her husband had taken a job with the Dallas Mavericks. He learned it was Tasha Schwikert, a former Olympic gymnast. When the two spoke, Schwikert shared her interest in transactions and litigation and mentioned she was also involved in some sports law matters and that she was aware of Munck’s work in the area. He told her about a case he was working on, and she said, “I’ve got my own case like that.”

Munck said, “What’s that?” She said, “I’m Jane Doe No. 3,” and explained that she had been a victim of Larry Nassar, who sexually assaulted hundreds of children and young women as a physician with the U.S. women’s national gymnastics team. Munck said, “What can I do to help?” Schwikert told him that down the road, she wanted to make similar cases part of her practice. Munck told her, “I think we should.”

Schwikert divides her time between Dallas and Houston, where her husband, Mike Moser, is  now assistant coach for the Houston Rockets. In early 2021, she recruited her friend, former actress Josie Loren Leinart, to join the firm. The two met while they both worked on a television show—Schwikert as a stuntwoman and Leinart as a member of the cast. They stayed in touch over the years, and both ended up pursuing legal careers.

Leinart, who is married to former NFL player and Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, works in the firm’s Los Angeles office.  Tasha and Josie are building the law firm’s NIL (name, image, likeness) and sports law practice with buy-in from Munck. “Look, when it comes to the two of them, I just try support their efforts, and not get in their way,” he says.

Munck Wilson Mandala  has successfully developed a strong base of women attorneys, largely due to the hiring of Jenny Martinez, co-chair of the firm’s litigation practice, who joined in October 2018.

Like many companies, the firm was having a hard time retaining women leaders once they started having families. Martinez was an accomplished attorney who was also an actively involved single mom. Munck felt she could be an exceptional role model and help the firm diversify.

Martinez had been wrapping up work with Don Godwin on litigation relating to the Deepwater Horizon explosion when Munck asked her to speak on a panel at the firm’s S.H.E. Summit, an annual conference it hosted to promote equity and empowerment. Martinez was expecting a typical CLE [continuing legal education] program. Instead, “It was one of the coolest events I ever attended,” she says. “I remember going back to my office thinking about how I didn’t want to leave. They weren’t just talking the talk—they were walking the walk.”

Afterward, she met with Munck, heard about his mission to diversify beyond “chubby white guys” and strengthen the firm through diversity, and she was hooked. “He has been committed to it and has never wavered,” Martinez says. “He has given me a lot of leeway, and he trusts my judgment. We recruited numerous female attorneys within that first year and have just continued to expand. That diversity of thought has made us a more dynamic firm. Our energy is better.”

For his part, Munck says the firm would not be what it is today without Martinez. “Jenny is one of the best people I’ve ever met; she just makes the world brighter,” he says. “All she did was come here and be Jenny. It chokes me up at times because, for everything we wanted to do, we needed someone like her. We got the Babe Ruth of candidates.”

A PACK OF WOLVES

As his firm marks its 25-year anniversary, Munck reflects on his favorite cases over the years. They haven’t been the big monetary wins, he says, but those involving life-altering events. He points to work the firm did for the developers who hit it big with their game app, Words With Friends. Then there were patents the company licensed and enforced against Nintendo for iLife Technologies developer Mike Lehrman, and “an enormous amount of patent work” for National Semiconductor, which was acquired by Texas Instruments. Many of his favorite cases and transactions have been led by partners Mike Wilson, Larry Mandala, Michael McCabe, and Randy Ray. Collaborating with them and seeing their success has been most rewarding, Munck says.

He’s excited about prospects for the firm’s next 25 years as a new generation of leaders begin to take the helm. His oldest son, Billy, is an associate at the company. (Younger son Garrett is director of operations at Trinity Groves.) All throughout history, each generation has strived to be better than the last, Munck says, and such is the case with the emerging leaders on his team.

“They’re a lot smoother, a lot sharper,” he says. “Here’s how I would describe it: It’s the difference between the Vikings and the Musketeers. They may have nicer outfits and beautiful hats, but they’re just as deadly. They’re very, very smart, and they’re just as hungry. They’re accepting what ownership really means, and that’s exciting.”

The firm is positioned for continuing growth, especially as it expands beyond Dallas to have offices in Austin, Houston, Waco, Los Angeles, Orlando, South Florida, and other markets. Underpinning the growth, Munck says, is the company’s family-focused, collaborative culture. “I think of our competitors as being different herds of cattle,” he says. “They just tend to walk like a herd and follow the bulls. That’s all well and good when you’re on the plains and there’s plenty to eat. But if you’ve ever watched Planet Earth and see the wildebeest get attacked by crocodiles as they go across the creek—why not go up a mile?

“I never wanted that typical big firm; I had a need for family—I wanted a team,” Munck continues. “What makes us great is we’re like a pack of wolves. Everyone is different, but everyone is expected to hunt and look at what’s best for the group.”

Achieving his firm’s type of culture takes leaders with clarity and self-awareness, traits that were ingrained in Munck from an early age. “You have to know your brand and what you’re selling—what is it that’s going to make you happy, and why people are going to want to do it with you,” he says. “When people ask me about my brand, I’m like, ‘I’m a cop’s kid from New York. I’m a street fighter. If necessary, I’ll get in the gutter and fight dirty with you. I’ll win.”   

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Christine Perez

Christine Perez

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Christine is the editor of D CEO magazine and its online platforms. She’s a national award-winning business journalist who has…

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