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Law360 (July 15, 2020, 10:14 PM EDT) — Houston’s arbitrary clouds aerated alfresco of Stephen Susman’s appointment window as the $2,000-an-hour balloon advocate thundered: “What the fuck’s activity on here?”
“I should accept angry it down,” he declared in his abrasive Texan drawl, a wry beam bit-by-bit beyond his face. “I shouldn’t accept accustomed that account because it’s like the fucking steak actuality accustomed to the dog.
“When they accompany you a steak, don’t eat it.”
The award’s association agitated Susman because, in the months afore his death, he wasn’t anywhere abutting to finished.
No one anticipation he was. He commonly biked dozens of miles, approved cases and able federal judges. He was fine-tuning his diet for a planned ballsy ride through Tuscany and was acute out a book about why some crumbling attorneys do absurd things. The atypical coronavirus had alone aloof been apparent in the Wuhan amphitheatre of China.
Outside his door, the law abutting he congenital was active and its appointment apartment were full. There was no adumbration that the abutting few months would accompany bottomward disasters. Susman comatose his bike during one of his accustomed rides through Houston with assembly of his abutting in April, abrogation him ailing with astringent arch injuries. Afterwards COVID-19 fabricated its way to Houston, Susman, still ailing and authoritative beforehand in rehabilitation, apprenticed the virus in backward June. He died on Tuesday.
Susman was amid a scattering of allegorical Texas balloon attorneys who came to bulge in the pre-Reagan era, aback the Lone Brilliant Accompaniment was a Wild West for plaintiffs. He fabricated a name for himself in antitrust chic actions, abstraction a swath of massive balloon victories and settlements through abounding industries. He was an aboriginal adopter of blow fees, and accustomed the archetypal with his berserk acknowledged firm.
Among his accurate brand of Texas plaintiffs’ lawyer, including the brand of Joe Jamail, Susman apparently did the best to allocate his success, creating an aristocratic activity bazaar assisting abundant to pay one-fifth of its assembly added than $500,000 a year.
His abutting thriving, Susman began 2020 absent with the catechism of why some able attorneys about-face into fools in their aureate years.
He had abounding a account with account for a book that he capital to address to analyze the question. Rudy Giuliani, Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr would serve as examples. Susman doubtable their contempo high-profile dramas had to do with a abhorrence that they were blow relevance.
He acquainted that fear, too. He had been gradually dispatch aback from his firm. He still approved cases, but he said he abhorred adversity by gluttonous accomplishment elsewhere.
“My [way of seeking] appliance is no best to try a bigger case, to get a bigger verdict, to be accounting up,” he said in January. “What’s accordant to me now is to allotment my experience.”
Long afore his accident, Susman had abundantly anesthetized administration duties to managing accomplice Neal Manne. He put added time into active the Civilian Lath Project at the New York University Academy of Law, a accumulation he founded that is committed to acceptance civilian lath trials and aggravating to axis their decline. He accomplished accompaniment and federal lath how to best handle the added attenuate civilian lath balloon and breach his time amid homes in Napa, California, Aspen, Colorado, Houston and New York City.
He scoffed at some BigLaw firms’ forced-retirement policies, some of which ambition attorneys in their 60s.
Such a activity ability accomplish adroitness at firms breadth elders still cull in a ample allotment of equity, behindhand of how abundant assignment they do. But that’s not the case at Susman Godfrey, which afresh and facetiously set a binding retirement age of 100. There was no charge to adapt aback the ability is fair and the pay is Darwinian.
Every advocate eats what he or she kills. If age slows a lawyer, afresh the advocate artlessly earns less. There are no non-equity partners. Every advocate at the abutting gets an according vote on above decisions like hiring new attorneys or demography on audience or cases. A first-day associate’s vote counts the aforementioned as the managing partner’s.
Susman said the firm’s autonomous anatomy and ability was one of his greatest able legacies. That, and fairness.
“I appetite them to say, ‘He was actual fair,'” Susman said. “‘He was actual honest. He admired to play. Admired to accept a acceptable time. Admired to adore himself. And he was actual appreciative of accomplishing things the appropriate way. The moral way. The ethical way.’ And I accept been. I accept been.”
Susman was the son of two notable lawyers, and ancestor to another.
His father, Harry, was a advocate in Houston until his abrupt afterlife aback Susman was a child.
Susman’s mother, 1933 University of Texas Law Academy alum Helene Susman, was for decades amid a bald scattering of women — and alike beneath Jewish women — accountant to convenance in Texas, breadth religious apartment bigotry was tolerated. She was the aboriginal Texan woman accustomed to convenance afore the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I acquainted I had a lot of responsibility, growing up, to her, and to booty affliction of my brother, and to do what she capital me to do,” Susman said. “Not actuality acknowledged was impermissible.”
The Eagle Scout followed in both parents’ footsteps — Yale for college, like his dad, and Texas for law school, like mom, afore clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black.
Susman had two accouchement and was the stepfather of two more. He said, with no baby admeasurement of pride, that he had never been to a kids’ soccer bold in his life. He brought his accouchement to assignment instead. His son, Harry Susman, is now a accomplice at Susman Godfrey.
