U-M law prof teaches the science of negotiation and litigation


 When teaching negotiation at the University of Michigan Law School, attorney Dan Linna finds many students have been told that negotiation cannot be learned; they either have what it takes, or not.  

“It’s a destructive message – I refute it on the first day,” he says. “Sure, some have skills and traits that give them an advantage. But anyone can vastly improve as a negotiator.”
A partner in the Detroit office of Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, Linna specializes in litigating and resolving commercial, contract, and bankruptcy disputes. He shares his expertise with U-M students, who study negotiation theory and learn processes, strategies, and skills, which they employ in numerous simulations. 
“By the end of the class, they are able to analyze any deal or dispute and recommend a negotiation strategy to a client,” he says.  
Also an adjunct professor at MSU College of Law, Linna teaches a class in litigation with Professor Dan Katz, an internationally recognized speaker on innovation in the law. After gaining a foundation of law and economics and decision theory, students learn how to conduct early case assessments and compute expected values, counsel clients, devise litigation strategies, improve processes, manage legal projects, implement technology solutions, and use data and data analytics to improve outcomes. Several in-house counsel speak to students about legal practice today and what clients expect from their lawyers.  
The class culminates with a simulation in which student teams compete in a pitch for litigation business. 
“To succeed today, lawyers need more than substantive legal expertise – they also need to understand the business of law and how to deliver solutions to clients more effectively and efficiently,” Linna explains. 
He finds it extremely rewarding to help his Wolverine and Spartan students develop the skills they need to succeed in legal careers. 
“The students are very engaged and eager to learn, and I learn a lot working with them,” he says. 
Linna is at home on both campuses, having earned undergrad degrees in communication from U-M and in political science from MSU; a master’s degree in public policy and administration from MSU; and his J.D., magna cum laude, from U-M Law School, where he was in the Order of the Coif; a semifinalist in the Henry M. Campbell Moot Court Competition, in which he won the Award for Best Brief; earned a Certificate of Merit in Secured Transactions; and served as an associate editor for the Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review. Immediately following law school, he clerked for the Hon. James L. Ryan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
After two years in practice, the fledgling lawyer tried his first case flying solo: a six-day bench trial of a contract dispute in the bankruptcy court before the Hon. Steven Rhodes, the judge who is hearing the Detroit bankruptcy case. 
“It was a fantastic opportunity to handle a case from beginning to end at that early stage of my career,” he says. “We prevailed, and the verdict was affirmed by the district court and the Sixth Circuit. Since then, I’ve arbitrated two matters to conclusion and tried another case.”
Linna joined Honigman in 2005, and is a member of the Litigation Group. He is also a member of the firm’s Automotive and Manufacturing, e-Discovery and Information Management, Information Technology, and Social, Mobile and Emerging Media groups; serves on the firm’s Committee on Minority Attorney Initiatives, and leads its recruiting subcommittee.
Named a Michigan Super Lawyers Rising Star in 2008 and every year since, and among DBusiness, Top Lawyers, 2013, Linna enjoys helping clients solve their business problems, striving to understand a client’s business and frame legal problems in terms of business decisions. 
“I take a practical approach,” he says. “In the early stages of a dispute, my job is to help my client assess the matter.” 
Those assessments include: strengths and weaknesses; how the case might play out; present value based on projected probabilities of success; and opportunities for an early resolution. 
“If a dispute can be resolved, I will call opposing counsel and get it done,” says Linna, who seeks to establish a professional relationship with opposing counsel right from the beginning, and frequently explores possibilities to resolve the matter. “Some lawyers mistakenly conflate professional collegiality with weakness – but fighting with opposing counsel seldom serves anyone’s interest. You can negotiate from a position of strength, even offer nothing and demand dismissal, while at the same time remaining civil.” 
His challenging cases include defeating a landlord’s claims that a tenant’s actions were the cause of extensive mold on restaurant premises; dismissal of a supplier’s multi-million-dollar claims against an auto manufacturer; and a summary judgment as to liability in favor of an auto manufacturer in a multi-million dollar lawsuit against a vehicle hauler. And in a matter that seems right up his alley, given his technology background, he represented a video-game developer in negotiating and documenting development agreements, and managed intellectual property projects for the developer.
Before entering law, Linna was an IT professional, a background that prepared him well for the evolution of legal practice. 
“Technology is having a great impact on legal practice – for example, human document review is being replaced by ‘technology assisted review’ of documents,” he says. “There has been a lot of investment in tech startups that are looking to capture a share of existing and underserved markets. And, as an industry, we’ve only scratched the surface with data analytics.  It’s an interesting time to be a lawyer.”
His prior IT career was great training for his legal career, he notes. 
“To solve legal problems, lawyers – like IT professionals – need to understand the business conducted by their clients,” he says. “Managing complex IT projects was also great training for managing complex legal projects. Lawyers, law firms, and corporate legal departments are engaging in process improvement, such as Lean Six Sigma, and Legal Project Management to deliver legal services more effectively and efficiently.”
Together with Amani Smathers, Innovation Counsel for the ReInvent Law Laboratory at MSU Law, Linna established the Detroit Legal Innovation and Technology meet-up group that has attracted lawyers, technologists, academics, law librarians, legal-services vendors, and others.  
“Our goal is to foster dialogue and build community,” he says. “The evolution of legal practice presents many challenges, but also offers many opportunities.”
Linna, who grew up on a farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is immensely proud of his four younger siblings. One sister teaches at Whitmore Lake High School and coaches the girls’ varsity basketball team; a second lives in California and worked in the fashion industry; and the third lives in Iowa and is a buyer for Von Maur. Linna’s brother lives in Jackson and works for Comcast.  
Before heading to the rigors of law school, Linna spent 100 days backpacking around Europe and staying in hostels. 
“I met amazing people from around the world,” he says. “It was comforting to know I could travel to any country—Turkey, Romania, Italy, Finland, Poland—and I’d be greeted by friendly travelers at hostels who wanted to learn about me and my country and explore new places together.” He was thrilled to read in The New York Times three years ago that a hostel, Hostel Detroit, had been founded in the Motor City. Linna reached out to Hostel Detroit’s founder, Emily Doerr, and has been a board member since 2012.  
“International cities need to have a hostel –this puts Detroit on the map for many travelers,” he says.