Hans Sperling / Louis Goodman – Transcript

Hans Sperling / Louis Goodman – Transcript

Louis Goodman 00:03
Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to attorneys about their lives and careers. I’m Louis Goodman. Today I’m talking with attorney Hans Sperling, the founder and principal of the Sperling Law Corporation, a firm that helps businesses close large transactions while protecting their legal rights. Hans has worked in Europe and Japan and was the senior managing editor of the Tulane Maritime Law Journal. He is an expert when overseas business comes calling.

Hans Sperling, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.

Hans Sperling 00:44
Thanks Louis, how you doing?

Louis Goodman 00:46
I’m doing well. Thanks so much for being on the podcast today. Where are you talking to us from right now?

Hans Sperling 00:53
Downtown Los Angeles.

Louis Goodman 00:54
Is that where your office is?

Hans Sperling 00:57
Yes. Yes.

Louis Goodman 00:58
And how long have you been there?

Hans Sperling 01:00
I’ve been here since about 2008. So, what’s that? 12, 14 years already.

Louis Goodman 01:06
I gave a brief introduction of your practice, but perhaps you could tell us in your words what your practice is about.

Hans Sperling 01:13
So, I’m basically, you know, a corporate transactional lawyer so I do the legal work for businesses. I think of myself as a deals lawyer because everyone, you know, kind of understands that. I have a lot of background with international, as you mentioned in the introduction, international deals, mainly from Japan because I lived there for seven years and before being a lawyer, I also lived and worked other places, mainly in Europe, but also elsewhere in Asia.

Louis Goodman 01:36
Where are you from originally?

Hans Sperling 01:37
Well, I was born in Switzerland, but I’m not Swiss. My parents are American, and they lived there, but from the time I was, you know, a kid, three to maybe, I guess 13 or so, two to 13, we were in Pennsylvania. Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Louis Goodman 01:53
And where’d you go to high school?

Hans Sperling 01:54
In Lancaster Catholic High School.

Louis Goodman 01:56
in Lancaster, Pennsylvania?

Hans Sperling 01:59
Right, right. That’s where I started. And then my father was in the foreign service. He was a diplomat. He got out, that’s when, why we were in Pennsylvania that he went back in. So I actually finished high school in Mexico at a school called Peterson Lo High School, Mexico City.

Louis Goodman 02:16
Wow. And Lancaster has a very, I dunno, it’s sort of an Amish area, isn’t it?

Hans Sperling 02:22
Yeah, exactly.

Louis Goodman 02:24
Well, it’s just interesting that you were born in Switzerland, and you had this kind of European upbringing, and then you’re in the middle of Pennsylvania in this very Amish, you know, very kind of different sort of world than most of America. And so, I just find that interesting in terms of your background and upbringing.

Hans Sperling 02:49
Yeah, I mean, in retrospect at least, I feel very lucky that I had this kind of, you know, rural, like very American experience. You know, we had five acres of land with, there was a cow pasture on one side and a cornfield on another side, and wood on the other side, and it was very stable. It was a good, you know, for that time period in your life until I was about 13 and then my father went back into the State Department, and we started moving every couple years. So, it was really, you know, I got to see these two worlds that, in retrospect, I think was really great.

Louis Goodman 03:23
It must have been very different going from Lancaster, Pennsylvania to Mexico City.

Hans Sperling 03:30
It really was. And you know, I had no idea what to expect. But I actually loved it. You know, Mexico City, obviously it’s a huge city, but when you’re there, your parents are with the Embassy, you know, you live in a very nice part of the city. You go to, you know, a private school and, you know, and frankly it was easier school, it was easier. I’d been in Catholic school in Pennsylvania, which is quite, at least it was then, you know, academically and competitive. The private school is here, it’s just a little easier. My grades went up and didn’t have to wear a uniform and my money went far. You know, you get an allowance, and you work over summers and you’ve got money to go out. So, I had a great time there. I don’t know how safe it is now. You had to be careful even then. But for a boy for someone my age in my position, it was really a great time and a great kind of eye-opener to a lot of things. You know, how the world really worked outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Louis Goodman 04:25
Well, I think one needs to keep one’s wits about them in any big city. But the thing that I was amazed at when I first went to Mexico City was what a huge capital city it is in a very European sense and in my view it is the most impressive city in North America in terms of what a city looks like and what a capital looks like. And I, you know, I mean there’s, there’s a lot of great cities in North America, but I think Mexico City, just far and away the most impressive city that you could go to in North America.

