Sixth Interview – July 2, 2010
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of the Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewee is James J. Sandman. The
interviewer is Paras N. Shah. The interview is taking place at Mr. Sandman’s office at 1200 First
Street, N.E., Washington, D.C, on July 2, 2010, beginning at 8:30 in the morning. This is our
sixth interview session.
MR. SHAH: Jim, the last time we spoke, we were covering your time in Denver with
Arnold & Porter. In 1988, you worked on a case called Meyer v. Grant.
Would you like to talk about that case a little bit?
MR. SANDMAN: Sure. Meyer v. Grant was a challenge to a Colorado statute that made it a
crime to pay people to circulate initiative petitions. Colorado, like many
western states, has an initiative process that allows voters, if they sign
petitions in the requisite number, to get a particular matter on the ballot
that could be enacted into law if it passes. And the theory behind the
statute was that money corrupts, and that if you could pay people to
circulate the initiative petitions, it might cause people who wouldn’t
otherwise sign the petition to sign. Initiatives are thought to be grassroots
democracy, and the thinking was that people should voluntarily come
forward to sign initiative petitions. You shouldn’t be paying circulators to
get the requisite number of signatures.
The American Civil Liberties Union represented the plaintiff in the
case, and it was a solo practitioner in Denver, I believe, who was handling
the matter. But when the Tenth Circuit struck the statute down, as I recall,
and there was an automatic right of appeal to the Supreme Court because
the federal court had invalidated a state statute—I can’t tell you whether
currently that would be a direct appeal as a right to the Supreme Court, but
it was not certiorari, it was a direct appeal—the lawyer wanted some help
in the briefing and the preparation for oral argument. I guess our client
was an amicus in the case. I’m sorry. Although we weren’t a direct party,
he was very gracious in accepting our suggestions. We not only obviously
controlled the brief that we filed on behalf of our client, but he allowed us
to have a lot of input into his brief and his preparation for oral argument.
I learned a lot on the case. I started out being an opponent of
money in elections and in favor of bans like the one that Colorado had
enacted, and I became persuaded in working with our client that the statute
was very anti-democratic. That it assumed that people are idiots and they
won’t read what you put in front of them. That they can’t make a
reasoned decision whether to sign or not. That the fact that a paid
circulator might be prevailing on them to sign something is going to cause
them to do something that they wouldn’t otherwise do. That’s just
contrary to the whole theory of the First Amendment and the notion that
people can participate as they choose in petitioning for redress of
The Supreme Court ultimately affirmed the invalidation of the
statute. I believe the decision was 9-0, so it wasn’t a close case. But I
have regarded legislation imposing bans on money in the electoral process
quite differently ever since then. The First Amendment arguments against
it are really quite significant. And I should mention that Colorado had a
separate statute that banned fraud in the petition process, so to the extent
that you were worried about people buying votes or that sort of thing, that
was dealt with separately. The statute just really assumed that there was
something corrupt about having a person who was being paid put a
petition in front of a voter.
MR. SHAH: Did you work on this case as part of a team?
MR. SANDMAN: Yeah, there were a couple of other lawyers in our office who worked on it,
but my closest working relationship was with the solo practitioner who
represented the party in the case.
At the time, I don’t think that Supreme Court clinics of the type
that exist today were available to lawyers like him to assist them in
preparation for oral argument. I think today, that if a sole practitioner had
a case before the Supreme Court and wanted to handle it himself or
herself, there are a number of very good clinics that he or she could go to
in order to get the help and experience of Supreme Court practitioners to
prepare them, to help them with the briefing, and to moot them.
MR. SHAH: I’d like to turn to your family life during these Denver years. Can you talk
about those years? You are newly-married, you are still in Denver, and
I’m sure you’re busy at work—what was it like?
MR. SANDMAN: Those were wonderful years. I am sure my wife would agree that those
were very, very happy years for us. She had just graduated from law
school and started work as a lawyer in the regional office of the
Environmental Protection Agency. Her background was in environmental
matters. She had worked for the Natural Resources Defense Council
before she had gone to law school. She had gotten a master’s degree in
forestry and environmental studies from Yale before she got her law
degree from NYU, so the job at EPA was really a perfect fit for her, and
she liked it very much.
We were both working and both working hard, so there really
wasn’t an issue where there was unevenness in the professional lives of
the two of us. When we first were married, we lived in a condominium a
couple of miles from downtown, and I drove to work. We subsequently
moved to a house that was eighteen blocks from my office, and both of us
would usually walk to work. We had slightly different schedules and
usually walked to work separately but walked home together and
frequently would stop for dinner at someplace on the way home.
We took advantage of everything that there is to do in Colorado.
We hiked on the weekends, we cross-country skied, we did a lot of
outdoor things, we enjoyed the Denver Art Museum, and we had a
subscription to the Denver Symphony. Our house was on a beautiful park,
Cheeseman Park, near downtown Denver. The Denver Botanic Gardens
were just on the other side of the park. There were summer concerts in the
Botanic Gardens, where you could just walk across the park on a beautiful
summer evening. It was a great time.
MR. SHAH: At this point, did you think you think you would stay in Denver for a
MR. SANDMAN: I did. Yes. I don’t do a lot of long-term planning (laughter). I tend to
take life as it comes and, as long as the situation is good, I don’t tend to
think about the next step. So, yes, we had a very nice life and those years
I really didn’t think much about doing anything else.
MR. SHAH: And, in 1989, your first child was born?
MR. SHAH: Do you want to talk about what that was like?
MR. SANDMAN: Yes. Joe was born in October of 1989, so it was in roughly late January
that we found out that were going to be expecting through an at-home
pregnancy test, which was quickly confirmed.
That was a very exciting period. Awaiting the birth of your first
child is a great experience. We decided not to tell anybody for three
months because of the risk of a miscarriage. My older brother and his
wife had had several miscarriages, and, at least for their first, they had told
everybody that they were expecting, and then had to deal with telling
everybody what had happened, which compounded a very difficult
situation. So, we decided not to tell anybody until three months.
