Seventh Interview – August 6, 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 August 6, 2010, beginning at 8:30 in the morning. This is our
seventh interview session.
MR. SHAH: Jim, the last time we talked, you had come back to D.C. as a partner and
you were integrating back into the work system there and doing a lot of
Red Cross cases. There was one case in particular that we’re going to talk
about. It’s called Schaeffer v. Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center. That
case went to the Fifth Circuit in 1994 and was a case concerning HIV and
statute of limitations issues. What do you recall about that case?
MR. SANDMAN: Well, I recall, actually, a number of cases where the statute of limitations
was an issue in one of several ways. One issue was always what statute of
limitations applies. Typically, the question was does the medical
malpractice statute of limitations apply or does the general tort statute of
limitations apply—usually, the medical malpractice statute is shorter—and
the issue was whether blood transfusions are the practice of medicine
within the medical malpractice statute of limitations, or whether they are
something else and, therefore, subject to the general tort statute of
limitations. And our argument on behalf of the client was that
transfusions are an integral part of the delivery of medical services and
that the medical statute should apply, but different states came out
differently on that.
There was also a question sometimes about whether discovery of
the injury was necessary to trigger the statute of limitations or whether the
statute could run even though the transfusion recipient did not know that
they had contracted HIV in the transfusion. And, particularly in the
medical context in many states, you don’t have to have discovered the
injury. The statute begins to run from the time that the alleged wrong
occurred, not when the patient discovers it. So there were a number of
issues like that. Many novel legal questions in those cases. For example,
the Red Cross, because it has been chartered by Congress, has aspects of
sovereign immunity. You can’t get punitive damages against the
sovereign. You can’t get a trial by jury against the sovereign. We,
through the litigation, probed the limits of the extent of the sovereign
immunity that the Red Cross enjoyed.
There was an issue that went to the Supreme Court of the United
States. I can’t remember if I mentioned it in our last interview. The
question was whether, as a matter of law, the Red Cross has the right to
remove cases from state court to federal court, and the issue was, as I
recall, whether its congressional charter granted a right to remove. The
language of the charter said that the Red Cross should have the right to sue
and be sued in any court, state or federal, and our argument was that gave
rise to a right of removal. My recollection is that we prevailed on that 5-4
in the Supreme Court, but I actually would need to go back and check on
that. It was a very hot issue. So, the Schaeffer case was just one of many,
but it was reported, which is why it got more attention than some others.
Often trial court decisions in state courts don’t get reported anywhere, but
these issues were very actively litigated.
MR. SHAH: Was there oral argument in Schaeffer?
MR. SANDMAN: I don’t recall that the case was argued. I don’t think it was. It was
handled in the briefs.
MR. SHAH: During this time, were you still working on the Philip Morris cases?
MR. SANDMAN: Yes, although there was a lull in lawsuit filings at that point. After the
famous Cipollone trial in 1988 or so, which resulted in a very modest
verdict against one defendant for the plaintiff, there was a decline in the
number of case filings and significantly less litigation activity than there
had been during the 1980s. Litigation continued, but it just wasn’t on the
same scale. In Texas, in particular, where I had worked on cases, there
was a dramatic decline in the number of cases. Many of them were
voluntarily dismissed. They were dismissed for want of prosecution. But
I did work with Philip Morris at that time on a variety of counseling
issues—risk management, risk avoidance issues—and began to move my
product liability practice more in the direction of counseling and doing
less litigation.
MR. SHAH: Did you find that rewarding, the counseling aspect?
MR. SANDMAN: I did. The nature of the client relationship is different when you are a
counselor as opposed to a litigator. If you are defending a client in
litigation, your role is to mitigate irritation to the client (laughter). You
are trying to spare them trouble, but the best you can do is avoid bad news.
It’s not a positive, affirmative role in the same way that being a counselor
can be. Also, you get to know the client’s business and people a lot better
as a counselor—and more broadly—than you do in litigation.
MR. SHAH: What sort of issues would you counsel Philip Morris on?
MR. SANDMAN: Product development issues. Research issues. Some were litigation
related. For example, records management issues, where the client, as
subject to litigations – you had to be very, very sensitive in designing your
records retention policies.
MR. SHAH: Were there any other types of cases that were occupying your time during
these couple of years?
MR. SANDMAN: I handled miscellaneous other things. I’ve worked on some aspects of a
bankruptcy case in Washington involving Dominic Antonelli, the big
developer in Washington that filed for bankruptcy in the early 1990s, but
my Red Cross and Philip Morris work was far and away the bulk of what I
MR. SHAH: And during these years, the early to mid-1990s when you had just returned
to D.C., who were your mentors within the firm? Who would you go to
for advice?
MR. SANDMAN: There were people that I worked with. One was Bruce Chadwick, who
headed the Red Cross team. For a few years in the early 1990s, the
American Red Cross was Arnold & Porter’s biggest client—there was that
much litigation out there—and Bruce led a very large team and did it
exquisitely. He delegated well. He didn’t micro-manage people, but he
did definitely manage the team and made sure that people were
approaching the cases with a consistency of strategy. He ensured that
information was shared, that the team was operating efficiently from the
client’s perspective, and he motivated people. People loved working for
him. I think that the lawyers who worked on the Red Cross team at the
time still regard that as one of the high points of their careers. It was not
only interesting and challenging and important work, but it was done in a
collegial, mutually supportive context.
One small example. The partners who headed state litigation
teams—and we divided the cases up by state—always had very heavy
caseloads. There was always something going on. If you wanted to take a
vacation, somebody needed to cover your cases while you were gone
because there was certainly going to be activity that couldn’t wait until
you returned—and it was never a problem. You could always take a
vacation knowing that one of your colleagues would cover your cases for
you and cover them well, and you’d do exactly the same thing for them
when it was time for them to take a vacation. Just a lot of mutual support.
