Steve Susman founded the firm in 1980 after winning what was at the time the largest verdict in antitrust history in the Corrugated Containers case. Lee Godfrey joined Steve Susman in 1982, after teaching at the University of Texas School of Law, and has remained co-managing partner since then.
With the success of the Corrugated Containers case under his belt, Susman quickly recognized an opportunity to try large commercial cases on a contingency basis. It was a novel idea; at the time, the use of contingency fees was limited largely to personal injury cases. He believed that if a lawyer was not willing to take a case on contingency, then the case ought not to be filed, and so Susman started promoting the idea of contingency fees in the commercial context long before the phrase "alternative fee" came into fashion.
Susman Godfrey reaped the benefits of this high-risk/high-return model by carefully selecting its cases and winning some of the largest jury verdicts in the country while efficiently working and trying the cases. In the 1990s, the contingency fee model transformed into a whole spectrum of alternative fees, from reverse contingency fees on the defense side, to flat fees and hybrids with both fixed and contingent components. Today, Susman Godfrey is one of the most prestigious firms to routinely work on an alternative fee basis, having mastered the practice of picking the best cases and pricing them so that both lawyer and client receive fair shares of risk and value.
Much of Susman Godfrey's growth outside Houston resulted from the firm's desire to keep practicing with lawyers who wanted to live elsewhere. In 1987, the firm opened its Dallas office because Terry Oxford and Barry Barnett did not want to return to Houston after spending more than a year in Dallas representing the Hunt Brothers. In 1995, the firm opened its Seattle office because Parker Folse decided to move his family there, and the partners wanted to continue practicing law with him. In 1998, the firm opened the Los Angeles office because it wanted Marc Seltzer, an attorney with whom lawyers at the firm had known and worked for two decades, to join the firm. In 2007, the firm opened the New York office because Steve Susman recognized a need there for a high-caliber litigation firm willing to work on an alternative fee basis.
Each office has become successful and grown by focusing on hiring the best lawyers available from federal clerkships rather than through mergers or lateral hires. This is one reason why Susman Godfrey operates seamlessly as a single firm and can field an integrated trial team with lawyers from any of its five offices to handle litigation national in scope.