Hans Sperling 05:09
Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s fair to say. I mean, obviously there’s, you know, a lot of poverty and a huge gap between rich and poor and security issues and all that. But yeah, it was, I mean, you say European, you know, a lot of people I knew classmates, their houses had been designed by, you know, they have little plaque and have the name of some French or Italian architect who designed the house and other buildings as well. Even the US embassy that are kind of extraordinary, it was built, I think in the fifties or sixties. So, it’s a bit old.

But yeah, it’s restaurants, you know, all different kinds of restaurants and you could afford ’em. And in a lot of ways, at least if you’re in, you know, that socioeconomic group or recently well, it’s, it’s quite a kinda sophisticated city.

Louis Goodman 05:56
Well, after you graduated from high school in Mexico City, where did you, where’d you go to college?

Hans Sperling 06:01
So, we moved to Munich, Germany, and the University of Maryland used to have a campus there, University of Maryland, Munich Campus. And it was on a military, on an army base, US army base. And it was mostly military kids, kids of military, and also kids of civilian employees of military and there were a few other oddball people like me who either worked for a big American company like a guy I knew father worked for, I think Ford there and then people just like me. My father worked at the American counselor, and it was a two year campus, so I went there and did an associate arts degree in international relations.

Louis Goodman 06:37
Again, another really big move, big change. I’m sure that going to school at a, you know, with US Army kids was a big difference from going to school with, you know, kids in Mexico City. So, what did that feel like, that change?

Hans Sperling 06:54
Again, no idea what to expect, but really enjoyed it. Munich is different from other German cities. It’s capital Bavaria southern state, which is, you know, that’s where Oktoberfest is, and it’s about just Oktoberfest. There’s some kind of fence going on, but almost the whole year. So, you know, it’s a bit of a. I don’t wanna say party town in kind of a college sense, but a city that celebrates, you know, all the time and the beer capital of the world.

I remember someone telling me when I was there that there are more breweries in Bavaria, that state than in all the rest of the world combined. And you would pass them. I remember one subway stops, we’d go by, we’d go by one of the glory and, and a very strong smell came off. Actually, not a very good smell, but there’s all that and museums, art museum. It’s actually a great place to spend your first two years of college.

Louis Goodman 07:47
Now you got your AA degree there and presumably you went on and got a bachelor’s degree someplace. Did you take some time off between the time you got the AA and the time you finished your bachelor’s?

Hans Sperling 08:03
I did, in fact. Yes.

Louis Goodman 08:04
What did you do?

Hans Sperling 08:04
At that point my mother was in the Philippines in Manila. She was working at the American Embassy. My parents were separated by then, and so I went there and I worked as a civilian employee of the Air Force for two years at the American Embassy.

Louis Goodman 08:18
Well, what did you think of Manila? I mean, I just, I’m just like amazed at your travels in your young adulthood.

Hans Sperling 08:28
I’ll tell you this anecdote. I was working, probably driving somewhere with my boss. So we were just chatting while we were driving and he said, he asked me, you know, typical conversation in that group, you know, where have you been posted before? And I said Mexico and Munich and he said, well, which one did you prefer? And I said, you know, I have to say Mexico, because it was just, you know, free, life was good, life was easy, and kind of do what you wanted. And, and he was shocked because in that kind of milieu, everyone wants to go to Western Europe. In fact, it’s hard to get stationed in Western Europe. And so I told him, yeah. and Manila, for me, was a lot like Mexico City.

Louis Goodman 09:08
Yeah, I think so. Yeah. I love Manila. I think it’s an incredible place.