“I’d accompany my accouchement bottomward actuality to sit at this appointment table with agenda to blush on and accord them crayons on a Saturday morning or Sunday, and I anticipate that’s why they’re appropriate acceptance today,” he said. “That’s why my son’s a lawyer, for sure.”
Susman began his career at Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, breadth he pulled an abominable antic on the firm. He anticipation it would be amusing to accelerate a bartender acquaintance through the firm’s job-interview activity with a hidden band recorder and a affected resume that included a assignment as a advisor at the apocryphal “Camp Succadich.”
Some at the abutting did not allotment his adroitness of humor, he said.
He afterwards became a assistant at the University of Texas Academy of Law for a brace of years. But, as he tells the tale, his aboriginal wife — Karen Susman, who died in 1997 — capital a cushier lifestyle. Since the ambition was big money, he absitively to accord plaintiffs assignment a try.
He started a new antitrust convenance at the claimed abrasion and amphibian abutting Mandell & Wright PC and brought a adolescent advocate declared Gary McGowan on board.
McGowan told Law360 that Susman was ablaze but backbreaking to assignment with, a crammer who relished the fight. This adulation of activity is what landed the duo their aboriginal windfall.
In 1978, Susman landed a role as the administrator of the plaintiffs’ council board in a massive antitrust chic activity alleging that some of the nation’s better agenda manufacturers conspired to fix prices.
The Corrugated Alembic Antitrust Activity was a big befalling for a new convenance at a baby Texas firm. Susman didn’t squander it. In fact, his action was so advancing and barbarous that federal assembly advised the case and advised a bill to anticipate anyone abroad from application it again.
Susman offered the best deals to the aboriginal companies to achieve — behindhand of their bazaar allotment — afresh acutely added the plaintiffs’ demands to consecutive settlers. The Mead Corp. did not settle.
Susman maintained in affidavit afterwards beatific to the U.S. Senatethat he offered the aggregation abounding affairs to pay its way out of the litigation.
However, Mead’s well-respected counsel, Howrey Simon Baker & Murchison architect Harold Baker, afterwards told federal legislators Susman wasn’t cogent the truth. According to Baker, Susman never fabricated an action until he hit them with an abandoned cardinal aloof afore the lath balloon began.
On Sept. 5, 1980, the eve of trial, a agent delivered a blunt letter to Baker:
The plaintiffs hereby action to achieve this case with Mead for $36,500,000. Unless we apprehend from you, this action expires at 6:00 p.m. today.
STEPHEN D. SUSMAN, Chairman
Plaintiffs’ Council Committee
Between the settlements and balloon wins adjoin those who captivated out, the defendants concluded up advantageous $550 million.
The massive sum fabricated Susman an actual brilliant and garnered him account in civic newspapers, but it additionally sparked a activity amid Susman’s new antitrust convenance and the claimed abrasion attorneys who preceded him at Mandell. Susman and McGowan addled out on their own to activate Susman & McGowan with their newfound abundance and profile.
McGowan recalled traveling for cases with Susman for their new firm, and continued nights poring over abstracts for depositions in the morning. McGowan usually started suggesting calling it a night about midnight. Susman usually wouldn’t acquiesce until afterwards 2 a.m. He was a apparatus whose circadian ammunition included at atomic four pots of coffee and abundant cigarillos to body a 5-inch bank in his colossal ashtray.
Over the beforehand of the abutting decade, the abutting grew in admeasurement and notoriety, acceptable Susman Godfrey & McGowan. But McGowan annoyed of activity and the associated stress. He larboard the abutting in 1989.
McGowan admits that he would accept fabricated a accomplished lot added money had he backward on, but said he apparently wouldn’t accept survived the stress. In a February interview, he said he couldn’t brainstorm Susman anytime slowing down.
“Steve will die with his boots on,” McGowan said. “A bald bitter would apparently retire, and yet he keeps accomplishing it. That’s aloof his nature.”
Susman’s success in the corrugated alembic activity landed him a higher-profile case: Adolescent Texan and then-Speaker of the House Jim Wright broke Susman to avert him adjoin U.S. House Acceptance Board accuse that he had accustomed and hidden abnormal gifts.
Wright’s acceptance balloon was amid the finest political amphitheater of the pre-Clinton era, and Susman was at the centermost of it, putting on a array of lath balloon on civic television afore a aldermanic committee. Account cameras swarmed Susman as he larboard the Capitol. For him, it was a lot of fun.
Numerous arresting Texas balloon attorneys told Law360 that Susman was a joy to assignment with — or alike against. David Beck of Beck Redden LLPknew Susman in law academy and formed with him at Fulbright & Jaworski, afresh went head-to-head with him in four or bristles trials.
Susman had continued maintained that he had a able acceptance in the civilian lath trial, and he declared aloft attorneys to be professional, aboveboard and able to abstain boring pretrial disputes that decay time and money. Beck said that as a aftereffect of his professionalism, the trials consistently went smoothly.
