12+ years

In its more than 12 years of life, the case of Comcast Corp. v. Behrend has offered dozens of chances for the lawyers to persuade — or not.

Although class counsel suffered a tough 5-4 defeat in the U.S. Supreme Court, we convinced judges often enough to eke out $35 million in cash, bill credits, and services for the Philadelphia-area class.

Class plaintiffs prevailed mostly because we had the better side of the issues. But we also did a better job of earning the trust of the decision-makers we appeared before — the district judges in Boston and Philadelphia, appellate judges on the First and Third Circuits, and even justices of the Supreme Court.

Let me give you a few reasons for my view.


Two sets of ideas matter here.

First, in his Rhetoric, Aristotle in the 4th Century B.C. proposed three persuasive “appeals” — the appeal to logic (logos), the appeal to emotion (pathos), and the appeal to moral character (ethos). Although we learned in law school that logic defeats all else, Aristotle taught that logos pales beside pathos and that logos and pathos don’t come close to the persuasive power of ethos.

Although in practice the persuader combines all three appeals, his or her character — the persuader’s credibility and trustworthiness — matters most.

Psychology also plays a role. It says that people tend to make “attribution” errors, by which they explain conduct of others in terms of the others’ character. But the attribution bias works in an uneven way. People will quickly believe you have bad character if they see you do just one mean thing (e.g., you strike a dog, take the last piece of candy, or taunt a homeless person), but they won’t conclude you have good character unless you do good things many times.

Combine the two, and you can see how a consistent record of doing things right will matter over the life of a 12-year lawsuit.

Steady as she goes

You can’t win a name for candor unless you practice it over and over again. And counsel can’t do that if the lawyers come and go. Job one thus involves sticking with a case.

Class counsel had a far better record in that respect. Whereas on the class side the same law firms and many of the same lawyers stayed active in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend throughout, Comcast changed its (generally excellent) lead counsel at least three times.

The lack of a steady presence on the defense side made for an approach that changed every couple of years. We did not have that problem, and not having it helped us project a more stable and consistent message.

No whining

If you lose a ruling, accept the loss with good grace. Try not to whine. Telling the court that it made a mistake rarely works (even if the court plainly did err), but it almost always rubs the object of your scorn he wrong way.

Especially early in the case, Comcast asked the district courts to reconsider decisions that Comcast did not agree with. That set a tone, and it eroded goodwill.

Stretch only if you must

Generally, you should not file any motion unless you feel highly confident you should win.

But sometime you don’t have a choice but to stretch for a ruling, as when you can’t afford to lose a key point.

If you do take the risk, you will expose yourself to loss, and — worse — the court may hold the stretching against you. You lower the chances of blowback if you haven’t gone out on limbs too often, don’t stretch too much this time, and do it only because the stakes warrant the gamble.

The one time I think we arguably stretched in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend arose from a unique moment. Late one night at the end of a long day, the lawyers for the parties signed a one-page memo that set out peace terms.

Less than two weeks later, the U.S. Supreme Court granted review in the case. Comcast took the view that the memo did not bind it. We took the other view on behalf of the class, both in the district court and in the Supreme Court.

The district court sided with Comcast, handing us a rare loss and mooting our request that the Supreme Court kick the case off its docket.

But I didn’t regret moving to enforce the deal. We had good support for our position. We also knew, as did the court and Comcast, that the granting of cert. meant a majority of the justices would likely vacate the district court’s class cert. order. The circumstances justified the effort.

Make friends

Some lawyers, maybe most, think that the way to win cases and wow clients is to project a ferocious and terrifying image to the other side.

I respectfully disagree.

Lawyers should instead make a point of having good rapport with defense counsel. I tried to do that in the Comcast case, and I think I largely succeeded.

Instead of sending emails, I called them. We talked not just about the case but about our lives outside of law practice. We sometimes met for lunch or a drink.

All of that made the case more fun. It also avoided unnecessary misunderstandings and wasteful fights.

