Remembrance: Professor Francis McGovern

Photo of Professor Francis McGovern

Francis McGovern, portrait at Duke Law

UC Law SF and the national litigation community is mourning the sudden death of Visiting Professor Francis McGovern, following a fall at his home in Marin. He was 75, and to many, completely irreplaceable.

Professor McGovern taught each spring semester at UC Law SF. “I’d known Francis for over 25 years and was thrilled that, after I became dean in 2016, he decided to move his spring teaching from Berkeley Law to UC Law SF,” said Chancellor and Dean David Faigman. “When I talked to him about the change, he joked that the move would bring him closer to the San Francisco Golf Club, so he could get a round in after his early morning class.” He taught cutting-edge courses at UC Law SF, including Using AI in Legal Practice and Litigation Finance.

“But I knew that he loved the idea of teaching at UC Law SF, a school he deeply respected, a place where he knew many of our faculty, and a home where he came to adore our students and community.”

A professor of law at Duke University, McGovern practiced law with the firm of Vinson & Elkins in Houston, and taught at many of the major law schools in the U.S. and internationally. He was a highly sought special master in mass tort litigation. At the time of this death, he was the court-appointed special master in the current federal opioid litigation, where he pioneered new approaches to settlement, such as certifying a class for negotiation, rather than litigation. He had previously served as special master in high-profile litigation involving silicone breast implants, asbestos, mold, and lead paint.

He pioneered the use of innovative dispute resolution approaches as a special master, mediator, neutral, and arbitrator in more than 100 complex cases both nationally and internationally involving antitrust, securities, mass torts, contracts, intellectual property, water rights, civil rights, bankruptcy, employment, environment, American Indian treaties, governmental statutes and regulations, insurance, medical malpractice, personal injury, and property damage.

UC Law SF Professor Rick Marcus described McGovern as “a legend. He deserved to be.” He was both an academic and a highly talented negotiator. “He was, for example, the person who invented the idea of ‘mature mass tort litigation’ that has become so central to so much of the contemporary American legal scene,” Marcus said.

“But far beyond that, he could dig in, get his hands dirty, and make a positive contribution to resolving these impossible-to-resolve cases. That’s certainly why judges will mourn his passing, for he could work magic to untangle the Gordian knots they encountered too often.” In fact, the Wall Street Journal dubbed him “St. Francis of Asbestos” in 2004.

Faigman noted that McGovern was one of those rare individuals who actually deserved the term “Renaissance man.”

“As befits a special master who excelled at mediating high-profile controversial cases, Francis was relaxed, easy-going, and quick to smile and joke. He was one of the most erudite people I’ve ever known, in a profession replete with erudition,” Faigman said.

Services to remember Professor McGovern are pending in Marin and Washington, D.C.