April 22, 2022

In Memoriam: Hunter Hayes (1985-2022)

Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP remembers Hunter Hayes, our cherished friend and colleague. Mr. Hayes passed away on April 8, 2022. Mr. Hayes’ family has reported that he died of natural causes.

Mr. Hayes began with the firm as a summer associate in the Los Angeles office. He joined MTO as an associate in 2015 after graduating first in his class from UCLA School of Law and clerking for Judge John Owens of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and Judge Michael Fitzgerald of the United States District Court for the Central District of California. 

Since joining the firm, Mr. Hayes played important roles in high-profile trials and other complex matters. Notable cases included a win for See’s Candies in a novel wage and hour class action where an argument he championed eventually carried the day and a successful settlement in a complex arbitration over the ownership of a popular dating site. Clients valued Mr. Hayes’ legal knowledge, out-of-the-box thinking and his practical approach. Mr. Hayes loved trials in particular—including the excitement and spontaneity of them—and was masterful in cross-examinations and a true force to be reckoned with. He also worked meticulously on briefs, polishing them intensely for hours upon hours.  It was immensely important to him that his work be extraordinary, and it was.

Malcolm Heinicke, MTO Co-Managing Partner, was a mentor to and frequent teammate with Mr. Hayes. He shared “Hunter was a fantastic and respected teammate. Hunter’s intellectual curiosity, creativity and passion for his work not only led to great results for our clients, but it also made practicing law with him fun. He was very committed to the firm, played a key and valued role in firm leadership and was elected to the firm’s Management Committee. We were blessed to have him as a colleague, and we are heartbroken by the loss of this superb lawyer and dear friend.”

Laura Smolowe, an MTO partner, said “Hunter was a terrific lawyer, a tireless advocate for his clients and wonderful, kind team member. I was constantly impressed by the combination of legal skill, empathy and compassion he displayed—ever one to show up at your office with a brilliant idea and to check in and see how you were. I miss him terribly.”

Lauren Barnett, an MTO associate and friend of Mr. Hayes, stated “Hunter was instantly likeable, greeting everyone with the same easy smile and warm curiosity. He was fiercely intelligent yet humble, purposeful yet humorous. And to the lucky among us, Hunter was a true and loyal friend. It is hard to accept the loss of someone who offered the world so much light, so much talent and so much goodness.”

Mr. Hayes worked to champion diversity at MTO and in the legal community. He served as a member of the firm’s LGBTQ+ Initiative since 2016 and its co-chair since 2019. Under his leadership, the Initiative—which connects MTO attorneys to LGBTQ causes in the broader community—was a part of the legal battles for marriage equality, transgender students’ rights and gender equality. Mr. Hayes’ efforts to advance diversity, drawing on his personal experiences, left a lasting impression on so many in the legal profession. Mr. Hayes, in and out of this committee, also mentored his LGTBQ+ colleagues, and was loved by them for his warmth, tireless energy, calming presence and willingness to pick up the phone whenever anyone called. 

Mr. Hayes maintained a robust pro bono practice. He focused on human rights and access to education, two areas of particular passion for him. He also represented immigrants seeking asylum in the United States.

Dedicated to cultivating the next generation of attorneys, Mr. Hayes had for many years participated in the MTO Fellows Program, a pre-law diversity pipeline program that prepares aspiring diverse students for admission to and success in law school and beyond. In 2019, he worked as a Fellows Advisor, mentoring and guiding MTO Fellows through all aspects of the law school admissions process including application development, school selection, test preparation and student networking. Mr. Hayes was also an advocate for associates in the firm. He was elected as one of two inaugural associate representatives on the firm’s Management Committee. In that role, he worked diligently to solicit input from associates across the firm about the issues that mattered most to them. He was also an extraordinary mentor to other associates: beyond formal mentorship programs at MTO, Mr. Hayes met with numerous associates on a regular basis to discuss their lives and work and ensure they felt supported. Even when he was working on difficult and time-consuming trials, Mr. Hayes always had time for these conversations—and had a reputation as one of the kindest lawyers others had ever met.

“Hunter cared deeply about attorney integration, morale and retention; he collaborated often with the attorney development and diversity team at the firm,” said Shellye Pruitt, Senior Director of Attorney Development and Diversity.

Max Rosen, an MTO associate and friend of Mr. Hayes, stated “Hunter had an unfailing, sarcastic, but gentle sense of humor that made anything better—any difficult day, any difficult life event, any complicated project. He somehow was the calmest person in any room—and also the most adventurous. He was brilliant, but more than that—curious and kind, making others feel smart and strong in his presence. I know lawyers decades his senior who thought of him as a mentor, for his legal intelligence, yes, but also his demeanor, patience and strength. He was vibrant and social, but always introspective. For those who knew him, he was, quite simply, the best person that we knew. Becoming his friend was one of the great joys of my life. I have not known anyone like him in my life, and imagine I never will again.”

Mr. Hayes received his J.D. from UCLA School of Law, where he was a member of The Order of the Coif and served as chief managing editor of the UCLA Law Review and an editor for the Dukeminier Awards Journal of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law. He received a B.A. in History from UCLA, where he was a Regents Scholar and National Merit Scholar.

Judge John Owens of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recalled Hunter as having been able to help him on his hardest cases and giving selflessly.  

Mr. Hayes had an infectious love of life well outside of work. He explored the world with his loving partner Rocco, whom he adored, most recently traveling to South America (where they visited Hunter’s favorite animals, penguins). He had a voracious appetite, and a particular love for spicy noodles in all forms, and of course, ice cream. He was devoted to his family—his brothers, sister, and parents. He also loved his three dogs, who miss him terribly every day.

“Though Hunter’s life was tragically short, it was impactful. We deeply mourn his passing, and we realize how incredibly blessed we are to have known and worked closely with Hunter. His loved ones have our deepest condolences,” said MTO Partner John W. Spiegel. 

Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP will host a memorial service to honor Mr. Hayes on Monday, May 16, 2022. You can register here by clicking this link

Livestream from Hunter's Celebration of Life will be available at the time of the event on this channel. No RSVP is required for the livestream.

Please contact Rita Santos for more information.