Do yourself and your clients a favor and do likewise.

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Photo of Barry Barnett Barry Barnett

Clients and colleagues call Barry Barnett an “incredibly gifted lawyer” (Chambers and Partners) who is “magic in the courtroom” (Who’s Who Legal), “the top antitrust lawyer in Texas” (Chambers and Partners), and “a person of unquestioned integrity” (David J. Beck, founder of Beck…

Clients and colleagues call Barry Barnett an “incredibly gifted lawyer” (Chambers and Partners) who is “magic in the courtroom” (Who’s Who Legal), “the top antitrust lawyer in Texas” (Chambers and Partners), and “a person of unquestioned integrity” (David J. Beck, founder of Beck Redden).

Barnett is a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, and Lawdragon has named him one of the top 500 lawyers in the United States three years in a row. Best Lawyers in America has honored him as “Lawyer of the Year” for Bet-the-Company Litigation (2019 and 2017) and Patent Litigation (2020) in Houston. Based in Texas and New York, Barnett has tried complex business disputes across the United States.

Barnett’s background, training, and experience make him indispensable to his clients. The small-town son of a Texas roughneck and grandson of a Texas sharecropper, Barnett “developed an unusual common sense about people, their motivations, and their dilemmas,” according to former client Michael Lewis.

Barnett has been historically recognized for his effectiveness and judgment. His peers chose him, for example, to the American College of Trial Lawyers and American Law Institute. His decades of trial and appellate work representing both plaintiffs and defendants have made him a master strategist and nimble tactician in complex disputes.

Barnett focuses on enforcement of antitrust laws, the “Magna Carta of free enterprise,” in Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s memorable phrase. “Barry is one of the nation’s outstanding antitrust lawyers,” according to Joseph Goldberg, a member of the Private Antitrust Enforcement Hall of Fame. Named among Texas’s top ten antitrust lawyers of 2023, Business Today calls Barnett a “trailblazer” among the “distinguished legal minds” who “dedicate their skill and expertise to the maintenance of healthy competition in various sectors” of the Lone Star State’s booming economy. Barnett is also adept in energy and intellectual property matters and has battled for clients against a Who’s Who list of corporate behemoths, including Abbott Labs, Alcoa, Apple, AT&T, BlackBerry, Broadcom, Comcast, Dow, JPMorgan Chase, Samsung, and Visa.

Barnett commands a courtroom with calm and credibility and “is the perfect lawyer for bet the company litigation,” said Scott Regan, General Counsel of former client Whiting Petroleum. His performance before the Supreme Court in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend prompted the Court to withdraw the question on which it had granted review. The judge in a trial involving mobile phone technology called Barnett “one of the best” and that his opening statement the finest he had ever seen. Another trial judge told Barnett minutes after a jury returned a favorable verdict against the county’s biggest employer that he was one of the two best trial lawyers he’d ever come across—adding that the other one was dead.

A versatile trial lawyer, Barnett knows how to handle a case all the way from strategic pre-suit planning to affirmance on appeal. He’s tried cases to verdict and then briefed and argued them when they went before appellate courts, including the Second, Third, Fifth, and Tenth Circuits, the Supreme Court of Louisiana, and (in the case of Comcast Corp. v. Behrend) the Supreme Court of the United States.

Barnett is a sought-after public speaker, often serving on panels and talking about topics like the trials of antitrust class actions and techniques for streamlining complex litigation. He also comments on trends in commercial litigation and the implications of major rulings for outlets such as NPR, Reuters, Law360, Corporate Counsel, and The Dallas Morning News. He’s even appeared in a Frontline program about underfunding of state pensions, authored chapters on “Fee Arrangements” and “Techniques for Expediting and Streamlining Litigation” (the latter with Steve Susman) in the ABA’s definitive treatise on Business and Commercial Litigation in Federal Courts, 5th, and commented on How Antitrust Enforcers Might Think Like Plaintiffs’ Lawyers.