So, the way he ran a team, the way he managed litigation, his
encyclopedic knowledge of the cases and his ability to keep the facts of all
of them straight, was a real lesson to me, and he’s just a gentleman and a
scholar (laughter).
David Kentoff, former Managing Partner of Arnold & Porter,
headed the Philip Morris team. David was and remains one of my
mentors. He is an outstanding manager. Very, very smart. Very funny.
He sets the standard in terms of client service. If you were to ask people
at Philip Morris to identify the best lawyers they have ever worked with,
David would be right up there, and they would cite his responsiveness, his
judgment, and his availability. The client used to say that David seemed
to be sitting at his desk waiting for the phone to ring and was right on it
when they called. If he wasn’t for any reason, he was back to them within
fifteen minutes—none of this same day return call, this was within fifteen
minutes—and the combination of his management skill and his client
service mentality was a real lesson for me.
And in firm management at the time, I worked closely with Jim
Jones, who was then Managing Partner of the firm. Jim had asked me to
go to Los Angeles, and Jim put me on the Management Committee when I
returned to Washington, so I had very close dealings with him on a wide
variety of firm-management issues. He had very good business sense. He
really brought a level of financial management and data analysis to the
management of the firm that was beyond where the firm had been before.
Bruce Montgomery headed the Associates Committee at the time,
which dealt with associate evaluations, but was also involved in a whole
range of associate issues from hiring to professional development, and, in
my management work, I dealt a lot with Bruce. He cared very much about
the professional advancement and development of associates, and his
perspective on things was very beneficial to me.
MR. SHAH: Were there any other mentors that you had that were outside of Arnold &
Porter but still within the D.C. Bar community?
MR. SANDMAN: Not really that I recall at the time. I’d been away for eleven years, so I
wasn’t integrated into the Washington legal community outside the firm at
that point, except for friends that I had at other firms.
MR. SHAH: Can you talk about the leadership structure at Arnold & Porter, including
whether the firm was run by the Managing Partner or the Chairman?
MR. SANDMAN: The firm has a Policy Committee elected by the partners, and the Chair of
the Policy Committee, who at the time was elected by the Committee, not
by the partners at-large, served as Chairman of the firm. There was a
Management Committee that dealt with the day-to-day operations of the
firm headed by a Managing Partner, who was nominated by the Policy
Committee subject to a confirmation vote of the partners. The difference
between the two is apparent in their names. The Policy Committee sets a
strategic direction of the firm and deals with the big picture issues. It
meets every two weeks. The Management Committee is much more
hands-on and deals with the day-to-day operations of the firm. The
Managing Partner serves as a member of the Policy Committee, and the
Chairman of the firm and the Managing Partner always work very, very
closely, and are regarded as a team within the firm.
I did become an ex-officio member of the Policy Committee when
I joined the Management Committee in 1992. The position I held on the
Management Committee at the time was that responsible for dealing with
the support staff, and in the interest of promoting good employee relations,
the firm had decided early on that the partner who held that seat should
also sit on the Policy Committee, so that staff interests could be
represented at the meetings of the Policy Committee. I didn’t have a vote
on the Policy Committee—that really didn’t make a difference because
there was very little ever decided by divided votes—but I was able to
attend and participate in the meetings, and my role was not limited within
the Committee to issues affecting the staff. If anything came up, I was
welcome to speak up about it and participate.
MR. SHAH: In 1995, you were appointed Managing Partner of Arnold & Porter. Can
you talk about how that came about, your interest in the position, and how
your appointment took place?
MR. SANDMAN: I was a member of the Management Committee at the time. In January of
1995, Stuart Land became Chair of the firm. Jim Jones had served, at that
point, for eight or nine years as Managing Partner. When he was elected
to his last term in 1993, he decided that he didn’t want to serve beyond
that. So, when Stuart became Chairman, immediately after he became
Chairman, he asked if I would serve as Managing Partner when Jim’s term
expired, and I said yes. Stuart is also someone I would describe as a
mentor and a role model. I had worked with him in Los Angeles. He had
gone out to the Los Angeles office when it opened. He was a senior
partner in the firm practicing in the food & drug area. He had long been
involved on the Policy Committee and the firm’s Compensation
Committee and cared passionately about the firm. He represented the best
of the firm’s traditions and was really kind of the embodiment of what I
thought the firm stood for. And so the Policy Committee formally
announced my appointment as Managing Partner-designate, I think it was
called, in May of 1995, and I was ratified by the partners to take office
when Jim’s term expired at the end of that year.
Jim ended up leaving the firm before the end of the year, in
November of 1995, to become Vice-Chairman of APCO, which had been
a separate consulting firm owned by Arnold & Porter—it later spun off—a
political consulting firm, among other things. So, I became Managing
Partner formally in November of that year.
During those years, I can’t remember if I talked about this the last
time, but—did I talk about the state of the associate morale in the firm at
the time?
MR. SHAH: A little bit, yes.
MR. SANDMAN: Associate morale in the firm was not good in those years in the early
1990s. I believe in 1992 the firm scored near the bottom of the American
Lawyer Mid-Level Associate Survey—the bottom nationally, not just in
Washington—and did not do any better in the 1994 survey. There was a
lot of attrition among associates, a lot of turnover, and I think it reflected
the firm’s growing pains. I think that the firm had grown a lot in the
1980s and hadn’t developed structures and programs to develop associates
in the way you have to do in a bigger law firm as opposed to a smaller
one, where those things happen more naturally as relationships develop
between partners and associates,
And the firm recognized that this was a problem. A law firm is in
the business of buying and selling talent. It’s all about the human capital.