That first day when Beth found out that she was pregnant, I
remember sitting in my office, and I couldn’t contain myself. I thought,
“I’m not going to be able to deal with the next nine months.” I was just so
excited. I did end up calling my parents. I had to tell somebody. And I
thought “this is going to be a very, very long nine months.” It felt like
waiting for Christmas when you are a little kid. I subsequently realized
that it’s a good thing that a pregnancy is nine months. You need some
time psychologically to adjust and to think about it and to adapt, and I
went from wanting it to happen immediately to appreciating the nine
months to think about it.
Beth had a difficult pregnancy. She developed gestational
diabetes, which is a form of diabetes that only affects pregnant women. A
woman’s body produces extra glucose when she is pregnant. Sugar makes
babies grow, but sometimes things get out of whack and you produce too
much glucose. At first they tried to just treat it with diet, and eventually
she was on a strict diabetic diet. I had never known anybody closely who
had diabetes, and I just didn’t understand the extent to which a diabetic
diet controls your life. It affects when you eat, exactly how much you eat,
as well as what you eat. She had to weigh her food. There were things
she was required to eat, so it wasn’t just a matter of “don’t eat this or that,”
but there were things that had to be in her diet, and it made it very difficult
for us to go out. She had to test her blood regularly, and I remember once
we went out to an Italian restaurant—and I think there is a lot of sugar in
tomato sauce—and she got home and checked her blood, and her glucose
was off the charts. She eventually had to give herself insulin four times a
day. So, it was significant. And the risk for the baby is that the baby will
grow too quickly and be born prematurely before the baby’s lungs are
fully developed.
I remember we had a false labor scare about six weeks before Joe
was born. We were not prepared at the time. We hadn’t done the
shopping that we needed to do for baby things. It turned out that the false
labor scare passed after a few hours, but the next day, we went out on a
mad shopping spree to get everything that we would need, so we would be
prepared when the time came.
We took Lamaze classes. We took a course at the hospital that we
were going to on consumer education for new parents—what to buy, not
only what kind of products you would need, but what brands to buy, and
what the options were. It was very, very useful. It taught us that you
don’t need to have the high-end, brand-name product, that there are other
products that are perfectly satisfactory for much less money than the highend
Beth went into labor about 11:00 p.m. one night. We spent the
night watching Nick-at-Night and went to the hospital about 8:00 the next
morning, and Joe was born shortly after 1:00 p.m. Beth delivered him
with no anesthetic of any kind, which came as a great shock to both of us.
Beth would be the first to say that she has a very, very low pain threshold,
and when we first talked to the doctor about her pregnancy, the first
question Beth asked was “Do you give drugs?” The answer she wanted to
hear was “Yes,” and that is what the doctor said. Our doctor was a true
family doctor. She was Beth’s doctor, she was my doctor, and she was
our obstetrician and pediatrician, all in one. So the delivery went fine.
Beth did have a very extraordinarily painful complication
immediately after giving birth and had to be rushed out of the delivery
room into the operating room, and it was kind of a whirlwind. I was
whisked off with Joe to have him go get weighed and washed, and they
took her to surgery. She lost a lot of blood, and when I saw her about an
hour later, she was ashen. She just looked awful, and she ended up being
in the hospital for three days. Everything turned out fine. We were a little
concerned at the time that it might affect her ability to have subsequent
children, but that turned out not to be a problem.
I had planned before going to the hospital to try to get special
accommodations for Beth, if they were available, after Joe was born.
When we got on the hospital tour, they showed us a suite of rooms they
had on the top floor where it was kind of their high-end service. And they
had a private chef for that part of the hospital, and, when I heard that, I
thought, “I want to see if we can get a room there, so that Beth can
appreciate a regular diet after giving birth.” If you have gestational
diabetes, it disappears like magic when the baby is born, so she was going
to be able to have her first non-diabetic meal immediately after giving
birth, and I thought that regular hospital food would probably not be the
best re-introduction to a normal diet. So we were able to get a room on
the top floor of the hospital and that made a big difference. The chef came
in that evening and said to us, “What would you like for dinner?” Beth
said, “What do you have?” And he said, “You tell me what you would
like.” And he prepared dinner for us, and it was just terrific.
It turned out to be a benefit in some ways that Beth had to be in the
hospital for longer than normal because we had the advantage of nurses
taking care of Joe and teaching us things that we knew nothing about. The
practice at the time was to rush people out of the hospital pretty quickly,
and, if you are a first-time parent, it is pretty scary to be sent home with a
baby no matter how much reading you have done. The instructions and
help we got from the nurses on how to give a bath and what to do when a
baby cries were very helpful to us.
When we got home, Beth’s mother came to stay for a while to help
out. And a new baby sleeps twenty hours a day. We were surprised
initially at how little our lives changed. We were able to take Joe to
restaurants, and we just sat him on the table with us or on a chair next to
us. That didn’t last too long (laughter). But we got off to a great start.
Beth was able to take a three-month maternity leave but had to go
back to work after that. About a month after Joe was born, I was coming
home one Friday night and was thinking about having to arrange for
childcare because you needed a fair amount of lead time and it was time to
begin planning for Beth’s return to work and having to arrange childcare
for Joe, and I found it very depressing. I wasn’t ready to put him in
somebody else’s care so quickly, and I suddenly realized something as I
was thinking through the options. Arnold & Porter has a sabbatical
program for partners, and I was a partner of the firm at the time. You
could take a sabbatical in your seventh year as a partner and every seven
years thereafter. 1990 would be my seventh year as a partner, so I was
eligible for a sabbatical, and I had actually been approved for one before
we found out that we were going to have a baby. Beth and I had planned
to take six months of vacation—that was the maximum number I was
entitled to, six months at half pay, which puts you in a position where, at
the end of a calendar year, you have made three-quarters of your usual
income for the year, but only worked half a year; pretty good deal. We
were going to buy a conversion van and drive around the country but put
that plan on hold once we found out that we were going to have a baby.
