Daniel Johnson, left, and Juan Garcia, right, partners in Johnson Garcia in Houston.
Daniel Johnson, left, and Juan Garcia, right, partners in Johnson Garcia in Houston. (Courtesy photo)

Two Houston lawyers who met in law school and formerly worked together at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan have formed their own firm, focusing on plaintiffs’ work.

Daniel Johnson, the former partner-in-charge for Sutherland in Houston, and Juan Garcia, formed Johnson Garcia in January to represent individuals and businesses seeking to recover damages. Sutherland is now Eversheds Sutherland.

“We were defense attorneys for the most part, and we left all of that behind,” Johnson said. “We left some good corporate clients behind.”

Previously, they worked on some big cases, such as explosions in the Gulf of Mexico or in big pipelines.

Johnson said that from the time he and Garcia met during their first semester of law school at South Texas College of Law, (now South Texas College of Law Houston,) they dreamed of practicing together at a plaintiffs’ firm.

“We always had a calling to help individuals,” Johnson said.

Personal injury work is a departure for the two lawyers. After graduating from law school in 2004, Johnson did a federal clerkship and then joined Fulbright & Jaworski in Houston before he moved to Sutherland in 2007. Garcia joined Thompson & Knight after law school. Johnson said he and Garcia “came close to pulling the trigger” on starting their own firm in 2010, but then Transocean Ltd. hired Sutherland to represent it in litigation stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Because Sutherland was so busy with that litigation, Johnson got Garcia to move to Sutherland to handle litigation unrelated to the Deepwater Horizon work.

But recently, Johnson and Garcia said, they decided it was time to follow their dream. They will handle very serious workplace and automobile accidents and litigation in the energy space, along with some commercial cases on the plaintiff’s side.

“Now we are going to wear the white hat,” Garcia said.

Johnson said that while he and Garcia had success on the corporate defense side, plaintiff’s personal injury work is “more aligned to our backgrounds.” Garcia said that both of his parents are immigrants from Mexico, and he often got calls from family and family friends who were injured and needed help from an attorney. “Frankly, I was at a big firm and not in a position to help them. I finally decided I could do better from a personal standpoint,” he said.

Johnson said he and Garcia left business valued in the seven-figures at Sutherland when they opened Johnson Garcia on Jan. 16. But they brought some commercial suits with them, he said.

Garcia said Sutherland’s combination with U.K. firm Eversheds, which became effective Feb. 1, was not a factor in their decision to form Johnson Garcia. He said they had already decided to go out on their own by the time they learned of negotiations between the firms.

Johnson said people at Sutherland were very gracious and supportive after he and Garcia announced their plans.

“They understood this was a calling for us,” he said.

Indeed, David Baay, the partner in charge in Houston for Eversheds Sutherland, said the two are friends and really good lawyers and will be missed. But he wished them well.

“I’m excited for their new venture,” he said. “I’m happy they had the courage to do it.”