If you are a top law firm and your ability to recruit is impaired in any way,
that is a very dangerous situation to be in—you are risking your future to
allow a situation like that to endure. So there was some kind of task force,
I think, formed first in 1992 and again in 1994, and a number of initiatives
taken. One of the initiatives was to create a position of associate
ombudsperson. In each office of the firm, there were two ombudspersons:
partners, one male and one female nominated by associates, but ultimately
selected by the Policy Committee. The associates would vote on
candidates and the top three candidates would be presented to the Policy
Committee. The Policy Committee wanted to have final sign-off to be
sure that the person selected had credibility with the partners and was
going to be able to be productive in the role. I was the first male
ombudsperson in the Washington office. Helene Madonick or Kathy
Wallman actually might have been the first woman. I saw that role as an
opportunity to do outreach to associates. My thought was that an associate
is going to go to an ombudsperson with a problem only if the associate
knows that partner and has confidence in him or her and feels comfortable
talking to him or her about whatever trouble they might be having. And
it’s never going to be a frontline position to improve associate morale; it’s
necessarily a reactive position, dependent on people seeking you out. And
it’s one-on-one—it’s not a position that allows you to take a systemic
approach to problems, although they allow the ombudsperson person to
identify systemic problems because of repeat issues that individuals bring
to him or her. That role really gave me an opportunity to get to know
associates. That was one of the ways I got to know people in the office,
by making sure that I knew all of the incoming associates and summer
associates. People knew who I was, so, if they showed up at my door,
they didn’t have to introduce themselves when they walked in to unburden
themselves of some issue. That perspective was very helpful to me.
When I became Managing Partner, I had to step down from the
ombudsperson role. It was viewed as a conflict to be both management
and an ombudsperson (laughter), but I enjoyed that role very much. When
I see similar roles created in other institutions, if I’m asked about it, my
advice is always that this can’t be a passive role where someone is just
available on request. It has to be a position that involves a lot of outreach
to the constituency you are trying to serve. But, as a result of that, when I
became Managing Partner, dealing with associate issues and stemming the
tide of attritions was one of my top priorities.
MR. SHAH: Can you talk about what other priorities as you had in this role?
MR. SANDMAN: Yes. Building on the firm’s strengths was one of them. I thought that the
firm’s strategy should always be to build on what it did well—expand the
practices where it had established franchises and then extend out from
those in ways that were logically connected to what the firm already did
well. I think it’s very difficult for a firm to strike out in entirely new
directions and move into practice areas where it hasn’t had any
experience, if those practice areas are not logical extensions of what the
firm does already.
I was very focused on the competitive environment. The firm,
financially, was stagnating at that time. We didn’t use the term “profits
for partner” within the firm then, we looked at net income per share, but
the trends were flat or down for a number of years, and I didn’t think that
that was a healthy competitive position to be in. So, with the firm’s
Executive Director, Judy Hurley, we set out to develop a series of
benchmarks to compare the firm to other firms that we considered similar
and to try to identify the best sources of information about other firms on a
variety of data points. At the time, PriceWaterhouseCoopers—they were
just called PriceWaterhouse then, I’m sure—did an annual survey of law
firms, various segments of legal market, depending on size, geography.
You had to pay for it, but it gave you information about everything from
staffing ratios—how many secretaries firms have on average to each
lawyer in the firm—to library expenditures, technology expenditures, and
provided a basis to see how the firm on both the revenue and the expense
side was stacking up against others. There wasn’t a Citibank survey at the
time. That has since become, I think, the standard and is now, I believe,
done in conjunction with Hildebrandt, the legal consulting firm. We
looked at things like the American Lawyer Mid-Level Associates Survey.
What could that tell us about what other firms were doing better than
ours? What were some of the drivers of associate satisfaction and how did
our firm stack up against others on those drivers? So, I reported to the
partners regularly on those things, whether the news was good or bad. If
we were behind the competition or doing something very different from
the competition, I thought it was important for people to know that, and
what the impact on our bottom line and on the quality of life in the firm
One of the first things we did after I became Managing Partner was
to lay off five percent of the staff, which was much, much more unusual at
that time than it is today. It was a very, very painful thing to do, but the
numbers available to us, the benchmark information, consistently showed
that we were overstaffed compared to the number of lawyers we had and
the size of the firm’s practice to our revenue, and that the firm could not
be well-managed as long as we allowed that to continue. It was
particularly painful for me because I knew the people who were affected
by our decision, and I thought it was critically important that we explain
the decision to everyone in the firm and that I take personal responsibility
for it and that I get out there myself and meet with everyone, and if people
wanted to yell at me, or cry, or curse me out, they could do that.
And, as difficult as it was, people were actually, on a personal
level, including the staff, supportive of me. I think that they could see the
toll it was taking on me personally and understood that I wouldn’t do
something like that unless I really thought that it was necessary for the
good of the firm as a whole. And it made a difference. I think one
measure of how that action was received within the firm was how many of
the people laid off subsequently came back to the firm. When, within a
couple of years, we had openings available and were able to rehire, people
we had laid off reapplied to come back. They weren’t angry or bitter and
they wanted to come back to the firm and work there, and I think that said
something about how they experienced that very difficult situation in their
We looked at billing rates. For years, our approach to billing rates
had been to tie them to the increase in inflation without really looking at
what was going on in the marketplace, and the legal marketplace may or
may not line up with what’s happening more broadly to the consumer
price index. So, I tried to bring an increased focus on data information
and competitive information to the management of the firm and share it
with the partners so that they could understand why we were making the
management moves that we were, and to be as transparent as possible
about it.