An infant really didn’t figure into that sabbatical plan.
But, as I was going home that night, I realized I could use my
sabbatical time to stay home, and I could begin my sabbatical the day Beth
went back to work for her maternity leave, stay home for six months, and
then Joe would have nine months with one or the other of his parents fulltime
at home. When I got home, I told Beth over dinner about that. But
the bad thing about it was that she wouldn’t get the benefit of my
sabbatical—we had planned to do something together. And her immediate
reaction was that it was a terrific plan, even though we wouldn’t be
traveling—that she would feel much better about going back to work and
that would be a huge benefit to her. She was also on a flex-time schedule
then, which gave her every other Friday off, so, with a three-day weekend
every other week, we had plenty of time to do traveling and have fun. So,
we decided that night that I would use my sabbatical to be a full-time,
stay-at-home dad.
And the following January, January of 1990, Beth went back to
work. I think it was January 17, three months to the day after Joe was
born. I began my sabbatical and it was the best six months of my life, I
think. It turned out to be very different from what I thought it would be. I
kind of assumed that I would just go about living my life and take Joe with
me wherever I went, and I realized on my first day at home that it wasn’t
going to be that way. It was winter, it was a cold day, it was 11:00 in the
morning before I had Joe fed and bathed and bundled-up to go outside,
and, as we were about to go out, he started to cry. He was a very good
baby. He was a very easy baby. He only cried typically when he was
hungry, and I realized it had taken me so long to get him ready that he
needed to eat again, and I almost lost it. I thought this was interfering
with my plan. I had a to-do list that day, and I wasn’t getting to any items
on my to-do list. He was a very slow feeder. It would take him about two
hours to get through a bottle. I would hold him while I was giving him the
bottle. I couldn’t do anything while I was feeding him, so I realized right
away that my day was not going according to plan. I got ahold of myself
and I realized, “You know, I have six months off, but if I don’t get to the
things on my to-do list today, that is all right. There’s tomorrow, and the
next day, and the day after that, and relax,” and I felt much better after
But I found that it was much more time consuming to take care of
a baby than I had ever imagined. People—I think many men—don’t
understand what stay-at-home moms do, how they fill the day, you know.
I easily had to spend probably five hours a day just sitting in a chair
feeding him. He didn’t nap. I had assumed that I’d have some quiet time
to myself every day. It never happened. I bought a journal the day before
I began my sabbatical to keep a diary of what the experience was like. I
have two entries in that journal. One from the day I began my sabbatical,
one from the day I ended it. I never had time to sit down and write during
that period.
I did take advantage of the opportunity to learn some things. I
learned to cook. I bought a cookbook called 20-Minute Menus, which was
a set of menus for complete meals, as opposed to the individual
components of a meal, and it was organized in a very user-friendly way. It
told you exactly what ingredients you needed, and it told you in what
order to prepare things so that the entire meal would be ready at the same
time. That’s not something I could ever have figured out on my own.
During the course of my sabbatical, I made sixty different meals from that
cookbook. I had a full meal ready for Beth when she got home every
evening. I took piano lessons. I had never played the piano before. Beth
was taking lessons from an instructor who specialized in teaching adults
and would come to your home for lessons, so I just added on a half hour to
the half hour that Beth was scheduled for every week. I think it was every
Wednesday that he came to our house, and he gave me a lesson, and he
gave Beth a lesson. He didn’t teach you starting with scales, you know,
you played music—recognizable songs from the start, which was a very
good motivator and gave you positive reinforcement.
As Joe got a little older, I was able to put him in a bag carrier and
go for a hike. We got out every day. I would go to the store every day to
shop for dinner. I developed a number of rituals with him, and, as of
today, he doesn’t have any conscious recollection of the experience, but I
am confident that it formed a bond between us. We have a very, very
strong relationship and I just have to suspect that it goes back in
significant part to that.
I went to a mother’s group once a week. I think it was Tuesday
mornings. It was a group of six to eight women, all of whom had recently
had babies—all the babies were roughly Joe’s age. So the mother’s group
was eight women and me. I craved the adult contact. It’s lonely being at
home all day when everybody else you know is at work, and having an
opportunity to talk to other grown-ups, and particularly other people going
through a similar experience, was very beneficial. A very, very nice group
of people.
We did travel a lot by the end of my sabbatical. When Joe was
nine months old, he had been to twenty-three states. Our standard for
counting whether he had visited a state was whether he had a diaper
change there, so that did include states where we had only stopped to
change planes on connecting flights, if he had his diaper changed in the
airport (laughter). But he really had been to a lot of places. We went to
Massachusetts, to visit my family in Florida, to Albany, to North Carolina,
to South Carolina, where Beth’s family had a summer place, Wyoming,
New Mexico. We did a lot of travel. It was a wonderful time. It was an
incredible benefit to have the sabbatical.
Arnold & Porter still has a sabbatical policy, but sabbaticals are
used much less now than they were then. I think shortly before I took my
sabbatical, the firm amended its policy to limit the number of partners who
could be on sabbatical in any one year. The reason for the change was that
so many people were taking sabbaticals that they were concerned about
the ability to provide client coverage and about what the economic impact
on the firm would be. I think though, I don’t recall exactly, I think the
number might have been no more than ten percent of the partners could be
out on sabbatical at any one time, which is really a very high number.
That has never been an issue since, and I think the reason has a lot to do
with changes in the practice of law and the economic pressures of practice.
It is very difficult today for a lawyer to be away from his or her clients for
six months, and I think most people would be concerned about the
potential negative impact on their career development, their standing in
the firm, and their ability to generate and retain business if they are away
from the practice for six months. I was lucky. I settled or got cases
dismissed shortly before I went on sabbatical. Just luck, but my workload
was actually very conducive to taking six months off at the time when I
did. Reintegrating was very, very hard. If you prepare for a sabbatical
appropriately, when you come back to work, you don’t have a full desk of
work waiting for you. You have to start over again generating work, and
it was difficult for me to get reintegrated into the practice.