Hans Sperling 09:14
I had a great time there. And again, you know, I was at the bottom of the ladder, you know, in kind of the hierarchy of, you know, government. But the money I made in Manila, you know, I could live well. The best thing was, you know, I had always wanted to scuba dive. I watched the Jacques Cousteau films when I was young and when I got to the Philippines, then you could do it, I found an instructor easily. I could afford it during not raining season, you know, I would go maybe every second or third weekend we’d go to and dive. But you could do the whole weekend for 30, 40 bucks.

Louis Goodman 09:50
Wow. So you worked in the Philippines for a couple of years and then you went to college?

Hans Sperling 09:59
Yep. I went to Paris and I went to the American University of Paris, which is exactly what it sounds like. Small liberal arts college, American accredited and was there for two years and got a bachelor’s in International Affairs.

Louis Goodman 10:18
Now, at some point you decided that you were gonna go to law school, so did you take time off between college and law school or did you go right from American University in Paris to a law school?

Hans Sperling 10:31
Yeah, no, exactly. I took time off. First I studied one more year. I went to the Sorbonne after graduating the American University, just to study French language mainly, and culture and kind of get my French up to a certain level. Cause after two years, for me anyways, it’s not enough to get that good at the language. So I did that. Also, I was waiting for a job. I interviewed for a job at OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that’s based in, it’s an intergovernmental organization based there, and I’d interviewed and they wanted to hire me, but they, they didn’t have funding yet. So I kind of made the excuse of studying another year, getting my French up and wait for them to get funding. And eventually came through, took about, you know, that year that I was in at the Sorbonne and so then I was there for three years at the OECD in their environment directorate, they called it.

Louis Goodman 11:27
Now, at some point you decided that you wanted to be a lawyer, that you wanted to go to law school. What was it that prompted you to decide, that’s my career path?

Hans Sperling 11:41
In my undergrad program we had to take one course in international law and the guy who taught it was an American lawyer. He was like an adjunct, you know, he was working during the day at the International Energy Agency and then, you know, he would take some time out to come and teach it. But I just found it fascinating. I’ve always liked researching and writing so that seemed like it was a good fit.

I kind of liked the, you know, he would often bring in news articles that talked about international law and then analyze them and we’d analyze them in class. It’s kind of interesting to me that a lot of times they were wrong. You know? You actually kind of applied the law and work through it. They were either, you know, greatly simplified or they just kind of didn’t get it right. So I had this feeling of international law or law as kind of letting me see behind the curtain, kind of see things that everyone can’t see. And I was, I was attracted to that too.

And in particular, a lot of these cases that we read, you know, because they were borderline cases, that’s why they’re interesting cases to read, they oftentimes involved shipping. You know, something happens on a ship, what law applies? You know, the ship is in port, is it different? That kind of thing. So I got interested in maritime law, so I actually focused on that in law school. That was a big draw for me. Also, I was working at OECD on international environmental law, so that was also something I wanted to explore at law school or see if I wanted to.

Louis Goodman 13:12
So where did you go to law school?

Hans Sperling 13:15
I went to Tulane in New Orleans.

Louis Goodman 13:18
Why Tulane in New Orleans given that you have, you know, I mean, you could go anywhere. I mean, you know, why did you choose Tulane in New Orleans? And one of the reasons I ask is I got into Tulane Law School in New Orleans, and I gave some thought to going there. I ended up not going there, but it’s always been a school that’s interested me.

Hans Sperling 13:45
The main reason was the maritime law. They have by far the best maritime law program in the US.

Louis Goodman 13:53
Yeah, I’ve heard that.

Hans Sperling 13:54
One of the top. Yeah. And I would say one of the top three, or maybe five, but probably top three in the world. For example, University of San Francisco Law School, at that time, I don’t know if it changed, they had the second best and they had I think like four or five maritime involved classes. Tulane had 20-25. Wow. So basically I did one, one year out of the three years of law school, one year with all maritime law. I was on the Maritime Journal. The other reasons that I went there were I wanted to explore environmental law, especially international, and they have a very strong program in that, and international and comparative law, which they also are strong in.

