Ajamie partner John Clay discusses his work in the commercial litigation practice and a current case which he is overseeing a multi-attorney, multi-firm commercial lawsuit related to events that occurred over the course of a seven year time-period in multiple states.
Name: John Clay
Firm: Ajamie LLP
Practice Areas: Class Action and Multidistrict Litigation Proceedings, Energy Litigation, Commercial Litigation, Cross-Border Proceedings, Insurance Coverage Disputes, Transportation Liability, Employment Litigation, Personal Injury Prosecution and Defense
Law School: J.D., University of Houston, 1996, cum laude
Undergraduate: B.A., Rice University, 1993, Classical Studies
Quotable, on trends that standout: “There is a growing disconnect between the rich, vital lives of clients and their employees and the sterile computer screens to which many younger attorneys are tethered today.”
Lawdragon: Let’s start out with a general overview of your practice. How do you describe to recruits or family what it is you do?
John Clay: I have a commercial litigation practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants, typically billable hourly work with occasional contingent cases involving substantial potential damages and unique facts. I have won substantial judgments on jury verdicts and arbitration awards ranging from several million to over $100 million dollars. My cases typically involve complex facts and issues of emerging or conflicting law that require careful analysis to position our clients for victory.
LD: What do you like about your practice? What is professionally satisfying?
JC: My most satisfying cases are “bet the farm” disputes for clients who are committed to seeking the best outcome on the merits in a trial or arbitration. Complicated cases with high potential risk often require detailed knowledge of the facts and technology used by a company to conduct its business and the issues of law may straddle several jurisdictions, which means every case is a new opportunity to learn. There is no shortcut for drilling down into the details, but the satisfaction comes from scripting the facts, exhibits, and witness narrative into a focused presentation that is easy for the factfinder to follow. Many of our more complex cases involving working with co-counsel from other states and other countries. The opportunity for collaborative work in larger cases is an opportunity to learn from multiple perspectives while working to bring our clients solutions and victory.
LD: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done as a lawyer?
JC: Cross-border RICO litigation that involved issues of law arising under U.S. and Mexican law. When we take on lawsuits or arbitrations that are based on conduct occurring partially in the U.S. and partially in Latin America or Western Europe, the disputes involve mixed issues of law under both the common-law and Napoleonic-code legal systems. The same allegations of misconduct that might be treated as a criminal offense under one system might be treated as a potential basis for civil liability in the other. Successful cross-border litigation often involves using the best features of both legal systems to advance the client’s position on the merits. Succeeding in that context requires coordination with co-counsel abroad, flexible thinking to respect and adjust to the legal and cultural differences that affect the individual issues. In these kinds of cases, there are many opportunities to assess legal documents in different languages and communicate about the differences and common points with sophisticated counsel from other legal systems, which is a rewarding experience in itself.
LD: What cases are keeping you busy these days?
JC: Together with my managing partner, I am overseeing a multi-attorney, multi-firm commercial lawsuit related to events that occurred over the course of a seven year time-period in multiple states. I also am working with my managing partner and another partner as part of the lead counsel group for an ERISA class action lawsuit. Although I often oversee complex, multi-attorney cases, I also evaluate cross-border cases and advise individual issues involving foreign law.
LD: What were/are some of the challenges you face?
JC: I often handle or take over cases that have been underway for a substantial period of time before my involvement. It is not easy to assess a case mid-stream and move from mastery of details to streamlining the evidence for trial, but it is rewording to work with our clients and co-counsel to find creative solutions.
LD: Are there any trends you are seeing that stand out?
JC: Yes. There is a growing disconnect between the rich, vital lives of clients and their employees and the sterile computer screens to which many younger attorneys are tethered today.
Many lawyers seem to have a harder time piecing together inferences from multiple sources and documents to establish misconduct (or establish that a defendant is not liable for tortious misconduct). Connecting the dots requires delving into documents with intense concentration and stepping outside of the office (and away from computers) to interact with people and understand their motivations.
LD: Is this the type of practice you imagined yourself practicing while in law school?
JC: No. Every lawsuit requires brainstorming, collaboration, establishing rapport with witnesses, and establishing rapport with a judge or jury through making persuasive arguments with integrity. Most days I go to bed and wake up thinking about what I have to do to win a case for the client. When I sleep well when I know I have advanced the ball toward the goal. I never dreamed that law could be this consuming but I also didn’t know I would enjoy it this much.