I also found returning to work very hard personally. The first day I
went back to work was the hardest day of my life. The phenomenon that
mothers experience having to go back to work, the difficulty of the
separation, is not limited to women. Any male who spends six months at
home, particularly alone, with a child, I think, would experience exactly
the same things. I found it depressing, and it was during that period, in the
four or five months or so after my sabbatical ended, that we decided to
move back to Washington. For me, it was coming back to Washington;
for Beth, it was coming to Washington.
We decided to move for two reasons. One, for family reasons. As
much as we loved Denver and Colorado, it was very far from our families.
Our son had four living grandparents, which neither Beth nor had I ever
had, and we wanted to be able to visit them and them to be able to visit us,
and both sets of grandparents were in places that you could not get to
without having to take connecting flights. It was just kind of a hassle. A
quick weekend trip was difficult. My parents were in Albany at the time,
and Beth’s were in Greensboro, North Carolina. So, Washington wasn’t
exactly next door, but it would make weekend trips much easier. You can
drive to Greensboro from Washington. It’s about a six-hour drive, and it
is an easy flight to Albany. The second reason was that, by that point in
my career, I felt that I had gotten all the advantages I was going to get out
of working in a small office of Arnold & Porter. I learned how to handle
smaller cases and manage them on my own and be the person in charge. I
was ready to move up and handle more sophisticated, bigger cases and
there just wasn’t enough of that work in the Denver office of Arnold &
Porter. There was a partner in the office, a litigator who was senior to me,
who would always be the person looked to to take the lead role on the
biggest litigations in the office, and I just felt that I had reached a plateau
in my professional development at a level that was not where I wanted to
come to rest. So I thought that to get access to the type of work that would
allow me to continue to grow and challenge myself, I really had to come
back to the home office of the firm. So I talked to the firm about it, and
they said I would be welcomed to come back to Washington, and we made
plans to do that.
The timing of our return was dependent on when we could sell our
house in Denver. So, we put our house on the market in Denver, I think,
on December 10, 1990, and kind of held our breath because the real estate
market in Denver was terrible at the time. The economy there had tanked
in the 1980s when the price of oil dropped, and we had no idea how long it
would take us to sell our house. A few days after we put our house on the
market, I got a call at home one night from the then-managing partner of
the firm, Jim Jones, and Jim said, “I have a proposition for you. Would
you be willing to take a detour through Los Angeles on your way back to
Washington?” The firm was about to open an office in Los Angeles and
they wanted a partner to manage it, to get it up and running, and he asked
if I would be willing to go out there and manage the office upon its
opening in January of 1991.
It was not at all what we had planned on. In fact, it would have us
moving in the wrong direction, even farther from our families, but Beth
and I talked about it and quickly decided that we would love to do it. I
think he told me that it would be three to six months, three months maybe,
which had a familiar ring to it. When I first had gone out to Denver, you
know, I thought I was going out for three months, so I realized that
whatever time that turned out to be was likely to be longer than he was
representing. But we thought that actually spending time in Los Angeles
would be a great alternative to twiddling our thumbs in Denver while we
waited for our house to sell. We were kind of in limbo in that we made
the decision to move, but we weren’t able to execute on it. It was difficult
for me at the office because no one knew how long I was going to be
around, and this would give us something productive and fun to do and
would take the pressure off us in terms of the timing of our house sale in
So, I called Jim back early the next morning and said “Yes,” and,
in January of 1991, we picked up and moved to Los Angeles. We rented a
house there. I went out one day in January and looked at a few places
with the real estate agent. We rented a modest house in Pacific Palisades.
It was a wonderful location. The Pacific Ocean was about half a mile
down the street from us. The two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom
house that had been built in the 1920s—a very modest bungalow, one
floor, one-story house—cost, I think, something like $3,300 a month,
which at the time was astronomical rent. I thought people in Washington
would assume that I was renting a movie star’s house at that price, but this
house was anything but a movie star’s house. We drove out there
separately. I needed to get out there quickly. I drove from Denver to Las
Vegas in a day, and then from Las Vegas to Los Angeles the following
day, and I did what I needed to get the house set up. It was a furnished
house. We didn’t need to do much. Beth came separately with her mother
and with Joe and took the slow scenic route and got there five or six days
That was a very exciting professional experience for me. It may
have been the most exhilarating professional experience I have ever had—
to be part of founding something, starting something. Yes, it was an office
of a well-established firm and not a start-up operation, but there was still
something very entrepreneurial about it. Every person who started work at
that office on opening day, February 1, 1991, had left something behind to
be there. Either they had moved from another office from Arnold &
Porter—some people came out from Washington; another lawyer came
out from Denver—or they left another firm to come there because they
thought that this experience was going to be better than what they were
leaving behind. There is an energy and an enthusiasm surrounding a
group of people who are setting up a new office under circumstances like
that that is very powerful, and, if you can harness it, it can allow you to do
great things. And I had been given the leadership role. I was thirty-nine
at the time. I was very grateful for the vote of confidence and decided I
was going to do my best to make this one terrific place to work and one
wonderful office and threw myself into it. It was really what snapped me
out of the difficult period that I had after my sabbatical . It gave me
something to sink my teeth into and focus on. We assembled a wonderful
group of people there who complemented each other very well. We had a
great staff and it got off to a great start.
We had a great time living there because we knew that we were
only there temporarily. We lived our lives as if we were on an extended
vacation and made sure that we did everything there is to do in Los
Angeles and the surrounding area. We went to Santa Barbara twice, I
think, we went to San Diego, we went to Catalina, to Palm Springs, to the
mountains, to Universal Studios. We did all the touristy things. We went
to Laguna Beach. We probably saw and did more in Southern California
than most natives do over ten years in the fourteen months that we lived
there because we were so focused on maximizing the time that we had
there. We ended up staying for fourteen months rather than three to six.