MR. SHAH: During this time, you were also speaking out about the diversity in the
MR. SANDMAN: I started to then, yes, in two different ways. First, in 1995, Rob Wyner, an
Arnold & Porter partner who was then President of the D.C. Bar, set up a
D.C. Bar task force on sexual orientation and the legal workplace. The
issue of sexual orientation in the workplace was very different then from
what it is now. I don’t believe that all the problems have gone away as of
2010, but the atmosphere was quite different back in 1995, and there was
some controversy around the establishment of a task force on that issue.
But Rob, to his great credit, went ahead anyway. He thought it was
important that the task force include people in firm management, both to
give it credibility and to be sure that the recommendations of the task
force were crafted with some management input, and it was a very
interesting diversity experience for me. The task force itself was diverse.
It included straights, as well as gays, but the most active participants were
the gay and lesbian members.
The task force did two surveys to try to get a sense of what was
going on out there in the workplace. One was a random survey of D.C.
Bar members inquiring about their observations of and experiences with
issues of sexual orientation in the workplace, and the other survey was a
targeted survey directed at self-identified gay and lesbian members of the
Bar, asking them similar questions. And it was quite a contrast between
the survey results. By and large, the respondents to the general random
survey didn’t think there were many issues. They thought that their
workplaces were generally hospitable to gay and lesbian lawyers. There
were some survey responses that were frightening. People just reflecting
blatant homophobia and saying the most unbelievable things. Those
tended to be outliers, but they were there. But, by and large, the general
survey would give you the impression it was not a big problem.
The results of survey of gay and lesbian lawyers were quite
different, and particularly the comments that people provided on their
survey forms. People told stories of humiliation, extreme discomfort in
the workplace, having to move jobs—it was obvious that there was a
disconnect there and that there was a problem. Particularly the extended
nature of the comments provided by the gay and lesbian survey
respondents couldn’t leave you with an impression other than that there
were issues out there.
It took four years for the task force to do its work, largely because
the survey design and implementation were very time-consuming, and
then writing up the survey results and following on with recommendations
was very time-consuming, but the experience was a real lesson to me in
diversity. And one of the things that I learned was that you don’t know
what it’s like if you haven’t been in the shoes of someone different from
yourself. I wouldn’t have known that the problems that gay and lesbian
lawyers faced in the workplace were what they were. It was a real eyeopener
to me, and I would put myself in the category of the average
general respondent to the random survey in terms of understating the
extent of the problems. You may think you know what it’s like to be
someone different from yourself. You don’t.
I also developed some very wonderful personal and professional
relationships with people who served on the task force. One was Gigi
Sohn who was later the President of Gay Law and a member of the Board
of Governors of the D.C. Bar. David Isbell at Covington & Burling, who
co-chaired the task force. Mark McQuaid, who co-chaired the task force.
I was part of the core group of the task force that was most active, both
because I thought the work was important and because I enjoyed it and
liked going to the meetings. I respected and admired and liked the people
that I worked with.
The other experience I had was within Arnold & Porter. In 1997,
two things happened that made me acutely aware of diversity issues at the
firm. One, the firm, although it had an active program of recruiting
lawyers of color, had very significant attrition problems among the
lawyers of color that the firm attracted, with the result that, in 1997, there
was one African American associate in the entire firm. That wasn’t a
situation that had existed for long, but it was the culmination of a very
troubling trend, and I thought that was frightening for a lot of reasons. I
thought it was inconsistent with what Arnold & Porter was and how the
firm thought of itself, and I thought that if the situation weren’t turned
around quickly, it might be irremediable.
Lawyers of color look at the statistics of a firm when they are
considering where to apply, and if your numbers show that, for whatever
reason, you’re out of line with the competition in terms of the number of
lawyers of color, or women, or gay and lesbian lawyers, as those numbers
came to be reported later, you’re going to have great difficulty attracting
people to you. If I were a lawyer of color looking at a firm of hundreds of
lawyers that had one African American associate, my reaction, being the
risk adverse person I am, would be to say, “Sorry, but I’m not going to
take a chance at that firm. I like the things that I’ve read about them.
They seem to be nice people. I don’t know what their problem is, but
there is a problem there, and I don’t want to take a chance there in being
the next lawyer of color to leave.”
The second thing that happened was that there was an incident
involving a lawyer in the firm—this was after we’d gotten past having
only one African American associate—but there was an incident that
involved a lawyer of color confronting assumptions that he really couldn’t
be a lawyer at Arnold & Porter. This is not an uncommon phenomenon, I
think, limited to law firms, where particularly if someone isn’t wearing a
suit, they may be mistaken for a messenger or an intruder, and when this
happens in your own law firm, it’s a debilitating experience. And
something happened that shouldn’t have, and it was very, very unsettling
to the lawyer who experienced it, and he talked to me about it. I’d never
had an experience like that, and he talked to me about it in very personal
terms, and we convened a group to try to explore the issue and to see what
extent others might have had similar experiences. By that point, Mike
Sohn was Chairman of the firm, and he and I talked to a number of
lawyers in the firm and found that what this lawyer had experienced was
not the only time something like that had happened.
I was very troubled both that something like that would happen
and that I hadn’t appreciated how different it can be to be a lawyer who
doesn’t look like I look working in my own law firm. So we established a
Diversity Committee. We instituted a firm-wide diversity training
program. We revved up our minority recruitment efforts, but really began
to try to focus strongly on retention and to do a number of things to try to
improve the retention—not only of lawyers of color, but of all lawyers—
because, as I mentioned, we had significant attrition problems across our
associate ranks. And those experiences—both getting to know my own
colleagues better and dealing with outside consultants, experts in the area,
people who had experiences in other institutions—really demonstrated to
me that this was a critical issue for the profession and not just an issue for
Arnold & Porter, and needed to be talked about and needed to be focused
on in law firms at the highest level of management.
I don’t think that the management of a firm can or should delegate
diversity to some committee or individual within the firm. Not to say that
there isn’t a very important role for others to play, but I think that diversity
efforts have to be led from the top in a very hands-on and visible way.
