Daniel Charest is no stranger to high-stakes litigation. Reflecting his adopted home of Texas, his work in oil and gas has been expansive, from royalty matters to contract disputes to off-shore drilling rights. He recently achieved a crucial international arbitration award for Kosmos Energy, securing a multimillion-dollar award and deep-water drilling rights for the company off the coast of Africa.
But his oil and gas work presents just one area of large, complex cases in which Charest has built a track record and continues to excel. To name two recent standout examples, Charest also served as co-lead counsel in a $52M settlement on behalf of Facebook’s content moderators, and won a critical trial on behalf of property owners in Houston surrounding damages and relief from Hurricane Harvey, which is reported as the largest takings case in U.S. history.
His successful track record sprouted from an impressive background: After serving as a Merchant Marine Deck Officer and in a federal appellate clerkship position, Charest cut his teeth at the storied Susman Godfrey, building a dexterous practice on both the plaintiff and defense sides. Five years ago, Charest hung his own shingle alongside Warren Tavares Burns, forming the Dallas-based Burns Charest – and they’ve been exceptionally busy ever since.
Lawdragon: Will you describe for our readers the mix of work you do within your litigation practice?
Daniel Charest: My practice reaches from oil and gas contract disputes to class actions on behalf of detained immigrants to toxic tort cases for asbestos-exposed workers to international arbitrations over offshore drilling rights to condemnation cases for mass flooding events. The only constant is complex, high-stakes litigation.
LD: Quite the scope! What led you to develop this type of broad litigation practice?
DC: As a young lawyer, I joined a successful litigation boutique that focused on developing trial skills while maintaining a generalist perspective with respect to subject matter. We have continued that perspective.
LD: What keeps you excited about the work? What motivates you?
DC: Winning. And the fight. Exposing the flaws of the other side's argument through cross examination. But also learning about the many subjects of litigation. I enjoy every aspect of the trial practice and try to excel at them all.
LD: Looking back at your career so far, is there a case or matter that stands out as seminal?
DC: As a young partner in my first firm, we tried an oil and gas case that involved many different aspects of the oil and gas world. It was my first trial as a major contributor. I learned so much about the industry, the trial practice and myself. I think of that experience as my dissertation. It helped transform me into the lawyer I am now.
LD: Five years ago, you founded your first firm. What was that experience like?
DC: Going from a partner position at a successful firm to founding a brand new firm was not a comfortable move. But we have built a vibrant practice and provide excellent service to our clients. It has been an amazing ride!
LD: Can you talk about some of the challenges you’ve been tackling in this new leadership position?
DC: I try to encourage all lawyers working for me to take on the challenges themselves. Nothing teaches better than doing. But, at the same time, I know some clients want me to handle issues. Finding that balance has been a challenge.
LD: Did you have any interesting jobs before becoming a lawyer, perhaps which influenced the way you practice or run your firm now?
DC: I worked as a deck officer on U.S.-flag merchant marine vessels for several years before going to law school. The pace and duration of the work made the practice manageable, because I'd had a real job! And using money that I had earned working a real job to pay for law school made me focus in class, which translated to grades and opportunities. The path was nontraditional. But it worked for me.
LD: Do you have any advice for current law school students?
DC: Work hard in school. Work hard at your job. Nothing does more to advance your clients’ interests than effort.
LD: You “grew up” as a lawyer at Susman Godfrey. How was your time there?
DC: Steve Susman, both directly and indirectly, helped form me as a lawyer. Working at his firm and becoming a partner there is a source of immense pride for me. I draw on that experience nearly every day.
LD: How has your practice changed since the early part of your career?
DC: More cases have required me to take a much broader view. I have become more of a tactician and less of a generator of work product. But the goal remains the same: prepare the case to win at trial.
LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer?
DC: Results oriented but principled. Firm but fair. Efficient and focused on the outcome. And, for business clients in particular, looking to achieve the result that advances the company’s goals. In that regard, the litigation should meet the business objectives and not exist for its own purpose.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
DC: I work and I family. But, when I family, I devote my time and attention to them.
LD: Are you involved in any pro bono or public interest activities at the moment?
DC: I work on the Pattern Jury Charge Committee for the Texas Bar. And I've worked as a pro bono mediator in small cases. I see both as an honor to serve. That people trust me, whether the litigants in mediation or practitioners in the bar, to handle those jobs gives me great pride and a sense of duty to do the job well.
LD: Do you have a favorite book or movie about the justice system?
DC: “My Cousin Vinny.”
LD: A classic! If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing now?
DC: Sailing. Maybe fishing.