Beth got pregnant in March of that year, I think, and we moved to another
house in September of that year. We moved to Brentwood. We needed a
bigger house because when our second child was born; we were going to
need room for family to come visit and stay with us. So, we moved to a
three-bedroom in Brentwood and were there for six months.
Our daughter was born in December of 1991. Interestingly, Beth
did not develop gestational diabetes during that pregnancy, which is
unusual. Usually if you have it once it recurs. We really suspected that
she might have had it, but it had gone diagnosed because our daughter,
Elizabeth, like Joe, was a very big baby. She weighed 9.6 lbs. Joe
weighed 8.7 lbs. Neither Beth nor I is a large person and to look at these
huge babies—where did this come from? We suspected that Elizabeth
might have had an overdose of glucose when she was in utero. The
delivery went very smoothly. Beth again went into labor right after going
to bed at about 11:00 o’clock or midnight. We went to the hospital at 8:00
the next morning. Elizabeth was born at 10:00 a.m., and we were home
for lunch the next day. Insurance companies at the time were willing to
pay for only one night in the hospital if the birth was before noon, so we
were in and out really quickly. They don’t do that anymore, I think. Now
you get two nights in the hospital if your timing is what ours was. So we
had a lot of activity during the time we were in Los Angeles.
Virtually all of my time was spent on management matters. I
wasn’t admitted to the California bar so I was very limited in what I could
do in terms in practice. I could do law clerk-type work assisting others in
the office, but I spent virtually all of my time on office management.
MR. SHAH: Let’s go back to the sabbatical briefly. While you were away for six
months from Arnold & Porter, did you find yourself missing work or
missing the activity of a law firm?
MR. SANDMAN: Not at all. I learned from the experience that I don’t need to fear
retirement. I can enjoy life not working, and that was kind of exhilarating.
As the end of my sabbatical approached, I began to try to think of ways
that I could extend it, and the only thing that came to mind was winning
the lottery. I, up until that point in my life, had been dead set against
lotteries. I thought they were a tax on the poor, and I never bought a
lottery ticket or played lotto or anything like that, and I began to change
my thinking. I thought, “You know, lotteries are going to happen whether
I participate or not, and somebody is going to win, why shouldn’t it be
me?” And I figured out how much the jackpot would have to be in order
to permit me to retire, and I would only play when the lotto jackpot got to
that level. Colorado at that time had a one-state lottery. It’s not a big state
and it would take a while until the jackpot could build up to any
significant level, so I wasn’t buying tickets every day or doing scratch-off
things. I played only for the big game and only when it got up to a
significant amount of money, but I think that was just one indication of
how comfortable I was not working. I didn’t have a problem not going to
the office.
MR. SHAH: You had mentioned that you did some traveling during that time. Is there
any particular outing that stands out in your mind as being particularly
MR. SANDMAN: Two. We went to Santa Fe for Easter in the spring of 1990. Beth and I
went to Santa Fe every Easter when we lived in Denver, but that one was
just particularly memorable. We would drive down to Santa Fe from
Denver. It was an overnight trip, and I just remember the weather was
particularly nice that year, and I was very relaxed because I wasn’t
working, and it was a great family time. The other short trip I remember
was actually right after my sabbatical ended. We went up to Cheyenne,
Wyoming, which is about two hours from Denver, for Frontier Days,
which is the largest of outdoor rodeo in the United States. It’s the last full
week of July every year. And we had been to Frontier Days before too,
but this one for some reason sticks out in my mind. In addition to having
a rodeo, they have a free pancake breakfast downtown every other
morning. They set it up in a parking lot and you sit on hay bales while
you eat your breakfast. It’s a free breakfast provided by the Chamber of
Commerce. It includes scrambled eggs, Canadian bacon, and coffee.
They mixed the pancake batter in a cement mixer, a full-sized truck
cement mixer. I hope it’s used only for pancake batter and that they don’t
use it for other purposes, but it is just a wild time (laughter). I remember
those two trips with Joe in particular.
MR. SHAH: And did you find that after you went back to work, you maintained some
of the habits you had developed during your sabbatical—did you still, you
know, cook from the cookbook and play the piano?
MR. SANDMAN: I did for a while, but not long. For the rest of our time in Denver, which
was until the following January, I did a pretty good job keeping up. With
my cookbook, I had marked recipes that I thought were particularly easy
and that I would be able to continue to cook when I was working. Despite
the name of the cookbook, 20-Minute Menus, it always took me far longer
than twenty minutes to prepare, but I tried to identify a group of maybe
fifteen or so meals that we both liked and that were quick to prepare, and I
kept that up for a while, but I wasn’t able to sustain that when we moved
to Los Angeles. I still have the cookbook. I still make some things out of
it, but I have never really cooked on work nights since. I did keep the
piano up, but once we moved to Los Angeles, we didn’t have an
instructor, and we did not have a piano. There was a piano in our first
house, I think, but I wasn’t able to keep that up. I could probably pick up
the piano again now, but it’s been years since I have actually played, so I
think it was a great idea, but I wasn’t able to maintain it. It says
something about a lawyer’s life.
MR. SHAH: And how did Joe get his name? Is he named after anyone in particular?
MR. SANDMAN: Yes. Joseph is the most common male name on both sides of Beth’s and
my families. Beth’s father is Joseph. Joe’s middle name is Mullen, which
is Beth’s last name, so Joseph Mullen is his grandfather. My mother’s
father was Joseph. I had an Uncle Joe. We wanted a family name, and we
liked that name in particular. “Joe” is just a good name, you know.
“Average Joe,” it’s a friendly name (laughter). We didn’t want anything
MR. SHAH: And about the mothers’ group that you were a part of back in Denver, did
you happen to keep in touch with anyone from that group?
