William M. McErlean

  • One North Wacker Drive
    Suite 4400
    Chicago, IL 60606-2833

William M. McErlean is a partner in the Chicago office of Barnes & Thornburg LLP. He is the Litigation Department Chair Emeritus and served for many years as Litigation Chair and on the Management Committee. Mr. McErlean’s practice is concentrated on commercial litigation. He has been designated an Illinois Leading Lawyer by the Leading Lawyers Network in the areas of commercial litigation and franchise law, and has been listed in Illinois Super Lawyers magazine from inception through 2018 in the area of business litigation. Since 2014, Mr. McErlean has been selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America in the field of franchise law.

Since 1981, Mr. McErlean has tried more than 40 commercial litigation cases, including the first civil RICO action to be tried in the Northern District of Illinois. He has handled a variety of major commercial cases in courts and before arbitrators throughout the country, defending and prosecuting RICO, securities fraud and common law fraud claims at trial and on appeal. Mr. McErlean has also tried and handled franchise, contract, professional malpractice, UCC, ERISA, lender liability, partnership and corporate dissolution and freeze outs, trade regulation, trade secret, real estate broker, construction and real estate related disputes, business torts, and environmental cases. Most recently, in August of 2009, Mr. McErlean tried a case to a jury for a client who obtained a $2.2 million verdict in federal district court on a breach of motor carrier agreement and, in October 2009, tried a case for an oppressed minority shareholder client who after a bench trial obtained a $3.5 million judgment in a fair value proceeding.

Mr. McErlean received his B.A., magna cum laude, from the University of Notre Dame in 1975 and his J.D. with honors from Georgetown University Law Center in 1978. He is admitted to practice in the state of Illinois, the state of California, the U.S. District Courts for the Northern District of Illinois and the Eastern District of Wisconsin, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits.

Representative Matters

Accounting and Legal Malpractice
Handled the defense and prosecution of many claims of malpractice against accountants and law firm and attorneys.

Alliance 3PL Corp. v. Prime, Inc., Case No. 07-cv-04944
Represented as lead counsel Alliance 3PL Corp., a third-party logistics provider in the trucking industry, in its successful breach of contract action against a Missouri trucking company that had solicited business from one of Alliance’s largest customers in violation of the contract between the two companies. After a week-long jury trial in federal court, Alliance obtained a $2.1 million jury verdict in its favor with assistance from Barnes & Thornburg.

Carlton Investments v. TLC Beatrice International Holdings, Inc., 1996 WL 189435
Represented TLC Beatrice International Holdings, Inc. and the Estate of Reginald F. Lewis as lead counsel in its successful defense in three related proceedings in which Carlton Investments, a former Drexel Burnham Lambert, Inc. sponsored partnership, sought over $300 million in damages and removal of the Board of Directors in a derivative suit in Delaware Chancery Court and a breach of contract claim in New York Supreme Court. TLC Beatrice’s counterclaim in the New York Supreme Court led to a contempt proceeding in federal district court in the Southern District of New York before Judge Milton Pollack, the judge who had approved the settlement of all civil litigation against Drexel and Michael Milken. This, in turn, led to TLC Beatrice’s challenge to the constitutionality of that settlement before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Presidential Life Insurance Co. v. Milken. All cases resolved one week before oral argument in the Second Circuit by the payment of a nominal sum by the Estate of Reginald F. Lewis to TLC Beatrice of which the Estate owned 60 percent.

Franchise Litigation
Whether shutting down “breakaway” franchisees, enforcing trade and service marks or trade secrets or operating procedures or enforcing a franchisor’s real estate and personal property rights through forcibles, replevin or UCC sales, pursuing franchisees through bankruptcy adversarial proceedings, or doing battle with disgruntled and powerful area franchisees or franchise associations, Mr. McErlean has handled as lead counsel every type of conceivable litigation that occurs between franchisors and franchisees in federal and state courts and before arbitrators throughout the country. Through the years, Mr. McErlean has represented as lead counsel Domino’s Pizza, Burger King, Microsoft, Alphagraphics, Boston Market, Brown’s Chicken, Popeye’s, Century 21, Blockbuster, Roto Rooter and Subway in major litigated matters throughout the country.

Lance Honea v. Access One, Inc., et al., Case No. 08 CH 41120
Represented the plaintiff, Mr. Honea, in obtaining a favorable judgment from Cook County Chancery Court that ordered the corporate defendant to pay Mr. Honea more than $3.5 million for the fair value of his minority interest in the company after a fair value hearing. Mr. Honea filed a lawsuit against the company he founded and his two fellow shareholders, claiming that the company and his fellow shareholders removed him from the company in violation of a shareholders agreement and engaged in oppressive conduct in an attempt to freeze him out of the company.

Ocean Bank FSB, Case No. 06-cv-03522
Represented a national lender as its lead counsel in its successful defense of seven federal class actions alleging a total of more than $200 million in statutory damages under alleged violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act arising from its financing contracts and practices. The seven class actions were consolidated by the federal panel on Multi-District Litigation and, after pre-trial motions and discovery, were resolved for less than $2 million and less than the limit of the client’s insurance coverage.

Palmer v. Woods & Welty, United States District Court for Middle District of Florida
Tried a federal civil RICO and securities case on behalf of a client defrauded in connection with an investment in a hotel. After a two-week trial, judgment of $5 million was entered in the client’s favor and when trebled under the RICO statute, resulted in a $15 million judgment.

Sequel Capital LLC v. Rothman, Case No. 1;03-cv-678 (N.D. Ill. Filed Jan. 29, 2003)
Represented a firm client in a Rule 10b-5 securities fraud case. The client received a multi-million dollar settlement.


"The Impact of Rule 11 on Franchise Litigation," ABA Franchise Law Journal (Winter 1989);

"What do Do When Your Client Lies," ABA Litigation Magazine (Winter 1989);

Co-author, "Privileges: How to Uncover the Facts," ABA Litigation Magazine (Winter 1997);

Co-author, "From Kahn to Carlton: Recent Developments in Special Committee Practice," The Business Lawyer, Vol. 53 (November 1997);

"Training an Associate: Garbage In, Garbage Out," ABA Litigation Magazine (Spring 1998);

"The Evolution of Witness Preparation," ABA Litigation Magazine (Fall 2010)