Bloomberg Law
July 27, 2023, 9:00 AM

They’ve Got Next: The 40 Under 40 - Krystal Durham of Williams & Connolly

Lisa Helem
Lisa Helem
Executive Editor
MP McQueen

Please describe two of your most substantial, recent wins in practice.

Jesse Litvak was originally convicted of 16 counts of securities fraud. Williams & Connolly came into the case after his first trial, winning a complete reversal on appeal and serving as defense counsel for the retrial. By the second trial, we had trimmed the case to 10 counts.

I played a significant role on our defense team throughout the case, though my favorite experience was taking a lead role in jury selection. At trial, not guilty verdicts were returned on 9 of 10 counts. The Second Circuit reversed the 10th count. It took our team more than five years to win the entire case.

I had the lead role defending an investment banking firm that was being investigated by FINRA for allegedly charging excessive markups in the millions of dollars. For several years, I steadily built our case. I worked closely with the client, developed the case strategy, and repeatedly advocated for our client before FINRA, urging the agency to drop the case. After three years, FINRA agreed to close the matter. Some of our biggest wins occur completely behind the scenes.

What is the most important lesson you learned as a first-year attorney and how does it inform your practice today?

Know the record. In my first year of practice, I learned just how important knowing the factual record is. I was watching a partner do a cross-examination and a witness testified in a way that was completely contrary to the facts and chronology of events. The partner methodically walked the witness through each step of the chronology and was able to turn the hostile witness into an effective witness for our defense.

Having a good command of the record and understanding how that record supports and conflicts with the arguments I want to make has been crucial to my trial practice. That lesson has allowed me to be agile, pivoting with a difficult witness on the stand when necessary, and creative, developing lines of examination that I otherwise would not be able to do if I did not have an intimate familiarity with the facts.

How do you define success in your practice? 

Providing fulsome representation to my clients that considers not just their litigation needs but their overall goals as relates to a matter is success. Success is not always defined by a win or a loss in a courtroom. Often, clients come to our law firm with complicated issues that they need assistance navigating that do not result in a trial. Helping clients understand the risks, potential pitfalls, and providing creative solutions to their complex problems is a success.

What are you most proud of as a lawyer?

Early in my career, I had a very difficult pro bono trial with a very difficult plaintiff who was alleging that he had been beaten up by correctional officers at Rikers Island. There were no medical records of injuries and our client suffered from significant untreated mental health issues and was not the most credible witness.

Many people thought it would be an open and shut case, that the jury would deliberate for less than 10 minutes, and that we were certain to lose against all the defendants. However, after the case was closed, the jury deliberated for seven hours, and returned a verdict against the supervising correctional officer, and awarded our client exactly $1.

I am most proud of that moment because we had been told for over a year that it was likely an unwinnable case, but we gave the jury something to think about. We convinced them to look closely, to think critically about the evidence, and look past our client’s issues. It was a hard fought $1 but one of the most significant lessons and awards I have experienced as a lawyer.

Who is your greatest mentor in the law and what have they taught you? 

I have been fortunate to work with a number of phenomenal lawyers in my career who have mentored and taught me so much, but Dane Butswinkas, a senior trial lawyer at the firm, has been my greatest mentor. He is a fierce advocate who is creative, has won numerous cases, and has mentored the next generations of lawyers. He teaches every attorney who works for him that it is not just about how you present to a jury, it is about how you treat everyone along the way—from the court reporter and administrative staff to the judge. It all matters.

He has also taught me that the most valuable asset you have as a trial attorney is your credibility. It is important to hold sacred the trust of the trier of fact, to not overreach or misconstrue evidence, but to try a case understanding that if you lose credibility, you likely lose the case.

Tell us your favorite songs on your summer music playlist.

“Summer Breeze” by The Isley Brothers. This song is an old one but a classic! My father passed away last year, and he loved music. Anytime “Summer Breeze” comes on, it takes me back to riding in the car with my dad as a young girl, windows down, and him struggling to hit Ron Isley’s notes. The lyrics, the musicality, and the amazing guitar bridge at the end all remind me of him and the times we shared.

“Cozy” by Beyoncé. What a motivational and empowering song! No matter what I am doing, whether litigating, going to a morning fitness class, or simply cooking in the kitchen, it reminds me to do all things with confidence!

Krystal Dunham of Williams & Connnolly does a handstand in Sedona, Arizona.
Krystal Dunham and Jonathan Hurtarte/Bloomberg Law

Krystal Durham, in addition to her high-stakes trials and investigations in the white-collar criminal defense space, maintains an active pro bono practice. She recently won asylum for her client, a gay Zimbabwe native escaping persecution, and secured a favorable settlement in a Section 1983 excessive force case in which the prisoner client alleged that correctional officers had beaten him unprovoked.

To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Helem at; MP McQueen at

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