It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane …
No, it was Don Godwin, sprinting across the front of the inaugural issue of Texas Super Lawyers
Published in 2022 Texas Super Lawyers magazine on September 20, 2022
The first standalone Super Lawyers issue in the country, which debuted in 2003, featured Dallas business litigator Don Godwin speeding across the cover, briefcase in hand, faster than a speeding bullet.
“I’ve never understood why they selected me for that first cover,” says Godwin, who has occupied a spot on the Texas Super Lawyers list for all 20 years of its existence. “But they did, and it was always something that brought a lot of attention and a lot of recognition over the years.”
Did he take any ribbing about the Superman spoof? “I did,” he says. “But you know what? People just said, ‘Well, that’s just Don.’ … I got a little teasing about it, but mainly from people who wished that they were on the Super Lawyers cover.”
In particular, he remembers some kidding from the late John O’Quinn, his friend who was featured in Texas Super Lawyers the following year. “‘Godwin, I can’t believe you got it and I didn’t,’” he recalls O’Quinn saying when the 2003 issue came out. “‘You could have been the next year or whatever.’ And I said, ‘Well, John, I recommended they select you for the first cover, but they chose me. What can I say?’”
There were plenty of reasons for putting Godwin on the cover. His client roster included Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, restaurant entrepreneur Norman Brinker, oilman Ray Hunt and H. Ross Perot; and he had just negotiated Halliburton’s historic $4 billion asbestos settlements. When we checked in with Godwin a decade later, he was representing Halliburton again, this time in the litigation following the BP well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico—“the largest environmental lawsuit ever filed, anywhere in the world,” Godwin notes. “We tried that, and I won it for Halliburton.” That case consumed nearly five years of his life.
Much has changed in the two decades since he appeared on our cover. For one thing, tort reform has limited lawsuits in Texas and many other states. “It was a big, big hit,” he says. “Asbestos [litigation] is almost nonexistent in Texas now. … While the plaintiff’s lawyers were immensely affected, the defense lawyers were as well, because they had so many more people to retool.”
Plaintiff’s lawyers, he notes, can often find ways to take their cases to other states, but defense attorneys are limited to the state where a client is located.
More concerning, Godwin says, is the declining number of jury trials—caused to a large degree by the financial risk to firms of trying cases in states with tort reforms. Even in areas without such restrictions, mediations and settlements are on the rise while trials are dwindling.
The real downside, he adds, is the impact on individuals with grievances. “There’s been a lot of limiting of people’s rights to have their differences aired in the courthouse, simply by the way things have developed over the last several years. Not everybody has access to the courthouse,” Godwin says. “Not everybody can hire a lawyer and get your case brought to court.”
Then there’s COVID-19, which has brought many changes, including hearings by Zoom. Godwin likes their convenience, but isn’t always a fan—especially when it comes to jury trials. “I’m a guy who’s a touchy-feely type of person. When I’m working with a jury, picking a jury, I want to be able to walk that rail and look at them and have them look at me,” he says. “You can’t get the same response out of a computer screen as you can looking them in the eye.”
He notes that the pandemic has also led to many empty office buildings. But Godwin is no pessimist, and neither, in his opinion, are most Americans.
“As we come out of COVID, people are anxious to get back into making money, making deals, and along the way there are going to be disputes,” he says. “They tend to want to go out and borrow money and build or buy or do things. And when they do that, that opens the economy up and provides for more employment, provides for more businesses, and therefore more disputes, and more things to happen.
“Human beings are always going to be thinking on the positive side,” he says. “Thinking about the things they want to get done.”