Interestingly, one of the things I noticed in working with Philip Morris
was that the company’s Chairman and CEO was Chairman of their
Diversity Committee. I happened to be at the company one day and saw
some materials on diversity and picked them up, and there I see that Geoff
Bible, then the CEO and Chairman, was Chair of the Diversity Committee,
and my reaction was, “wow, that sends a message.” When he personally
serves as the chair of the committee, he is sending a powerful signal
throughout the organization that this is something that is worth his time
and that he is going to devote himself to, and I thought that it was
important that we do similar things within our law firm.
I got involved in the late 1990s with the Minority Corporate
Counsel Association, which, at that point, was headed by Lloyd Johnson,
who founded it and was the association’s first Executive Director. They
began back in the late 1990s to recognize corporate legal departments and
law firms for efforts to improve diversity. They have their Employer of
Choice Award for corporate legal departments and their Sager Award for
law firms, and we applied for a Sager Award after we had made some
progress in improving the firm’s diversity—not that we didn’t have a
hugely long way to go—and won the Sager Award in, I believe, 1999.
And that vote of confidence from the Minority Corporate Counsel
Association was energizing and very helpful within the firm and outside in
increasing our diversity efforts. It really caused people to re-double what
they were doing to have that kind of recognition. Awards matter, and
particularly in a very competitive recruiting environment, they can make a
big difference.
MR. SANDMAN: I also got involved in the late 1990s in issues involving work-life balance
and gender issues. It was around then that I met Joan Williams and
Cynthia Thomas Calvert who headed something called the Project for
Attorney Retention run out of American University. They were focused
on family issues more than just pure gender issues. They did some very
creative research and offered some very practical tips for employers on
how to help improve work-life balance with the goal of retaining people,
and they’ve always been very good about making the business case for
why this is not just “feel good” stuff, but why it will improve the firm’s
bottom line and its client service.
I still work with Joan. The Project for Attorney Retention paired
with the Minority Corporate Counsel Association earlier this year to do a
report on how partner compensation affects women in law firms. It came
out a month or six weeks ago and got a fair amount of publicity, and Joan
asked me to review a draft of that, and I offered comments on it, and she
quoted me in it. The thing I really admire about Joan, who is an academic,
is she wants very much to get it right and understand how law firms work.
She has a perspective and she has a mission, but accuracy and pragmatism
are very important to her. She doesn’t want to propose that employers,
whether they be law firms or corporate legal departments, do things that
they’re simply not going to do. She wants to understand what it is that
motivates firms and how they actually function in the real world. If she
has drafted something that she concludes isn’t quite right, she drops it, and
she adapts and changes course. She’s now at Hastings in California. I
think very highly of her work.
One of the reasons I ended up getting involved in work-life
balance and gender issues is because Arnold & Porter was the first big law
firm, I believe, to have an on-site childcare center, which in early days was
a backup center—not full-time, but available to people whose regular
childcare arrangements had fallen through for a day or a couple of days
and needed backup care. In 1995, when Arnold & Porter moved to 12th
Street into a brand-new building, we were able to design a childcare center
that was much bigger in size than the one we occupied in the previous
location, and it turned into a full-time center. That was not my doing, that
was done on Jim Jones’s watch. Jim is the one who deserves the credit for
the foresight in planning the full-time facility. That facility is wildly
popular. It has a waiting list, and it makes a huge difference to the parents
who are able to use it—not just mothers, but fathers. Having your child in
the building just an elevator ride away, where you can have lunch together
every day and have time in the car going to and from work, makes a big
difference to people—not that they don’t still have to work very hard, but
the convenience of it is a wonderful thing for people.
And the quality of that center also makes a difference. The firm
decided early on that in terms of the compensation and benefits offered to
employees of the childcare center, they were going to give them a full
Arnold & Porter benefit’s package: health insurance, paid time off, four
weeks off a year from the day you start work. That’s not what most
childcare providers and most daycare centers get, and the firm did that
because they recognized that one of the big challenges in running a
childcare center is turnover among caregivers. Parents want to know that
the same person or people are going to be taking care of their kids for an
extended period of time and that there isn’t going to be a constantly
changing cast of characters. But, because the pay is so low and the
benefits are so poor in many childcare centers, there can be a lot of
turnover. To address that proactively, the firm decided to be abovemarket
in terms of compensation and benefits package, and that made a
big difference. But the firm got a lot of attention because of the childcare
center. I think that was one of the ways that I came to know people like
Joan and Cynthia.
MR. SHAH: Did you ever use the childcare center for your kids?
MR. SANDMAN: I did, as a backup center, and they loved it. They loved it so much that
when our son turned thirteen, he was sad because he had aged out of the
children’s center and would no longer be able to go there and he loved it.
Most kids are eager to turn thirteen and to be a teenager and to be growing
up. Not Joe. The morning of his thirteenth birthday, he was sad because
he couldn’t go to the Arnold & Porter childcare center anymore. And I
loved it. The days that my kids came to work with me were a lot of fun
for me. I’d take them to the firm cafeteria, and they would eat stuff that
their mother would be appalled at—all sweets, no protein, but, hey, what’s
going to work with Dad all about?
MR. SHAH: And during those years, you also expanded Arnold & Porter, opening new
offices. Can you talk about that and how those decisions came about?
MR. SANDMAN: Yes. At the time I became Managing Partner, the firm had offices in New
York, Denver, and Los Angeles. In 1997, we first opened an office in
London. It was very small—at the time we subleased space within a
London law firm. It was very modest, but we thought that because of the
globalization of practice and the globalization of our clients’ businesses
that having a presence in London was important to us. The firm had a
very strong practice in dealing with sovereign debt and represented
governments in issuing debt: Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and, I think,
Zaire. We did work with Israel. And London is the center of the market
for the placement of sovereign debt, and that practice, in particular, would
benefit from our having an office in London. That office grew over time.
