Coast to Coast to Coast
Getting into the class-action weeds with 20-for-20 lawyer Graham LippSmith
Published in 2023 Southern California Super Lawyers magazine
By Amy White on January 11, 2023
Becoming a member of the 20-for-20 club—lawyers who’ve been named to a Rising Stars or Super Lawyers list for 20 consecutive years—well, that’s hard enough. But Graham LippSmith took it a step further: He went 20 for 20 in 20.
He’s been named to a list every year he’s been practicing.
“What’s odd is the more I’m in the profession, the less I feel like I know,” he says, laughing. “I suppose you’d hope for the opposite. When you’re a new, young lawyer, you assume you know everything. But as you season into the work, the depth of knowledge, the nuances, the rules of law … your mind opens up so much that it feels impossible to know everything. That forces you to never stop being creative.”
Or innovating. In 2020, LippSmith cofounded an eponymous class action and personal injury boutique with wife MaryBeth.
“A previous firm I worked for handled mostly typical personal injury cases,” he says. “I relished the opportunity to work on anything with complexity and nuance. I am not wired to do copy-and-paste work. I’m innately curious and prefer to dig. I’m into the weeds on everything.”
This summer, for example, he spent nine weeks in Hawaii, where his firm has a Honolulu office. The environment there, prone to hurricanes, high winds and salt-water corrosion, has a habit of bringing shoddy, dangerous construction products to light, and for more than a decade he’s handled a large number of construction class actions.
“In those nine weeks, I was at 218 different home inspections, which was intense,” he says. “You’re opening up these people’s homes to inspect these products, showing them—often for the first time—the ticking time bomb in their walls. Their homes are the most important investment in their lives—I don’t have the option of sitting back while everyone else does the work. …We are ensuring people have safe shelter in a hurricane.”
When they can, the LippSmith firm uses leftover class-action money—cy pres funds—to help combat Hawaii’s homelessness. “Particularly in West Oahu where it’s a real issue,” he says.
The firm’s Hawaii presence is balanced, coastally speaking, with a presence in Florida, where it has multiple cases pending, including those arising out of the Champlain Tower South (CTS) condominium collapse in 2021. “MaryBeth serves on that Steering Committee,” LippSmith says. “And we often start [the day] early with work in Florida and end late with work in Hawaii, so we couldn’t be more grateful for the technology for remote appearances and depositions.”
LippSmith says there is latent danger lurking in both states. “I think a lot about how climate change will continue to impact both of these areas,” he says. “This is just my anecdotal evidence, but there has been an obvious higher frequency of high-wind events and hurricane warnings in Hawaii the last few years. When one of those warnings goes out, it’s sheer panic. I fear it’s only a matter of time before the events are worse and worse.”
The firm’s bicoastal presence wouldn’t have been as easily navigable 20 years ago. But in LippSmith’s experience, not all things have gotten better over the decades.
“The overall length of time that it takes for cases to get resolved has been really difficult,” he says. “This is a function of a few things: fewer cases going to trial, lingering pandemic pile-ups, and—this one is at times good and bad—courts are digging into cases in a way they haven’t historically done.”
Particularly, he says, when it comes to class certification. “It used to be a court looks at the case, decides if it’s a certifiable issue or not and then moves on quickly,” he says. “Now it’s a much more complex beast. It’s almost like you have to put on a mini-trial to even get certification.”
As for the best recent change in the practice of law? He cites inclusion, and “opportunity for people who don’t look like me,” noting that 80 percent of his firm is made up of women of color. “I’m actually the odd person out at my firm,” he says.
Know Your Rights
The other constant in LippSmith’s life has been music. And the soundtrack that sums up his 20 years in law? Combat Rock by The Clash. “It was one of the first albums I ever owned, and is still a constant go-to while puzzling through legal issues. The album has everything we have in our job—big highs, sobering lows, intriguing interludes and eclectic characters.”
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