Steve Susman–my friend and mentor and my firm’s founding partner–died yesterday. A great many people who knew or knew of Steve have sent condolences, which I appreciate very much. I am very sad but also very grateful.
For those of you who hadn’t heard or want to know more, below is a statement that the partners issued this morning.
Steve Susman, 1941-2020
With extraordinary sadness, the partners of Susman Godfrey LLP announce the death of our beloved founder, colleague and friend Stephen D. Susman. Steve died in Houston on July 14 from complications of a bicycle accident in April.
Steve was our leader. The firm was always his vision. He loved the law firm, and loved us, and it was mutual. Steve was passionate about the law and justice. He spent his entire life thinking and talking about, and working for, ways to improve the system of civil justice in America.
Steve changed the nature of law practice forever. Long before the profession gave serious thought to basing a complex commercial litigation practice on contingent fees and other arrangements that rewarded success rather than the number of hours billed, Steve championed this and built a firm around his idea. Hundreds of other firms have followed that model, but Steve pioneered it and proved, spectacularly, that it could work.
Steve also changed the way cases get litigated. He urged lawyers to avoid excessive discovery and pretrial disputes, and instead focus on trial. He taught Susman Godfrey lawyers and many other lawyers around the country that being fierce advocates does not preclude treating one’s adversaries with honesty, professionalism, and respect.
To decades of lawyers at Susman Godfrey, Steve was not just our founder and leader, but our mentor and friend. He was as eager to work on cases with and spend leisure time with the firm’s newest associates as with his most senior colleagues. Many of the older Susman Godfrey lawyers referred to him as “Dad” and it was more-than-half serious. Steve played a fatherly role at the firm, even if he was a father whose words of wisdom were liberally sprinkled with F-bombs, dares, and raucous laughter. Through the power of his personality and intellect he imparted to generations of Susman Godfrey lawyers his dedication to hard work, intellectual rigor, zealous but honest advocacy, candor in dealing with clients and courts, entrepreneurial inventiveness, devotion to the legal system, and social consciousness.
We all knew that the Steve Susman era would end at some point, but that did not stop us from hoping in our hearts that he would be with us at Susman Godfrey forever. When he flirted with retirement two years ago, the partnership responded by unanimously adopting a policy of mandatory retirement at age 100.
Our hearts go out to Steve’s wife Ellen, his son Harry and wife Karen, his daughter Stacy and husband Tom, his step-daughter Whitney and husband Matt, his step-daughter Amanda and husband Matt, his brother Tommy and wife Susan, his eight grandchildren, and his entire law firm family.
We will miss Steve tremendously as we carry on his legacy, practicing law the way Steve taught us, honoring the values he imparted, treasuring the extraordinary camaraderie that he built. It is no surprise that when Steve was injured bicycling in April, he was with lawyers from his firm, young and old, moving forward, having fun, in the lead, pedaling as fast as he could.