Today it’s more than forty lawyers. Initially, it was staffed by people
from Washington who relocated to London. Today, I don’t think there’s
an American lawyer in the office. All of them are citizens of the UK or
other EU countries.
The firm opened in Brussels in 2003. That was directly related to
the firm’s antitrust practice. The firm has a world-class antitrust practice
routinely ranked as among the best or the best in the world, and we
concluded that both for offensive and defensive reasons, it was important
to be in Brussels to able to handle EU competition reviews of transactions.
There were just so many transactions we were handling here in the United
States when there was an EU review component to it, and if we weren’t
able to handle that piece, in addition to the U.S. antitrust review, we were
going to be at risk of losing the business to firms that could handle all the
pieces. So, the firm opened an office in Brussels, also made up of entirely
EU lawyers from throughout the EU, not just from Brussels, and I believe
there’s about ten lawyers there now.
We opened an office in northern Virginia in about 2002. It wasn’t
great timing. We made the decision to go in there at the height of the tech
boom. The firm historically had not had great luck in choosing locations
to open offices. The firm opens in Denver, and the energy bust hits
shortly after. Not long after the firm opened in Los Angeles, all the major
financial institutions headquartered there were acquired by banks located
elsewhere and their headquarters moved. With northern Virginia, I think,
we made plans to go in there around 2001, just as the tech market was
cresting, as it turned out, or beginning to fall, but over time that office has
done well and it has between twenty-five to thirty lawyers and a very
vibrant practice.
We opened in San Francisco in about 2005, initially, very, very
modestly, largely as a service office to handle work for Visa. The firm
was doing very substantial antitrust litigation for Visa and having a
physical presence in San Francisco, where Visa is headquartered, was
important to the client relationship. That office has expanded beyond that
since then. And since I’ve left the firm, the firm has also opened office in
Silicon Valley.
So all of those expansions were related to the existing practice of
the firm and done for both offensive and defensive reasons to be sure that
we were able to hold onto practices that we already had and be wellsituated
to expand them. They were all done for very specific, strategic
reasons and not to grow for the sake of growth.
MR. SHAH: So what were these years like for you? I mean, were they nerve-wracking,
exciting, exhausting?
MR. SANDMAN: All of the above (laughter). They were intense, but they were definitely
exciting, and they gave me an opportunity just to be involved in things that
I would never have had the chance to be involved in otherwise.
I loved the variety of it. I loved the opportunity to do things that
practicing lawyers don’t get to do. Many of them are not interested in
doing them, but I was. I liked, you know, dealing with accounting and
finance, and I actually liked the human resources personnel issues. I liked
learning about technology and real estate. I learned a lot about the
commercial real estate markets in all of the cities where the firm has
offices. Office space design. I never, as Managing Partner, got involved
in the details of picking out furniture fabrics—I think it’s a waste of time
for lawyer-managers—but I thought that the difference in real estate
markets from city to city was very interesting. The travel was
interesting—to get to visit the offices, particularly London and Brussels.
And I had opportunities outside the firm to do things that I
wouldn’t have had otherwise. I can trace almost all of the things I do now
in the community or in the Bar to opportunities that came to me, I believe,
because I was Managing Partner of Arnold & Porter and because the title
makes a difference. People want a managing partner on this committee or
board because they think it, I don’t know, suggests clout or gravitas or
something like that.
I was recruited to be on the Law Practice Management Section
Steering Committee of the D.C. Bar. Through that and my Sexual
Orientation Task Force work, I came to know the leadership of the Bar,
and that led to my being on the Board of Governors and, eventually,
President. I got involved in the Washington Performing Arts Society. As
Managing Partner, I was asked to co-chair their Lawyers’ Committee,
which is a fundraising position. Through that I came to be on the board.
And I was asked to speak at things. I spoke to the Association of
American Law Schools in 2000 about the future of law firms. Probably a
thousand law professors were there, and they had a panel and my focus
was on law firms, and it was a very interesting time in the profession and a
challenge—what would I want to say to a group of law professors about
what’s going on in law firms?
My daughter and I were invited to the White House in, I think it
was, 1998. It was Take Your Daughter to Work Day. They had an event
in the Rose Garden to recognize best practices at childcare centers, and I
think that the Department of Labor had identified some that were
particularly good. I think that because Arnold & Porter was on that list I
was invited, but I don’t know quite why I was invited. I just got a call one
day from somebody at the White House inviting me and my daughter to
this event in the Rose Garden at 10:00 on a Wednesday morning, or
whatever it was. And I said, “Of course we would love to attend. But can
I ask you a question? How did you get my name and how do you know I
have a daughter?” And the person who called me didn’t know. She said,
“I was just given a list of people to call. I assume somebody somewhere
in the White House figured this out.” So my daughter and I went to the
Rose Garden one morning. We got there early, and we were seated in the
very front row, right in front of the President’s lectern. Clinton was
President at the time. Both the President and Mrs. Clinton were there. We
got to meet them, have our picture taken with them, and the thing my
daughter remembers from that is that she got to see both “Socks,” the cat,
and—oh boy, it’s a chocolate lab, I can’t remember what the dog’s name
was.2 It will come to me. But they were out on the lawn. She was six at
the time, and she said she remembers it, but what she remembers in
particular was seeing the pets on the White House lawn. I would not have
2 “Buddy” was the name of President Clinton’s first chocolate-colored Labrador Retriever.
gotten invited to the White House with my daughter were I not Managing
Partner of the firm. So those things were a kick.