MR. SANDMAN: I did. There’s one mother and her husband that we still exchange
Christmas cards with. I didn’t keep in touch with the others. I would have
had we not moved, but it was just, you know, it was kind of an intense sixmonth
bonding experience, but once I went back to work and after that we
moved to Los Angeles, it was difficult to keep up the ties.
MR. SHAH: And moving forward to Los Angeles, can you just flesh out what your
management duties were? Were they developing policies, or training, or
recruiting . . .
MR. SANDMAN: It was all of that. A lot of it was recruiting both partners and associates.
We were trying to grow the office quickly. We had fourteen lawyers on
the day that we opened there, and we wanted to develop both litigation and
transactional capacity as quickly as possible. So, it was meeting with
headhunters and candidates and kind of getting to know the Los Angeles
legal market. I knew the big-named firms in Los Angeles, but I really
didn’t know much about the client base there, what the business
community was like, and what the best sources of work were for us.
We had to find long-term space, and I headed up that effort
initially. We subleased space from a Los Angeles firm, but were going to
be able to do that only for a year or so. So we had to find long-term space
and then build it out, and I was heavily involved in that. And just setting
up the systems and controls for the office. I wasn’t the office manager.
We hired an office manager very quickly. A guy named Tom Albertis
who had been the office manager for the L.A. office of Milbank. Tom is
still with Arnold & Porter. He’s now the Deputy Executive Director of the
whole firm. He’s based in Los Angeles. He spends a lot of time in
Washington. I think Tom was twenty-six when we hired him, but I think
of having hired Tom as one of the best things I ever did for Arnold &
MR. SHAH: And did you like developing things like training programs?
MR. SANDMAN: Yes, I loved it. I absolutely loved it. It felt to me like a chance to write on
a clean slate. The way I thought of it was, “If I could start a law firm from
scratch, what would I want it to be, and what would I want it to be like as
a place to work, and how would I make that happen?” It wasn’t really a
clean slate because we were part of an existing law firm, and one of the
purposes of my going out there was to be sure that the office was
integrated into the firm. Arnold & Porter has always thought that in
opening a new office, ideally, you have someone from another office of
the firm who has been with the firm for a while lead the effort to help
carry the firm culture and integrate people into the firm. So, it was hardly
a stand-alone operation, but the atmosphere of any office, as you probably
know from your own experience, is very much a function of the people in
that office regardless of what the overall firm culture is or what the
atmosphere of the other offices of the firm might be.
So, I thought it was just a very unusual opportunity. How many lawyers
get the chance to do something like that? And I was interested in it, and I
liked all those things. I was learning stuff all the time. I hadn’t known
much about commercial real estate or office design. I had a crash course
in all those things, and it turned out to be very good preparation for my
later work as managing partner of the firm. Among the things I learned,
though, was what you don’t need a lawyer to do. I was much more
involved in things like furniture selection and wall coverings and minutia
like that in Los Angeles than I ever was when I came back to Washington
and was managing partner of the firm. I realized lawyers don’t know
much about that stuff and, to the extent that they think they do, they are
usually wrong (laughter). It’s best to leave that to other people. I guess I
had to be more involved in things like that in L.A. because we didn’t have
a large administrative staff. There weren’t too many other people to
delegate that to. But I thought it was all fascinating.
MR. SHAH: And do you want to talk about the second pregnancy and how it compared
to the first?
MR. SANDMAN: Yes. It is very different when you have been through it once before, and
when you have a baby. Joe turned two during the time that Beth was
pregnant with Elizabeth. It wasn’t a terribly difficult pregnancy. It was
nice not to have to deal with diabetes again. We continued to do things
around Los Angeles and to take advantage of being in southern California,
where all of the things that I mentioned that we did there, most of them
were during Beth’s pregnancy with Elizabeth, so it didn’t interfere with
our getting out and about and enjoying life. After Elizabeth was born,
having two babies—that’s a challenge. They say that the difference
between having one child and two is bigger than the difference between
having no children and one. I don’t think that is really true, but there is a
reason people say that (laughter). By the time Elizabeth was born, Joe
was taking a nap, but I don’t think he and Elizabeth ever napped at the
same time, so there was never any down time when Beth and I could be
together and not have to be doing something with one child or the other.
MR. SHAH: Were you able to take any time off when Elizabeth was born?
MR. SANDMAN: I did take some. The firm had a paternity leave policy and I could take six
weeks off, but I had ended the sabbatical not long before that and my role
in the office was such that it would be difficult to be away completely, so I
didn’t take six weeks off. I took some time off when Elizabeth was born,
but I instead tended to go in late and leave early and just kind of modified
my schedule a little bit.
MR. SHAH: And how did you and your wife decide on Elizabeth’s name?
MR. SANDMAN: Elizabeth is Beth’s name and her mother’s name and her grandmother’s
name. It was very similar to our goals in naming Joe. We wanted a
family name and a traditional name. And Elizabeth’s middle name is
Duncan, which is Beth’s mother’s maiden name. So, it was keeping a
family tradition alive. She’d be the fourth Elizabeth in a row in the
family, or certainly the third.
MR. SHAH: What was it like leaving L.A.? Was it sad?
MR. SANDMAN: It was sad. I really had a very close personal connection to the people in
the office there. We’d been a part of something very significant for all of
us, and I loved it there. I don’t think it would have been the same if I’d
stayed there. We did consider the idea of staying there but concluded that
it would have been moving in the wrong direction for family reasons, and
that it would probably be very different to be living there permanently as
opposed to passing through for a period of time. Also, once the office was
up and running, it wouldn’t have taken me or taken anyone full-time to
manage the office. My job would have changed dramatically, and the
things that I had liked about that start-up experience wouldn’t have
continued. But the fact was that, at the time I left, I was still having fun. I
hadn’t tired of it, and it was difficult. I remember we had really come to
appreciate the climate of southern California. It’s great, especially if you
have young kids, very young kids, to be able to do things outdoors yearround.
