Kalpana Srinivasan, co-managing partner, and a fierce & effective litigator at Susman Godfrey, speaks with Benchmark Editor Shailyn Tirado about the adjustments made in this challenging year, her unique talents in this new role, and the necessary steps to fostering inclusivity.
This past year has presented its fair share of unique challenges for everyone in both professional and personal ways. With the devastating loss of Susman Godfrey’s founder, Stephen Susman, what adjustments have you and your team made in order to continue the firm’s success?
Steve Susman created an incredibly successful and thriving law firm. He also fostered a very distinct culture and sense of comradery among the lawyers here. We strive extremely hard to preserve those aspects of our firm by training our lawyers in the “SG Way,” staffing our cases across offices and giving even our most junior lawyers the chance to be involved in important decision-making (like voting on which contingent and alternative fee cases to take). We have missed gathering in person and are eager to enjoy the retreats and other social events that are part of our “work hard, play hard” ethos.
You are now co-managing partner of the firm. Congratulations! As the first woman and the first lawyer outside of Susman Godfrey’s Houston base to have this role, what does this new step in leadership mean for you?
I view it as an opportunity to build on all of the amazing and unique foundational principles of our firm. I want to carry those traditions to the next generation of lawyers and introduce more clients to our results-focused way of litigating. I really value the chance to directly shape the future of our firm and to remind young lawyers across the profession that they can have a long and fruitful career in the law.
What unique talents do you think you bring to this role, and are there specific factors that you attribute to your success so far?
I truly enjoy collaborative work, idea-sharing and bringing in to the fold different viewpoints. I believe it is important to lead by example and show others how to build a practice and excel in their work. I try to be thoughtful and consistent in making decisions – and listen with an open mind. I spend a lot of time thinking about the pipeline of lawyers coming up behind me and what skills I can share and pass on to them. Ultimately, they will be the greatest testament of the long-term success of the firm.
Your expertise as lead trial counsel in numerous groundbreaking cases, securing significant victories for your clients, has been a common theme throughout your career. What three (3) key pieces of advice would you give to more junior lawyers who desire the same type of success?
Always offer your recommendations and proposed course of action for how to deal with the issue before you – even if a more senior lawyer ultimately disagrees. This is a critical way to develop and refine your judgment as a lawyer. You have to flex that judgment muscle. It also shows initiative and foresight of how to push cases along, rather than waiting for others to do so. Look for opportunities to be seen and be on the frontline – whether that’s getting to argue a hearing or negotiate an issue with the other side’s lawyers or join a client meeting. It’s a marathon not a sprint. As a young lawyer, the ups and downs can feel really acute. Take the tough days in stride and don’t let them distort your view of the big picture.
You have been a longstanding champion and leader in supporting diversity within the legal profession. Do you have hope for the future of the profession?
I see positive change coming from various corners of our profession, and importantly from the courts. Companies and law firms increasingly recognize the value of diversifying their legal teams. And critically, many judges have expressed a desire to see diverse lawyers leading big cases before them, opening the door for new opportunities.
What other steps do you take in your professional life to foster inclusivity?
My trial teams typically reflect diverse and female lawyers, and I do whatever I can to give them opportunities for stand-up arguments and substantive work. When I meet with new clients, I like younger lawyers to join and see how those relationships are built. I speak regularly on topics related to inclusion in the profession and field a lot of questions from young lawyers – within and outside the firm – looking for career advice and straight talk about how to forge a successful career path.
What do you think the legal profession needs to do in order to improve opportunities for BIPOC & women litigators?
It’s not enough to open the door a crack by creating junior positions for BIPOC and women lawyers. They need opportunities at every step of the way: not just writing the briefs but getting to argue the motions; not just joining the team but getting to interact meaningfully with the client; not just sitting in the background at depositions and trial but being able to have a visible role. If we want these lawyers to stay – and flourish – in the profession long term, we need to give them access to and training for every stage.