But it was very intensive and very, very stressful for me. I just
internalized everything, and I felt personally responsible for the firm. It is
very different from being a lawyer where you may take your clients’
problems very seriously, but they are not your problems. These were my
problems, and, you know, when the firm did badly in an associate survey
and it had horrible quotes from our associates, it was painful—you don’t
like to read about the institution that you are helping to lead being trashed.
The firm’s public image was very important to me. The firm’s finances
were very important to me. I worried about things. But it was
exhilarating too. I was interested in and challenged by the work. I
thought the job was a very good fit for me for many years. Eventually, I
concluded that it wasn’t anymore, but for the majority of the years that I
served as Managing Partner, I felt like a round peg in a round hole. I do
recall, in 1997, I was contacted about an opening as general counsel at one
of the major pharmaceutical companies that since has merged into others,
and my response was, “I think I have the best job in the world already.
I’m not interested in making a move.” That was an honest expression of
the way I felt.
MR. SHAH: Did you still have an active caseload during the years that you served as
Managing Partner?
MR. SANDMAN: It diminished over time, which was surprising to me. I started with the
goal of practicing half-time, and I thought that, as I got more experienced
in the management role, I’d be able ratchet that up. The opposite
happened. It happened for a few reasons. One, the firm grew a lot during
those years and expanded geographically, so the size of the job grew. But,
second, it’s very difficult to maintain and expand client relationships if
you’re in a senior position in a firm and have limited time available. So
when I started out, I had an active caseload and I was able to continue
working on those matters. But as the cases that I was working on when I
became Managing Partner gradually got resolved or went away for
whatever reason, the challenge was replacing it.
And it was particularly difficult to maintain a case load as a
litigator. I did continue to litigate for several years, but I remember
around 1998 I had a period of three solid weeks of depositions, and it took
me months to recover from that. To be out of circulation within the
firm—I realized, “I can’t do that anymore. I can’t maintain the schedule,
the unpredictable schedule that I can’t control as a litigator, and be
Managing Partner.” So, if I wasn’t going to litigate, what was I going to
do? And what happened was that my counseling role with Philip Morris
turned out to be very well-suited to my work as Managing Partner. That
was something that involved, you know, talking on the telephone and
going to meetings, but not being on the road for three weeks at a time, out
of the office on depositions. And other client relationships where I could
advise worked best for me.
But I couldn’t, starting with only limited time available, really fill
up my plate with new clients and new work as an advisor and a counselor.
So, my last years as Managing Partner, I was practicing only about ten
percent of my time. I think my clients would have told you that it was
significantly more. I tried to follow the lesson of my mentor, David
Kentoff, and be available to them and accessible and responsive to them. I
think they would have estimated that I spent a significantly larger
percentage of my time on their work. But they were aware that I did have
limited availability and I’m sure that affected how often they called me
and for what kind of work. I did think it was important to continue to
practice, both personally and as a law firm manager. I didn’t want to get
out of the practice because if you do, it’s very difficult to get back in. And
I also think that if you’re managing a professional services firm, you
should be out there dealing with clients and providing the service that your
colleagues do, rather than being dependent on others to tell you what’s
going on out there in marketplace that you serve. I think it also was
important for me to be a consumer of the services that the firm provided to
its lawyers. So, for example if I was having trouble getting a FedEx
package out, chances were that some other people at the firm were having
problems getting FedEx packages out. I thought that perspective was
important and very useful to me. And I like being a lawyer.
MR. SHAH: Can you take us through a typical week, if such a week existed as
Managing Partner? Did you find that you had a particular schedule that
you adhered to most weeks or was it just putting out fires and reacting to
what was going on?
MR. SANDMAN: A lot of it was unpredictable. I did have some regular meetings. The
Management Committee met on a regular basis. The Policy Committee
met on a regular basis. I was elected to the firm’s Partner Compensation
Committee in 1999. I hadn’t wanted to be on that committee before then
and refused to stand for election, but eventually concluded that part of the
job of being a law firm manager is to deal with partner compensation. So
I did that from 1999 on and that was very time-consuming in the fall of
each year. I was on the New Partners Committee, which also met in the
fall of each year. The fall was a very, very busy, hard time. That was also
the budgeting season for the firm—preparing the firm’s budget for the
next year, making decisions about rates. So, some of the work was
seasonal. I could predict fairly well what my schedule was going to be
like in October, November, and December of each year. Other months of
the year, except for some regular committee meetings, it was much more
ad hoc, just often very unpredictable and reactive.
MR. SHAH: Did you find that you still had a lot of the associate contact during these
MR. SANDMAN: Oh, absolutely, I did. I thought that was important, and it was. One of my
thoughts on diversity issues is that making a law firm a good place to work
for everybody will help you in your diversity efforts. Conversely, making
a law firm a good place to work for women and lawyers of color is going
to make it a good place to work for white males too. And savvy white
males know that. And when I would interview on law school campuses, I
would be asked as often about diversity of the firm by white males as I
would be by women and lawyers of color—by savvy people who
recognize what that reflected about institutional culture and quality of life
I made a point of getting to know every summer associate in the
firm—getting to know them by name—and worked every year to be able
to introduce them at a lunch without notes by name and by law school
because I thought that it was important that they know that even though it
was a big law firm, they weren’t anonymous, that somebody knew their
name, that I knew their name, and that, if they came to the firm, there were
going to be individuals looking out for them, and that they had points of
connection within the institution. And then I worked to try to maintain
that once people came to the firm. So I tried to go to every associate event
there was. I went to every farewell party. I spent a lot of time out. It took
a toll on my family and, in retrospect, I spent too much time on that, but I
felt that the firm was kind of in crisis mode in dealing with these human
capital issues and that it needed to be turned around, and that I personally
needed to play a role in doing that. So, absolutely. I have a lot of
Facebook friends who are former associates or people still at Arnold &
Porter (laughter).
