In Memoriam: Stephen Susman

Stephen Susman, founder and executive director of the Civil Jury Project (CJP) at NYU Law, passed away on July 14. Co-founder of the law firm Susman Godfrey, he helped build it into one of the nation’s premier litigation firms. “Steve was among the most renowned trial lawyers in the United States,” Dean Trevor Morrison said in an email announcing Susman’s passing.

Stephen Susman
Stephen Susman

At NYU Law, Susman established the CJP to study the diminishing role of civil jury trials in the American legal system, and the consequences of that decline. His dedication and vision quickly made the CJP a leading voice nationally on these issues. Susman was also a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center on Civil Justice at NYU Law. As an adjunct professor at the Law School, he taught “How to Try a Jury Case Intelligently.”  

“We are at a critical moment in American history for the jury,” Susman said at the time of CJP’s founding in 2015. “This project will examine why there has been such a steep drop-off in the number of civil jury trials, whether trial by jury still serves a useful purpose in our complex society, and, if so, what, if anything, can be done to reverse the trend.”

Susman graduated from Yale University magna cum laude in 1962. He earned his JD from the University of Texas Law School, graduating at the top of his class in 1965. He was also editor-in-chief of the Texas Law Review. After graduating, he clerked for Judge John R. Brown on the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and for Justice Hugo Black on the US Supreme Court.  

Championing the use of contingency fees, he built a robust plaintiffs-side practice at Susman Godfrey, providing a model for law firms that continues to be influential. “My goal was to create a law firm that gives young people a lot of opportunity, and focuses on results instead of billable hours,” Susman told the American Lawyer in 2017.

Susman is survived by his wife, Ellen, and his two children, Harry and Stacy. "All of us at NYU Law extend to them and to Steve’s colleagues at Susman Godfrey our deepest condolences,” Morrison said.

Posted July 16, 2020