It just expands your options on weekends enormously.
In March of 1992, one morning, I came by the house to pick up our
cars to put them on a carrier and ship them to Washington. And it was
about 7:00 in the morning and it was a beautiful Los Angeles morning—a
clear blue sky, a light breeze, and it was sixty-five degrees, and the guy
looked at the shipping order, and he said, “Washington, D.C., huh? That’s
going to be very different from this, you know?” (laughter) And I knew
all too well that it was going to be very different. So, I thought we were
making the right decision to come back here, but it was tough.
While we were out in Los Angeles, we did make a trip to
Washington on Labor Day weekend in 1991 to find a house. Beth was
seven months pregnant at the time, and we felt pressure to find a house in
that one trip because, if we couldn’t, Beth was quickly reaching the point
where she wasn’t going to be able to travel anymore, and I would have to
come and look by myself and do a video of houses that I had seen, or else
we were gonna have to move back here and rent while we looked for a
place to buy, and that would have been very difficult. So, over Labor Day
weekend in 1992, we looked at eighteen houses in two days and bought
one. The real estate market in Washington was very soft at the time,
which turned out to be a great benefit to us. We were not under any
pressure to buy a house. There weren’t bidding wars over houses. You
didn’t have to make a snap decision about whether you liked a house or
not. And if you look at that many houses that quickly, you can sort them
out pretty easily. So we bought a house and closed on it in late November
of 1992 and then moved in in March. We had a little work done on it, just
cosmetic things.
MR. SHAH: Where was the house located?
MR. SANDMAN: It’s located in Chevy Chase, D.C. It’s about a half mile east of Chevy
Chase Circle. We did look at some houses in Maryland. We had a
preference for living in the District. It’s cheaper living, definitely. House
prices were lower in the District. That was one of the difficult things
about moving back. We had had a wonderful house in Denver. We
bought a house there in 1987 that had been built in 1908, which, by
Denver standards, is an old house. It was a brick colonial—there aren’t
many of those in Denver—and about six years or so before we bought it, it
had been moved from the other side of the park that we lived on to the
location where we lived. And when they moved it, they obviously had to
put in an all-new foundation and heating and wiring and plumbing—all of
the things that you might worry about in an old house had been replaced.
So it had the character of an old house, but the amenities of a brand new
one. We had a fireplace in our bedroom and a deck off the master
bedroom, and we paid $315,000 for this house. We moved back to
Washington, paid half again of what we had sold our house in Denver for
and moved down. The house we bought in Washington was not nearly as
nice as the house we had owned in Denver. Moving down is hard. You
don’t feel enthusiastic when you’re unpacking your boxes and comparing
your new surroundings to the last place you lived. So, actually, after we
moved back here, for the first year or two, I spent a fair amount of time
looking at other houses. Over time, I became convinced that we had
gotten a pretty good house, and I came to like it a lot more having looked
at other options.
MR. SHAH: Can you talk about your return to the D.C. office of Arnold & Porter and
how it felt to be back there after a long time away?
MR. SANDMAN: It was harder than I thought. I’d kept in close touch with people in
Washington during the eleven years I’d been in Denver and Los Angeles.
I had reason to come back to Washington for, you know, partners’
meetings or committee meetings. A number of my closest friends when
I’d been an associate there were still with the firm and we kept in touch. I
stayed with my friend Larry Stein whenever I came back here. I kind of
had my room at his house. Because I’d kept in such close touch, I was
surprised at how difficult the reintegration was.
When I had left the Washington office in 1981, I was twenty-nine.
I was single. I was forty when I moved back. Two children. Married. I
was at a different point in my life, and my friends were at different points
in their lives. You don’t have the same relationships with friends under
those circumstances as you do when you’re younger. A lot of new people
had started at the firm. I had met associates and had come to summer
associate functions during the years I’d been in other offices, but there
were huge numbers of people that I didn’t know, and I felt like a stranger
in my own office, which was a very unusual feeling for me after eleven
years in small offices, where I knew every person in the office and their
families, and where you never passed a person in the hall whose name you
didn’t know, whose job you weren’t familiar with. And I felt
uncomfortable that way. It just wasn’t what I was used to, so I set out to
try to get to know everybody, and I was very fortunate in that I was
appointed to the firm’s management committee right after I came back
from Los Angeles, so that gave me kind of a platform to get to know
people in a way that I would not have been able to had I simply been
another partner practicing in the litigation group.
My portfolio on the management committee was support staff, so I
think it just provided a lot of opportunities to get to know the staff. I was
on the firm hiring committee. I was elected the ombudsperson that dealt
with associate issues in that capacity. But I tried to use all those things as
a way to reach out and get to know people, and, if you work at it and if
you have the right access, the right opportunities to do it, you can get to
know a very large number of people in a pretty short period of time. So
within a couple of years, I felt quite integrated, but I really had to work at
MR. SHAH: Can you talk a little bit more about these various roles that you had, such
as the management position dealing with the support staff and the position
working with associates?
MR. SANDMAN: I always had good friends among the support staff, and support staffs are
often treated as, and feel like, second-class citizens in a law firm. The
distinction between lawyers and non-lawyers in law firms is a huge one. I
later came to realize when I got heavily involved in diversity issues that
often the biggest point of diversity for the staff in a law firm, the biggest
point of difference they feel, is the distinction between the lawyers and the
non-lawyers—and that can be even more significant than race or gender to
them. It’s what they experience first and foremost in their workplace. In
my experience working in smaller offices, I learned close-up the
difference the staff makes. When you are in a small office environment,
every person really matters, and you have a sense of team that is more
elusive in a big organization. So, I wanted to try to act on what I felt and
what I’d experienced in other offices in the firm and did what I could.
There was kind of a committee of support staff, an elected committee, that
represented their interests against management, and I saw that group as an
opportunity to try to reach out and come to understand their concerns and
see what we might be able to do to address them.