MR. SHAH: Can you talk about the intersection of law and politics in D.C.? You were
leading a very prominent law firm in D.C. during pretty exciting years
MR. SANDMAN: Yeah, you know, it would come up often just in terms of the revolving
door—the partners and associates of the firm regularly going into
government. The firm would typically lose significantly more people to
Democratic administrations than Republican ones—a number of people
went into the Clinton administration—and when people were coming out
of the government, that was often a very important source of high-quality
lateral partner recruits, giving the firm an ability to expand its practice in
areas that were important to it. Bill Baer, for example, a partner in the
firm, went in to head the Bureau of Competition at the Federal Trade
Commission in about 1995, I think. He stayed there for five years, I
think—at least up until that point he was the longest-tenured director of
that Bureau—and then returned to the firm. We had to recruit him back
though because everybody else wanted him, and it was great for the firm
to be able to get Bill back.
It affects the practice of a Washington-based firm enormously that
you are at the seat of government. Changes in regulatory developments
are felt in the ebb and flow of business. During the Regan administration,
for example, antitrust enforcement was down. Washington firms that were
heavily reliant on antitrust practices saw their practices shrink
dramatically, and there were some very highly regarded antitrust boutiques
that went out of business during that period. Howrey, which had been a
very heavily antitrust-weighted firm, had serious difficulties in the 1980s,
but came back. Arnold & Porter has a substantial financial institutions
regulatory practice and that practice benefits a lot from changes in the law.
Right now, for example, I suspect that there are a lot of very busy financial
institutions lawyers at Arnold & Porter dealing with the new legislation.3
And a firm has to be able to adapt to that. If you’re too heavily invested in
regulatory areas that can be affected by changes in administration policy
or legislation, you can be vulnerable. Being diversified in regulatory
practice is important. So in all of those ways it affected the business of the
MR. SHAH: And were you politically active at all during these years?
MR. SANDMAN: I wasn’t, really. I mean, I voted and I contributed, but other than that I
wasn’t politically active. I had way too much on my plate (laughter).
MR. SHAH: During these years as Managing Partner, were the people at Arnold &
Porter that you sought out for advice largely the same colleagues that you
mentioned in earlier interviews or did that change a bit?
MR. SANDMAN: Mike Sohn was Chairman of the firm for almost all of the time that I was
Managing Partner, and we were a very close team and he was enormously
helpful to me. We complemented each other very nicely. He has great
3 On July 21, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law a financial regulatory reform bill totaling
approximately 2,300 pages.
strategic vision, he’s very, very smart, and was happy to leave the details
of the management of the firm to me and he let me do what I wanted to do.
He gave me the impression that keeping me happy was important to him
and working with him was a great pleasure and I just learned a lot from
him. If we were meeting on something and I needed to get his input on
something or make a recommendation to him, I knew I had to be very
well-prepared because he was going to ask me the hard questions—he was
going to see right through the middle of the issue, no sloppy thinking with
Mike—and that was good discipline for me. So I’d say that Mike was one
of them, and a couple of others. Judy Hurley is the Executive Director of
the firm. I appointed her Executive Director three weeks after I became
Managing Partner and she was just a godsend to me in terms of the
breadth of her talent and her ability to get things done so that I didn’t have
to worry about them. She had been the firm’s Chief Financial Officer, so
her background was in accounting and finance, but she did many more
things than that. And Richard Alexander—I appointed him to the
Management Committee around the beginning of 1995, and Richard is a
real problem-solver. I could count on him to handle very difficult issues
across the spectrum of subjects, and he lightened my load. Just exactly the
kind of person you want to have as a teammate in dealing with challenging
work. And I had a lot of contact with the senior administrative staff of the
firm and throughout the offices of the firm. I liked that a lot. I liked them
personally and respected the work that they did.
MR. SHAH: And were there particular mentors that you had within the D.C. Bar, but
outside of Arnold & Porter, during these years?
MR. SANDMAN: Yes, I came to know a number of people—it’s hard to single out mentors
where we had a close, personal relationship—but I learned a lot just by
observing people and from my exposure to and interactions with them.
David Isbell, for example, and his work chairing on Sexual Orientation
Task Force. Katherine Mazzaferri is the Executive Director of the Bar and
is really the continuity within the Bar because there are term limits for all
the elected volunteer positions in the Bar. John Cruden was President of
the Bar while I was President-elect and I just learned a lot from tagging
along with him for a year. Managing partners of other law firms—Bill
Perlstein at Wilmer, Bob Ruyak at Howrey, Bruce McLean at Akin
Gump—there were a variety of capacities in which I dealt with them and
learned from them.
There are several other people I regarded as mentors—people who
are very important to me. Esther Lardent is President of the Pro Bono
Institute and she is brilliant. She has been a real change agent in
increasing the amount of pro bono work done by big law firms and by
corporate legal departments. She’s never worked in a law firm or a
corporate legal department, but she understands the business of law firms
better than many law firm partners I know. She’s devoted her life to pro
bono and I learned a lot from her about pro bono programs and how to run
them and regard her as a hero. Mike Fitz is the Dean of Penn Law School.
He became Dean in about 2000 or 2001 while I was on the Board of
Overseers at Penn Law School, and that’s how I came to know Mike.
There are a lot of similarities between being dean of a law school and
managing partner of a law firm and we have had many interesting
conversations about that. I watched him grow and develop as a dean,
going from being a law professor to being a very successful dean, and
benefitted from watching him do that. And there are a couple of people
who are diversity consultants: Katie Herzog, head of the consulting firm
that we brought in to do diversity training at Arnold & Porter, and Berna
Myers, who is a very perceptive, smart diversity consultant that I respect
enormously, and I had some conversations with her that I learned a lot
from. Those people have been very valuable to me.