Stephen Daily Susman, 79
Stephen D. Susman, husband of American Saddlebred Museum Trustee, Ellen Susman, passed away on Tuesday, the 14th of July 2020, from complications of a bicycle accident. He crashed while racing ahead of a group of Susman Godfrey lawyers half his age—at the front of the pack as always. Steve gave people opportunities and experiences that they otherwise couldn't have imagined had they never met him: his spouses, his children and step-children, his grandchildren, his law partners, the hundreds of his other colleagues at Susman Godfrey, and the many thousands of other people whose lives he touched through his professional and charitable work, and through his camaraderie as a loyal friend. All of their lives are better thanks to Steve Susman.
While he will be remembered as one of the best trial lawyers of all time, his greatest accomplishment was as a husband. He poured his boundless energy into building a life full of adventure, joy, and love for the two remarkable women who in succession became his treasured partners. Though he liked to get his way in most things, when it came to marriage he valued compromise. How else to explain his later-in-life love of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and horse shows? Most people are lucky to have one long, happy and successful marriage; Steve had two. When his first wife Karen died unexpectedly, he set out to accomplish the seemingly impossible task of recreating a once-in-a-lifetime love affair. Of course, Steve succeeded when he found Ellen. He was not only an amazing husband but a best friend in everything they did. They had 22 incredible years together, traveling the world and hoping to change it for the better through art, politics and justice.
He was a loving and incredibly generous father. When Stacy and Harry were young, he was busy building a law practice. Most of his parenting in those days was done on elaborate family vacations. As his career flourished (and especially after Karen died), he evolved into a hands-on Dad. He has a special bond with his daughter, Stacy. She was his confidant and, especially after Karen died and before he met Ellen, his main support. His son Harry idolized his father and tried his best to copy everything his Dad did. They practiced law together for over 20 years, and Harry's greatest honor was getting to try cases with his Dad.
When Steve married Ellen, he got two new daughters. He always called Whitney and Amanda his "daughters" and he loved them as such. They always said how lucky they were to have two devoted fathers; he was a guiding light that brought them love, joy, and constant support. He was their rock and always said melding the two families was one of his greatest accomplishments. He will always be remembered as magnificent Papa.
Along with a new-found love of dogs, as he aged Steve acquired a love of young kids...as long as they were his grandkids. From South Africa to India to Disney World, he showed his eight grandkids the world. He also made sure that his grandkids could get the finest educations and would have opportunities afforded to few people.
Steve was a legendary trial lawyer. He loved the competition and drama of a jury trial. He believed that honesty was the best way to persuade jurors; he used to say, "the only thing I can't deal with in a courtroom is a lie." So, he would prepare painstakingly, mastering the facts, so that he could back up everything he said in front of a jury. When it came to courtrooms, he was the smartest guy in the room. He also believed deeply in teaching young lawyers trial skills, which can only be learned by doing. Unlike most famous trial lawyers, Steve was happy to share the spotlight in court with young lawyers – in fact, he insisted on it. He was not afraid to upset clients who expressed concern when he declared that some wet-behind-the-ears lawyer would take a key role in a trial. With Steve guiding the young lawyer, no client ever second-guessed his decisions after-the-fact. He created dozens of great trial lawyers in his image.
Steve was also a pioneer in building a remarkable law firm. Today Susman Godfrey is one of the most successful law firms in the country, but it wasn't always that way. After giving up his comfortable partnership at an old established law firm of considerable size, Steve decided to focus on handling complex commercial litigation largely on behalf of plaintiffs and on a contingent-fee basis. High risk, high reward. At the time it was a radical move and no one was that interested in supporting his daring but wholly untested adventure except for one firm that specialized in representing injured longshore workers, who welcomed him into their fold. As Steve began to build a practice and hire lawyers who wanted to follow him (and after he won a $300 million verdict in a landmark antitrust class action), he decided to launch his own firm under the name Susman and McGowan. When his old friend Lee Godfrey decided to join, Susman Godfrey & McGowan was born. After Gary McGowan's departure the name became Susman Godfrey, as it has been known for decades and will be known forevermore. Aside from Ellen and Karen, Steve's other great life partner was Lee Godfrey; they could not have been more different in personality and management style but they shared a love for living life to the fullest and for practicing trial law at the highest possible level.
Steve leaves behind seventy-seven partners and almost three hundred employees at Susman Godfrey. Steve ran the firm as a democracy, and a meritocracy; he led by example and persuaded others to follow him with his good judgment and candor. Steve was an institution-builder, not a cult leader. He believed in rewarding excellence, not pedigree or seniority, and he sacrificed some of what he could have demanded for himself, year after year, so that he could build an organization that would thrive and survive after he was gone. Steve treated the firm like his own beloved family. To many employees and colleagues, he was not "Mr. Susman"; he was "Big Daddy." Susman Godfrey truly has lost its Founding Father.
Steve is survived by his wife, Ellen Susman; his children, Stacy and Tom Kuhn, Harry and Karen Susman, Whitney and Matt Gordon, Amanda and Matt Shifrin; his brother, Tommy Susman; and his eight grandchildren, Nicholas Kuhn, Miles Kuhn, Rachel Kuhn, Sam Susman, Ana Susman, Jack Susman, Charles Gordon, and Isla Gordon.
Steve gave millions of dollars to support causes that he cared about, including Yale University, the University of Texas School of Law, the NYU Law School Civil Jury Project, the Anti-Defamation League, and dozens of other Jewish and civic organizations. Also, anyone running as a Democrat for elected office in the United States (Steve was a Yellow Dog Democrat) made a call to Steve seeking and usually receiving his financial support. He also was a the top fundraisers for many years for the MS150 bike ride from Houston to Austin.
The family will gather for a private interment service at Congregation Beth Israel Memorial Garden in Houston.
In lieu of customary remembrances, the family asks that gifts be directed toward UTHealth, PO Box 1321, Houston, TX 77251-1321 (https://giving.uth.edu/memorial) to benefit UTHealth Neurosciences.