Nicholas Shadowen

Partner at Hilliard Shadowen

Nicholas Shadowen is a partner at the Austin, Texas law firm Hilliard Shadowen LLP, a nationally recognized plaintiffs litigation boutique. He has been involved in numerous groundbreaking lawsuits, including the Supreme Court Hernandez v. Mesa border killing litigation and the historic Estados Unidos Mexicanos v. Smith & Wesson lawsuit brought by the Mexican government against U.S.-based gun manufacturers. He is also involved in class-action antitrust litigation against Big Pharma and has been a member of numerous co-lead plaintiffs’ teams that have secured hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements on behalf of consumers.

In 2022, he was nominated by his peers to the Thomson Reuters Texas “Rising Stars” list.

Where did the idea for Hilliard Shadowen come from?

Hilliard Shadowen was founded by two friends and former classmates to combine their distinct areas of legal expertise. It’s a truly unique law firm. We don’t have the massive overhead expenses, bureaucracy, and other baggage that bigger firms have to deal with, and that allows us to focus directly on the work. We push the law forward to protect consumers against big corporations and fight to protect citizens—both in the United States and abroad— against government overreach. We serve as the vanguard for many fresh fronts in the legal profession, and I am continuously grateful to be a part of this team and to contribute to its mission.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I start my mornings with a two-mile run. It’s quick, relatively painless, and helps kick-start the day. I keep a notebook in my briefcase in which I write down the day’s tasks, and I tick them off one by one, getting that little dopamine hit with each checkmark. But of course the day never goes as planned— you have to quarterback things on the fly and adjust your list, revising, adding, subtracting. But having the list itself is key. And espresso.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Ideas sort of have their own lives don’t they? In a way, they bring you to life, not the other way around. Often it seems the best way to dance this dance is to think deeply and passionately about something, and then completely forget it for a while, let it stretch its roots into your subconscious. And then sometimes the gods give you chances to put these ideas into play. You have to develop the sight to see these openings, and then resolve to act.

What’s one trend that excites you?

To say antitrust law is making a comeback is an understatement. And it was sorely missed. The monopolization of America is neither natural nor inevitable, and you can hear on the breeze the whisperings of new ways of doing things, new types of legal claims, new forms of resistance, ways to take back power.

Antitrust is not just a curmudgeonly old legal doctrine. It is a social doctrine. It is a philosophy. It is the system that guides and governs each commercial relationship, whether it be citizen to citizen, business to business, employer to employee, buyer to seller. Our direct experience of democracy is lived out in this way, not in the ivory tower of ideology and theory but in the mud and dirt of everyday life. The goal is to promote and protect the liberty of the individual. Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo Movement, Free Hong Kong, Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring—one could argue these are all, at heart, anti-monopoly movements.

But what really excites me is the growing local focus of antitrust law. “All politics is local,” the saying goes. But so too is economics, and the law. I’m interested in what can happen right here in Austin, Texas. Because as the rent and skyscrapers rise and corporate titans move into our neighborhoods, it is now more important than ever to return to the foundational aims of competitive capitalism that the founders of antitrust law envisioned.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive?

Some might call it the ability to never lose sight of the forest for the trees. I tend to think of it as empathy. I never forget that my job is only one side, the paperwork, suit and tie side, of a very real human drama playing out somewhere. In pharmaceutical litigation, for example, I make it a point to remove myself from the economic theories and hair splitting and remember the elderly woman trudging up to the pharmacy counter once a month to pick up her overpriced medication. In gun trafficking litigation, I delve into the facts and circumstances of each tragic incident, refusing to ever let myself slip into thinking in statistics and generalities. Empathy imbues your work with energy, a sense of purpose. And compassion creates dynamism. As a lawyer, you work within a haze of details. There’s a lot of rules and regulations and citations and minutiae. But I never forget what I’m fighting for.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The stoic Epictetus wrote that “it is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” I’d tell myself to reserve judgment and be endlessly open to new ideas and perspectives.

What is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Mindfulness meditation. Even just ten minutes a day, it’s almost like a superpower, the ability to cut through the scattershot thoughts bouncing around our heads. Or if not to cut through them, at least to step onto the sidewalk and watch them pass with something resembling objectivity.

Many people, when they first begin meditating, get frustrated—they’re inclined to view thoughts or sensations as distractions and therefore think that they have failed or have had a “bad” practice. The opposite, however, is closer to the truth—if you’re noticing your thoughts, you are aware. If you’re aware of being distracted, you are no longer truly distracted. That’s a long way of saying that with meditation, as with so many things, it’s the journey that counts. Ask yourself: am I awake? If the answer is yes, you’re awake. If the answer is no, you’re also awake. It behooves you, then, to simply ask.

To be present in each and every moment—so simple, so difficult—but at the end of the day, what else is there?

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Hilliard Shadowen is fortunate enough to have the ability to consistently hand-pick the cases we take on. If the case doesn’t fit our mission and values, we don’t take it. So our strategy, if it can be called that, is quite simple: fully devote ourselves to every case and every client and provide them with 100 percent of our attention and focus. A lot of larger firms and more financially focused firms are not able to do this. But the work speaks for itself.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Buy low, sell high. You heard it here first.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently donated to the Come Back Alive foundation, which helps equip Ukrainian servicemen and women with things like medical kits, helmets, and other life-saving supplies. And also to the Texas ACLU, because this is a critical time for women’s reproductive freedom in our state.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I’ll give a shout-out to Westlaw, Dropbox, and Sharepoint.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I’ll give you two for the price of one. And they can be read back-to-back.

Liberalism and Its Discontents by Francis Fukuyama. A short but information-packed read. Fukuyama’s talking about classical liberalism here, liberal with a small-l, and how it has been slowly—but increasingly—eroded by both the extreme left and right wing in America and abroad. He chronicles how global society is fracturing not necessarily along political lines, but in the basic assumptions underlying democratic governance. Hopefully we’ll wake up to the danger and correct course.

This Is Not Propaganda by Peter Pomerantsev. A timely and important exploration of how information is politically and digitally weaponized. Pomerantsev, who was born to Russian dissidents, covers massive terrain here, tackling conspiracy theories, troll farms, deep fakes, and rigged elections. Welcome to the disinformation age. We should all be hip to the zeitgeist so we can resist those who are trying to fragment and mold reality for their own gain.

What is your favorite quote?

“Never mistake motion for action.” – Ernest Hemingway