Clients and other hard graders have praised Barnett for his courtroom skills and legal acumen.

A client in a $100 million oil and gas case, which Barnett’s team won at trial and held on appeal, said Barnett and his team “presented a rare combination of strong legal intellect, common sense about right and wrong, and credibility in the courtroom.” David McCombs at Haynes and Boone said Barnett “has a natural presence that goes over well with juries and judges.”

Even former adversaries give Barnett high marks. Lead opposing counsel in a decade-long antitrust slugfest said “Barry is a highly skilled advocate. He understands what really matters in telling a narrative and does so in a very compelling manner.”

Barnett relishes opportunities to collaborate with all kinds of people. At the Center for American and International Law (CAIL), founded by a former prosecutor at Nuremberg in 1947 and headquartered in the Dallas area, he has served on the Executive Committee, co-chaired the committee that produced CAIL’s first-ever strategic plan, supported CAIL’s Institute for Law Enforcement Administration and other development efforts, and proposed formation of a new Institute for Social Justice Law. CAIL’s former President David Beck said “Barry is extremely bright” and is “very well prepared in every lawsuit or professional task he undertakes.”

Barnett is also a Trustee of the New-York Historical Society, a Sterling Fellow at Yale, a member of the Yale University Art Gallery’s Governing Board, a winner of the Class Award for his work on behalf of his college class, and a proud contributor to the Yellow Ribbon Program at Harvard Law. Barnett’s pro bono work includes leading the trial team representing people who are at greatest risk of severe illness and death as a result of being exposed to the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 while being detained in the Dallas County jail—work for which he received the NGAN Legal Advocacy Fund RBG Award.

At Susman Godfrey, Barnett has served on the firm’s Executive Committee, Employment Committee, and ad hoc committees on partner compensation, succession of leadership, and revision of the firm’s partnership agreement. He also twice chaired the Practice Development Committee.

Barnett understands that clients face many pressures. Managing the stress is important, especially in matters that take years to resolve. He encourages clients to call him whenever they have a question or concern and to keep the inevitable ups and downs in perspective. He wants them to know that he will do his level best to help them achieve their goals. He also strives to foster trust and to make working with him a pleasure.

Cyrus “Skip” Marter, the General Counsel of Bonanza Creek in Denver and a former Susman Godfrey partner and client, said Barnett is “excellent about communicating with clients in a full and honest manner” and can “negotiate for his clients from a position of strength, because he is not afraid to take a case through a full trial on the merits.” Stacey Doré, the President of Hunt Utility Services and a former client, said that Barnett is “an excellent trial lawyer and the person you want to hire for your bet-the-company cases. He is client focused, responsive, and uniquely savvy about trial and settlement strategy.” A New York colleague said, “Barry is a joy to work with as co-counsel. He tackles complex procedural and factual hurdles capably, efficiently, and without drama.”

Barnett’s wide-ranging experience and calm, down-to-earth approach enable him to connect with clients, judges, jurors, witnesses, and even opposing counsel. He grew up in Nacogdoches, Texas. He co-captained his high school varsity football team as an All-East Texas middle linebacker while also serving as the Editor of Key Club’s Texas-Oklahoma District, won the Best Typist award, took the History Team to glory, and sang in the East Texas All Region Choir. As Dan Kelly of client Vistra Corp. put it, Barnett is “a great person to be around.”

Barnett is steady and loyal. He has practiced at Susman Godfrey his entire career. He and his wife Nancy live in Dallas and enjoy spending time in Houston and New York. Their daughter works for H-E-B in Houston, and their son is a Haynes and Boone transactions lawyer in Dallas.

As a member of Ivy League championship football teams in his junior and senior years at Yale and a parent of two Yalies, Barnett has no trouble choosing sides for “The Game” in November. And he knows how important fighting all the way to the end is. On his last play from scrimmage, in the waning minutes of The Game on Nov. 22, 1980, he recovered a Crimson fumble.

Yale won, 14-0.