Like many plaintiffs’ lawyers throughout the United States, Chris Cormier was motivated to pursue a career in the law by anger over corporate misconduct and greed. Few lawyers on his side of the courtroom, however, have secured the results that Cormier has since his magna cum laude graduation from American University’s Washington College of Law in 2002. In fact, the Washington, D.C.-based partner of Burns Charest has found himself in an even more refined group of trial lawyers by earning a Lawdragon 500 recognition in both the financial and consumer plaintiff guides. Cormier started his career at class action powerhouse Cohen Milstein before joining Burns Charest in 2018.
Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers what your practice is like?
Chris Cormier: I’ve spent much of the past two decades litigating nationwide antitrust class actions on behalf of individuals and small to mid-size businesses financially affected by anticompetitive practices across a variety of industries. More recently, I've had the good fortune to expand my plaintiffs-side complex litigation practice into the ever-growing field of data privacy as well as bilateral commercial business disputes.
LD: How did you first become interested in being a plaintiffs’ lawyer?
CC: Even from a young age, I was bothered whenever reading about serious abuses and shortcuts that big companies sometimes took to get a little richer at the expense of everyone else. I had the good fortune of starting my practice as a first-year associate at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, a renowned plaintiffs class action firm, where I was able to take on and help remedy some of these abuses. I focused on representing plaintiffs in antitrust class actions and built up an expertise in this area over the years. When I moved my practice to my current firm, I continued to prosecute these important types of cases, but also was empowered to branch out and represent plaintiffs in other types of cases that all further my main goal of remedying corporate misconduct while helping the victims of it.
LD: What do you like about this type of work?
CC: I like it all. I like investigating potential cases, working with clients, deposing key fact and expert witnesses, writing important briefs, trying cases, and negotiating and settling cases when it makes good sense to do so. What drives me is knowing that, win, lose or draw, I will have put my best effort into getting the best resolution possible for my clients, my firm, and usually the public at large.
LD: Out of all the work you’ve done in your career, are there some cases that stand out?
CC: I'd have to say In re Urethane Antitrust Litigation, because it checks all the boxes. It was a massive international price-fixing class action that I worked on from beginning to end. I helped author the first complaint in November of 2004, drafted successful class certification papers in 2008, deposed numerous fact witnesses in 2009-11, helped withstand summary judgment in 2012, and worked on the trial team that produced the largest jury verdict ever for a Sherman Act Section 1 claim in 2013. I also helped defend the verdict at the 10th Circuit before the case ultimately settled while certiorari was pending before the Supreme Court in 2016. During the course of this long case, I gained invaluable experience across the gamut of my practice area. I also was lucky to get to work with, and learn from, many talented senior lawyers who also happened to be great people.
While no other case in which I’ve been involved (at least not yet) has equaled Urethane in terms of duration or ultimate monetary success, I'm proud and humbled to have more recently been personally appointed co-lead class counsel in multiple federal antitrust and privacy class actions, including In re Anadarko Basin Oil and Gas Lease Antitrust Litigation (W.D. Okla.), which concluded in a favorable settlement resulting in an average payout of several thousand dollars per class member, and In re Plaid Inc. Privacy Litigation (N.D. Cal.), which settled for $58 million and significant injunctive relief and is now awaiting final approval from the court.
LD: Are there any particular trends you are seeing with your practice?
CC: Antitrust has been and will continue to be a hot practice area, especially with the increasing levels of consolidation across many vital industries and the harmful effects this has had on competition, consumer welfare and innovation. Another growing area is data privacy. More class actions are being filed in this area, whether because of yet another data breach or because high-tech companies don't meaningfully tell consumers what personal information they're accessing or how they're using it. I suspect this practice area will continue to grow because the economy is becoming increasingly digital, companies will continue to find new – and sometimes inappropriate – ways to monetize people's digital information, and these practices will come to light only partially and after months or years of misconduct already have happened.
LD: Can you describe a recent case you’ve taken to conclusion?
CC: I represented the liquidating trustee of a bankrupt energy company in Colorado state court. The defendant was an engineering firm that we alleged acted recklessly in connection with its oil production forecasting services that the energy company relied upon and that led to its demise. I led all key aspects of the engagement, including working with the client, managing discovery, drafting all pleadings through summary judgment, deposing the defendants’ key employees, working with experts and negotiating a favorable confidential settlement. And this all happened in just over a year.
LD: What were some of the challenges of achieving that result?
CC: This case brought a host of challenges. We filed soon before the pandemic began, so nearly all court hearings, depositions, meetings, and mediation sessions occurred over Zoom, which was then a new thing for everyone. Right after we filed, the defendant stopped being a going concern, so the client’s ability to collect the full amount of claimed damages was significantly hampered. And while there was some insurance coverage, we had to negotiate with a carrier that aggressively fought coverage before ultimately filing a declaratory action seeking a ruling that coverage did not apply. In the face of all these obstacles, we managed to press our case through full fact and expert discovery and summary judgment to obtain a favorable settlement less than one month away from trial.
LD: Is there a specific lesson you see from this case?
CC: Expect the unexpected and be prepared to deal with it. The type of work we do isn't cookie-cutter, one-size fits all. And while we can and do draw on years of experience and learning to efficiently and effectively serve our clients, there's always something new to surface that you've never had to confront before. Work hard to reach the best outcome possible and trust yourself.
LD: Was there a mentor who really helped shape the course of your professional life?
CC: I've had some great mentors over the years whom I also consider friends. Folks whom I’ve worked closely with on many cases, like Rich Koffman at Cohen Milstein and Joe Goldberg at Freedman Boyd, stand out for giving me significant responsibility early in my career. Both are experienced lawyers and terrific people who take their jobs but not themselves too seriously. I learned many things from them that I now employ (or at least try to!) in my practice.
LD: What about a lawyer you have come up against in a negotiation or case that you admire?
CC: For the most part, I've worked quite well with opposing counsel in various cases over the years. But some stand out in terms of their collegiality and good humor while nonetheless vigorously advocating for their clients' interests, like Justin Toth of Ray Quinney and Andy Marovitz of Mayer Brown and Paul Taylor of Byrne Keller.
LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer? And how do you think others see you?
CC: I'd describe myself as committed, hard-working, collegial and reasonable. I'd like to think clients, colleagues, opposing counsel and courts agree.