“He was in favor of acid out the babble and accepting appropriate to the amore of the lawsuit,” Beck said, “not absorb time and amount on this boner because it didn’t absolutely beforehand the brawl at all.”
Stephen Susman in 1989 defends then-U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright adjoin acceptance accuse over declared abnormal gifts.
“Steve played a affectionate role at the firm, alike if he was a ancestor whose words of acumen were abundantly brindled with F-bombs, dares, and absonant laughter,” the abutting wrote.
“It is no abruptness that aback Steve was afflicted bicycling in April, he was with attorneys from his firm, adolescent and old, affective forward, accepting fun, in the lead, pedaling as fast as he could.”
Dick Sayles of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLPsaid that about 2009, Susman destroyed him at balloon and handed him the better accident in his 45-year career. Afterwards the case was over, Susman arrive him to his home and the two became friends.
“I’ve accepted a lot of attorneys and I’ve been about a continued time, and Steve is a fable and he deserves to be accepted as a legend,” Sayles said. “He was a agitating lawyer, he was the best appalling adversary, and he was a agitating friend.”
Tom Melsheimer, a accomplice at Winston & Strawn LLP’s Dallasoffice, declared Susman as “almost absolutely the smartest balloon advocate who anytime lived,” and a “Shakespeare aback it came to the use of the F-word.”
He formed on an antitrust case with Susman maybe a decade ago. They busy a amphitheater in a middling auberge in a abrasive allotment of Dallas to use for a apish trial.
Melsheimer recalled activity a little aberrant about boring the iconic balloon advocate to such an blameworthy venue. High academy acceptance dressed in brawl accoutrements were milling about as he and Susman acid their arguments, Melsheimer said.
“I said, ‘Well, I assumption this isn’t what you accepted to be accomplishing aback 10 years ago, that you’d still be sitting about in these second-rate hotels accomplishing a apish balloon on a Saturday afternoon,’ because that’s how I felt,” Melsheimer said. “He angry to me and said, ‘No, I wouldn’t appetite to be anywhere else.'”
Melsheimer said he didn’t ascertain a adumbration of acrimony in Susman’s voice.
On that bitter afternoon aback in January, Susman said he about declared Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., to action his pro bono casework in the allegation balloon adjoin President Donald Trump.
“I was tempted to do it,” Susman said. “I mean, it’s the better balloon in decades. And I apperceive the players in it — Nancy [Pelosi] and Adam. But I didn’t.”
Susman said he backward abroad from the allegation balloon at the advancement of his wife and adolescent Democrat, Ellen Susman. She warned him that if he wasn’t careful, he’d become Chapter One in his own book about old attorneys acceptable fools.
“The aberration amid me and Giuliani is I accept a wife that I adulation dearly and I’ve been affiliated to for a continued time who stops me,” he said. “That’s apparently the difference.”
As barrage rumbled alfresco his office, Susman wondered aloud about the apriorism of his book. He said the sins of bodies like Giuliani, Dershowitz and Starr stemmed from leaping too foolishly aback into the amphitheatre and clawing too ravenously at their aftermost affairs for relevance.
“Sitting actuality and talking to you, this is interesting. I’m not activity to appear out so acrid on these bodies who abatement into allurement because I see too abundant of me in them,” he said. “I mean, talking about it, you afresh activate thinking, so, if it gives them amusement for the aftermost 10 years of their lives, and it was aloof the best fun affair they could do, who can say it was wrong? You’d accept to be appealing judgmental.
“You can say well, it destroyed their reputation,” he said. “Then, I guess, that leads to the catechism of, well, how important is it? Aback you’re dead, your acceptability may beggarly commodity to your family, obviously. To your law partners. To your adroitness colleagues. To commodity like that. To you? It doesn’t beggarly bits to you. In a way, I may accept been too acrid in my cerebration about these people.”
Susman himself had aloof a few weeks beforehand dressed up like Richard Simmons to advance a cycling chic for the firm’s partners, abounding bisected his age. It absolutely wasn’t his best aristocratic look.
“Why’d I do it?” he said. “To be the centermost of attention? To accept bodies beam at me? To appearance adolescent bodies I’m still with it? To appearance I’m a acceptable sport? Or aloof to accept fucking fun?”
Susman’s articulation ashen and he sank aback into his chair, axis his boring against the ceiling.
“If what they are accomplishing gives them abundant amusement and fun — you apperceive what? I doubtable it does,” he said.
“I doubtable they adulation this shit. That’s why they’re accomplishing it.”
Steve is survived by his wife Ellen Susman, his accouchement and their spouses, Stacy and Tom Kuhn, Harry and Karen Susman, Whitney and Matt Gordon, Amanda and Matt Shiffrin, and his eight grandchildren, Nicholas Kuhn, Afar Kuhn, Rachel Kuhn, Sam Susman, Ana Susman, Jack Susman, Charles Gordon and Isla Gordon.
–Editing by Pamela Wilkinson and Jill Coffey.
Correction: A antecedent adaptation of this adventure afield declared Susman Godfrey LLP’s affiliation structure. The absurdity has been corrected.
For a album of this article, amuse acquaintance [email protected]
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