Associate morale was not good when I came to the Washington
office. At the time, about the only external measure of associate
satisfaction was the bi-annual American Lawyer survey of mid-level
associates. And, in 1992 and 1994, Arnold & Porter did miserably in
those surveys. I think in 1994, the firm might have ranked third from the
bottom nationally. Those surveys are always suspect, and their results
depend a lot on who participates and how many people participate, but
there was no reason to think that the surveys were off in their reading of
what the state of associate satisfaction was at the time, and I thought that
was very troubling, personally. I was a partner in the firm and didn’t like
the idea that associates didn’t think it was a good place to work, and I
thought it was just a critical business issue. Law firms are in the business
of buying and selling talent, and if you develop a reputation as a law firm
that’s a bad place to work, you’re going to be at a huge competitive
disadvantage in the market for talent. You’re not going to be able to get
the people that you need to sustain a quality institution. So, I tried to use
my management role to reach out to associates and find out what the
issues were and what we might be able to do about them. It was hardly a
solo mission. The firm as a whole was concerned about this and was
doing things to try to address it, and, in response to one of those surveys,
the firm established an ombudsperson program where a male and a female
partner in each office would be nominated by the associates and approved
by the firm’s policy committee to be a resource for associates—someone
to go to talk to on a confidential basis if you had a problem or concern,
and especially if you didn’t know where else to turn—and I was the first
male ombudsperson in the Washington office.
I thought that people would never use the services of an
ombudsperson they didn’t know. You’re not going to show up at the door
of the office of a stranger to pour your heart out about your problems. I
thought that if the role was going to be successful, then the
ombudspersons really had to put themselves out there and market
themselves, and they had to get to know people and be perceived as
approachable and caring. So, I tried to do that, and I didn’t have a line of
associates standing outside my office waiting to see me, but I did have
customers. And the most common problems that people came to talk to
me about involved the nature of the work they were getting. They were
not happy with their case assignments, and they didn’t know what to do
about it. They didn’t see a way out of the matters that they were involved
in. It might have been being stuck on a huge document review or a
dysfunctional team. The circumstances could vary, but they were unhappy
professionally and, most often, they just didn’t think that they were
developing. They felt that they had stalled out, that they weren’t learning,
and it would be a particular concern to people who would look at their
peers and see them doing interesting things and getting more and better
experience, and feel like being left behind and wondering, “Why is this
happening to me? Why am I not getting the good work that other people
are getting?”
What I realized was that there’s drudge work, that there’s
unpleasant work in the practice of law—it kind of goes with the
territory—but people have a pretty high tolerance for unpleasant work, as
long as one of two things is true: if they see light at the end of the tunnel,
if they think it’s a temporary situation that’s going to come to an end, or if
it’s not all they’re doing. If they have a portion of their practice that
provides interesting, challenging work and opportunities for professional
development, then they can deal with a fair amount of drudge work. But if
one or the other of those things isn’t true, then people leave. They
conclude that the only way to handle the situation is to go elsewhere. The
firm had a very high associate attrition rate at the time. People were
voting with their feet. They saw departing as the only way to address the
issues that they were having, and attrition is costly in a number of ways.
Not only does it drive your hiring costs up, but it’s harmful to client
relationships. Clients hate turnover on their cases. They hate having to
train a new associate to do work that somebody else had been doing quite
well. But those are the kinds of issues that I came upon.
Sometimes there were personality issues, and my advice there was
always the same. You have to work this out between yourselves.
Sometimes, we would role play, you know, “Let’s have a little
conversation. What is it you want to say, and I’ll react.” It was a useful
role, but I concluded it could only be successful with significant outreach
on my part. And, in some ways, it was just kind of a back stop. You can’t
solve major systemic issues in an organization with an ombudsperson. It’s
a piece of things. I think the perspective it gave me on what was going on
with our associates allowed me to do other things, which had bigger
MR. SHAH: About how big was the Arnold & Porter office in D.C. at this time?
MR. SANDMAN: I guess it was about three hundred lawyers.
MR. SHAH: Could you just talk about what it was like to go back to the practice.
You’d been away in L.A. for a year doing management stuff. The
sabbatical had been fairly recent. What was it like just delving back into
MR. SANDMAN: It wasn’t hard. I got involved pretty quickly in the firm’s representation of
the American Red Cross in transfusion AIDS cases. Almost all of the
cases arose from the period when there was no test for HIV antibodies—a
test for HIV antibodies wasn’t rolled out until 1984 or 1985—and they
were just tragic cases. These were absolutely blameless people who had
had blood transfusions for one reason or another and contracted AIDS as a
result. This was also the time when the drug therapies for AIDS were not
what they are today. AIDS was a death sentence, and often a pretty quick
death sentence.
Arnold & Porter was national counsel to the American Red Cross
nationwide, and I was responsible for cases in a number of states—
Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin—and, as tragic as
they were, they were also very interesting cases legally. They presented a
lot of issues about the extent to which the American Red Cross, having
been chartered by Congress, enjoyed any of the incidents of sovereign
immunity, whether the Red Cross was subject to trial by jury, and whether
punitive damages were available against the Red Cross. The case went to
the Supreme Court of the United States was about the status of the Red
Cross. I worked closely with local counsel in different places, an
experience that I always liked. The cases were in state courts and federal
courts, though we established that we did have the right to remove cases to
federal courts. That was the case that went to the Supreme Court: that the
Red Cross as a defendant had an absolute right to remove. So, cases that
started out in state court quickly got to federal court. I did a lot of travel.
But my reintegration into the practice was made much easier because I
was joining a big team that I could be a part of. I didn’t have to generate
the cases. There were a lot of cases for me to work on right away.
MR. SHAH: How was your work-life balance during these first couple of years back?
MR. SANDMAN: Not good.
MR. SHAH: Not good?
MR. SANDMAN: It was the combination of both practice and the management role and
trying to get adjusted to being back in Washington. I recall it as kind of a
stressful period. I wish I’d spent more time at home during those years.