In Memoriam: J. Michael Nordin

Mike Nordin, a beloved McAfee & Taft partner who was impeccable in so many ways — his manners, his language, his humor, his style — passed away on Sunday, May 19, 2019.

Mike joined McAfee & Taft in 1982 after earning his Juris Doctor from The University of Oklahoma College of Law. It was his dream job, and he never forgot it.

“Mike came from very modest means, and he was incredibly proud of being an attorney at McAfee & Taft,” said Richard Nix. “In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a lawyer who so genuinely appreciated and who so deeply revered the opportunity to be a lawyer at McAfee & Taft more than Mike. Working here was a badge of honor, and that’s why he worked so hard to hold himself and those around him to a higher standard.”

Throughout his 37-year career with the firm, Mike developed extensive expertise in a broad range of complex business transactions, including real estate and healthcare transactions, and is the only lawyer in the firm’s history to have served at various times as the leader of the firm’s Business Transactions and Finance Group, Real Estate Group, Healthcare Group, and Opinions Committee. His achievements as a lawyer earned him election as a Fellow of the American College of Mortgage Attorneys, the nation’s premier organization of mortgage law experts, as well as inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America (business organizations; commercial transactions/UCC law; corporate law; health care law; mergers and acquisitions law; real estate law) and Oklahoma Super Lawyers.

To his colleagues at McAfee & Taft, Mike was a “lawyer’s lawyer” — someone who loved the practice of law, who put the best interests of his clients first, and who was always willing to help others better themselves. He was forever grateful to those who had supported, mentored and challenged him to become a better lawyer, and he returned that kindness by doing the same for others.

“Mike could be intimidating — particularly if you were a young lawyer or opposing counsel — because his knowledge was so incredibly vast and his mind was so sharp,” said Cole Marshall. “It did not take long, however, for Mike to disarm any intimidation I felt as a young lawyer because I could tell he genuinely cared about teaching and mentoring me. To have Mike in your corner was an invaluable resource because he was generous with both his time and talents, always encouraging, always teaching, and for me, always mentoring. Not a day went by that I wasn’t in his office seeking his wise counsel or learning something new, whether it be the technical legal concepts or just the practice in general.”

“Mike was known as a brilliant real estate lawyer, both within the firm and in the legal and business community in general,” said Rob Garbrecht. “Through 30 or so years of practicing law together, what I will remember most about Mike is that he was always there for me. When I first started at the firm, he helped me navigate through the difficulties of learning to practice law in a large firm environment. As a more experienced lawyer, I relied greatly on Mike’s legal expertise. Whenever I was faced with a complex legal issue, Mike was always the first one I would turn to for assistance and, more importantly, he would always be glad to help out in any way. Mike was a great partner and will be missed tremendously.”

“He was generous with his time and knowledge, a good friend, my office neighbor down the hall, and a wise and thoughtful attorney who always gave good advice and was willing to talk through a difficult legal issue, even when it was a matter that he was not involved in,” said Susan Shields. “Mike always approached new legal projects with a view towards what was best for the client, and clients appreciated his technical skills as a lawyer and his practicality in solving problems.”

Mike was even known to help people solve problems they didn’t even know they had, such as the time he discovered that the good folks at the Park Harvey Sushi Bar didn’t know how to make a proper Manhattan. With an attention to detail that was evident in everything he did, he provided them with the recipe and even proceeded to show them how to make one to his exacting specifications. Order one today, and you won’t receive just a Manhattan; you’ll receive a Nordin Manhattan.

Joe Lewallen remembers Mike as someone who was gracious and generous with his time both inside and outside of the office.

“Mike led and taught many younger lawyers, either through working together on transactions or by example,” said Lewallen. “One important part of Mike’s life was his deep sense of obligation to give back to the community, which he did daily. His service on various boards and volunteering was exemplary in so many ways. Many years ago, after my oldest son passed away after a long battle with leukemia, a group of friends urged us to raise money to fund pediatric cancer research locally at Children’s Hospital, and I recall vividly my conversations with Mike who was then leading the RedBud Classic and related events, about their donating all of the funds from the Redbud race to our foundation. He was a gracious and helpful supporter.”

Meticulousness and a thoughtful attention to detail were among Mike’s defining characteristics, and nowhere was it more evident than in his beautiful writing, grammar, and use of language. He was known for his sharp, concise, unambiguous writing — particularly in contracts and other legal documents — and was quick to advise young lawyers, “Overall, try very hard not to write like a lawyer.” When others did not show proper respect for the English language, Mike was known for generating emails (typically in response to poorly posed communications) that were referred to by many as “Nordinesque.”

(And if you are still wondering… yes, he really was silently correcting your grammar.)

Mike’s deep love for the firm and desire to “get things right” also resulted in him often playing the role of contrarian.

“Mike cared so much about this firm and our clients that he was always asking questions and challenging things,” said Nix. “It’s not that he necessarily disagreed with a particular decision or position; he just wanted to make sure we were doing the right things, at the right time, for the right reasons.”

Though he was serious about the law, he also had a wonderful sense of humor.

“Mike had such a dry sense of humor that brightened most every day,” said Shields. “Often, if something challenging was going on with a client matter or at the firm, Mike would send the perfect joke or cartoon or GIF that would make me laugh out loud. He was more than our law partner — he was our dear friend.”

Bebe Thompson agreed. “I adored Mike as a lawyer and as a person. His dry sense of humor was unmatched, and I would laugh out loud at my desk over an email he would send me, sometimes laughing so hard I expected people to wonder what the heck was going on in my office. There is a huge hole in our group now, and I honestly don’t know how we are going to fill it. I miss him so much.”

For all his wonderful qualities — his generous heart, formidable mind, dry wit, and impeccable writing — Mike will be remembered most as an irreplaceable friend.

“Mike Nordin was the first lawyer I met at McAfee in 1984, and he has been a close friend ever since,” said Henry Hoss. “I turned to him daily for legal, life and, of course, grammar advice. He was a brilliant lawyer, but an even more brilliant friend.”

Mike is survived by his wife Lee Ann, daughters Elizabeth and Ann, and countless friends.

“Mike will be sorely missed,” said Michael Lauderdale. “We were all blessed by his kindness, character and love for this firm and the practice of law.”