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Susman Godfrey

The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.

Ryan Caughey is a first-chair trial lawyer who has consistently been recognized as one of America’s leading litigators. Last year, Ryan was the co-lead trial lawyer in a five-week jury trial that resulted in an over $42 million judgment for his client Linde Engineering North America, in addition to more than $22 million in pretrial recoveries. This year, Ryan was one of the lead trial lawyers in a lengthy, nine-figure arbitration. In total, Ryan has recovered more than $950 million for his clients. On the defense side, Ryan has represented clients facing billions of dollars of potential exposure.

Krysta Pachman represents plaintiffs and defendants in high-stakes commercial litigation, including class actions, patent cases, trademark & copyright matters, and other disputes. Krysta has a track record of obtaining trial wins, favorable settlements, and arbitration victories for her clients, who range from small businesses and individuals to Fortune 500 companies. Krysta is serving as court-appointed lead counsel to plaintiffs in the Blackbaud Data Breach class action, and this year secured class certification for plaintiffs she represents in a massive class action against PornHub for alleged violation of sex trafficking and child pornography laws. Krysta secured more than $500 million in relief and settlements for her clients in 2023. 

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Ryan: I am a commercial trial lawyer. I come in when companies or individuals face particularly high value, complex, or important commercial disputes, regardless of the subject matter. In recent years, I have handled a significant number of high-profile, high-value antitrust and competition disputes and trials.

Krysta: I handle all kinds of litigation, with an emphasis on class actions. In the class action space, I’ve handled predominantly data privacy, securities, copyright, and antitrust matters. I’ve also handled several arbitrations and trials pertaining to business disputes. 

What types of clients do you represent?

Ryan: I represent some of the world’s largest companies. I have also won courtroom victories and valuable settlements for small businesses and individuals. Some of my representative clients include Chevron, Live Nation, Veeva Systems, Westlake Corporation, and World Market.

Krysta: I’ve represented many classes of wronged individuals, including victims of child pornography, consumers, and investors. I’ve also represented a number of corporate clients, like Everlywell and Fat Sal’s, and utilities, like Evergy.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Ryan: I have worked on numerous eight-, nine-, and ten-figure disputes for companies nationwide. Over my career, I have been involved in an extraordinary array of high-value, high-stakes cases. I defend environmental lawsuits; I sue for patent infringement; I pursue antitrust class actions; I represent aggrieved shareholders; I represent executives in employment disputes; and I even once handled a high-value divorce!

Earlier this year, I led a six-week-long arbitration pursuing trade secret claims for a major software company and defending against antitrust allegations. Last year, I tried and won a lengthy jury trial involving a nine-figure construction project in North Dakota. Next year, I anticipate handling jury trials involving patent infringement and environmental claims.

Krysta: I have worked on everything from multi-billion-dollar class actions to multi-million-dollar arbitrations and trials. 

How did you choose this practice area?

Ryan: I began my career at Gibson Dunn in Washington, DC, where I explored various practice areas. I learned quickly that what I wanted was to be something that has become all too rare: a generalist trial lawyer. I love trials, and I love learning the minutiae of various industries, companies, and areas of law.

Krysta: I always knew I wanted to be a litigator—that’s what attracted me to Susman Godfrey. I chose class actions in particular because a number of my mentors did a lot of class action work and gave me a ton of experience early on. 

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Ryan: Every day is different. I write a lot, as all litigators do. And I spend a fair bit of time in depositions and in court. I of course spend time with my clients. But the details are always different—my varied practice means that I’m always starting fresh on new issues and areas of law. A common misconception about litigation is that one is always in court or in trial. At Susman Godfrey, we are blessed to be in trial more than most law firm litigators. But still, much of the work is done in the day-to-day work of meticulously combing through documents and putting together extensive written work product. Standing up in court and at trial is fun, but success is not possible without the preparation that comes in advance.

Krysta: To be honest, there are no typical days. I am never bored. One day, I may be meeting with an individual class representative to prepare her for a deposition, and the next day, I am in trial cross-examining a CEO. I am constantly learning new industries and areas of the law, which is one of the best things about this job.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Ryan: Do everything you can to become a superlative writer. If you can unfailingly submit polished, professional, and persuasive writing, you will advance in your career. Every litigation firm in America values top-notch writing. The converse is also true: charisma and stand-up ability are not enough to overcome poor writing skills.

Beyond that, the best advice is to raise your hand. Law is a profession where, no matter how brilliant and fearless you are, you need experience to succeed. So when you have the opportunity in law school to join a litigation clinic, raise your hand. In private practice, raise your hand to take depositions. Grab every court appearance you can. Write the big briefs. A great way to do this is to join a firm—like Susman Godfrey—where you will be given stand-up opportunities early in your career.

Krysta: For those who are still in law school, I highly recommend taking Trial Advocacy. I learned so much in my clinic, and it reinforced my desire to be a litigator. Clerking is also tremendously helpful—not a day goes by in my practice that I don’t reflect on lessons learned while clerking. For those who are out of law school, there’s no substitute for the experience you get actually litigating a case. You need to go to the kind of firm that’s going to give you substantive experience from day one. When I came to Susman, I learned the rule was “if you write it, you argue it,” and I got to spend a lot of time in court as an early associate, and also got the opportunity to take dozens of depositions early on. There’s no better training than being entrusted with responsibility.

What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?

Ryan: The most challenging thing is also the most exciting. Everything is always new—even decades into the practice. Some lawyers focus on one client, one area of law, or one issue. We focus on being good trial lawyers. There is always a new judge, a new client, a new industry, or a new question. This can be unsettling. But it also makes you a better lawyer and a more interesting person.

What do you like best about your practice area?

Ryan: The teamwork. I played sports growing up, and there are a lot of parallels between a basketball team and a trial team. There is something unique and magical about working closely, over a long period of time—often away from home—with a small group of brilliant people focused intensely on the same goal: victory. It’s the best part of the job, by far.

Krysta: There are a lot of things I love about being a litigator, but nothing tops trial. I love being in the courtroom and litigating every case as if it is going to go to trial, which means being efficient and focusing on what matters.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

Krysta: The sky is the limit. Our associates are the heart of our trial teams and write motions, argue motions, take depositions, and examine witnesses at trial. They contribute fully to cases by having a say in case strategy and are a key part of our firm’s success. And for summer associates, we try to ensure they get the full associate experience by participating fully in trial teams, writing motions, and everything else that comes along with being an associate.

How is practicing litigation in a boutique different from practicing in a large law firm?

Ryan: As someone who used to work at a large law firm, I can say that it’s almost as if a boutique is in a different industry. The community and culture are much tighter and more uniform. And the very structure of a boutique requires giving the newest attorneys intense responsibility for managing cases, handling court appearances, and standing up at trial. And then, our attorneys turn into major business generators earlier in their careers than at most big firms. I attribute that to the responsibility they receive early on.

Krysta: Being at a boutique is a big part of why we are able to give junior associates so much experience. We view our associates as future partners, and we want to train them to be great lawyers. That means investing time into their development and entrusting them with responsibility.