Now, in those areas, there’s other schools that are as strong, but maritime law, that’s far and away the best. So I got in also, you know, to be honest, you come, like you say, I was traveling and living all these different places and I didn’t really want to go to a great law school that was in a regular old city, you know, kind of get used to moving every couple years and everything is new and fascinating.

And so for me, I was attracted to, you know, New York, San Francisco, LA or you know, New Orleans. It’s a unique city and actually Louisiana has the French civil code. You know, the French colony before. So, and they still, they still use it. So, it actually wasn’t, you know, wasn’t kind of far out as it sounded, you know, relative to my background.
In fact, I’m, I’m kind of lucky at the guy who’d gone to my university, American University, who also worked in OECD, I think we got together for lunch one time and, and he was applying to law school and he mentioned Tulane, and that was the first I’d ever heard of it.

Louis Goodman 15:42
Now, when you graduated from law school, you obviously went and worked and did some different things in the legal profession. Now you run this firm that does a lot of work in international law and international business in Los Angeles and I’m wondering if you could, you know, briefly walk us through your career path from the time you got out of law school to the time that you started working and developing this law practice in Los Angeles and what led you there?

Hans Sperling 16:17
So, I went to San Francisco and, you know, studied for the bar, got a job doing practice support, litigation support while I was studying, so I was there a little under a year. And then I found a job in Tokyo, in Japan. My first job as a lawyer admitted, you know, in fact I was actually admitted technically while I was in, after I arrived in Tokyo by a couple months, two or three months. So yeah, I moved to Tokyo, a small firm, but that did a lot of international work and yeah, moved over there. Stayed at that firm for a couple years with Japanese law firm.

Louis Goodman 16:54
What did you think about living in Japan?

Hans Sperling 16:55
You know, I enjoyed it. I don’t know that I could have done it as well if I had not had that background of moving around and living in different places. For a lot of people, you know, it’s kind of too big of a change and they don’t stay for very long. But I enjoyed it as, as a junior associate, I was, you know, spending a lot of time at the office so I couldn’t spend as much time in Japan, but kind of out doing stuff. But I really enjoyed it. I started doing quite a bit of cycling, one of our cycling to work, and one of our client company had a cycling club. And so the general council invited me. They would, on holidays, they would go on cycling trips. And that’s a really great way to see the country. I mean, to literally see the countryside riding through it on a bike, you know? So now, you know, it’s a huge city. There’s a lot to do. Lots of interesting stuff, you know, and, and there’s fantastic, say Japanese food obviously, but there’s lots of other great food from around the world and all that kind of thing. Quite cosmopolitan, you know, especially in that milieu where you’re meeting international businesspeople as your client and other lawyers, you know, doing the kind of thing that you’re doing.

And yeah, I really enjoyed it. I have to say at that time it was the most expensive city in the world and you felt that, you know, it made New York look cheap. So that was kind of the downside. But, you know, everything has some downside. But yeah, I was there seven years in all very happy with the kind of work that I got to do because, you know, I wanted to do international and being an American lawyer at Japanese firm, I had to do international cause, like I can’t do Japanese law, you know what I mean? I can’t even hear you Japanese. Really? So I, I got everything that I did was international in some way and that was really great. Really enjoyed that.

Louis Goodman 18:40
After your seven years in Japan, where’d you go?

Hans Sperling 18:42
That’s when I came here to Los Angeles. I was at a firm in Long Beach for a while that does a lot of maritime, but I was actually in the corporate group and then I struck out on my own.

Louis Goodman 18:53
When was that?

Hans Sperling 18:54
That would’ve been around, let’s see, 2008, 2009.

Louis Goodman 18:59
Quite the time to be starting a new business.

Hans Sperling 19:02
Yeah. Yeah. Not really great timing on my part, but you know, one nice thing I guess is about being a small firm, you know, there’s advantages and disadvantages, but you know, if you have five really active clients at any active at one time, at least in my experience, you know, you’re busy. You don’t need 50 clients. So it kind of works out that way. But, but yeah, it, it’s been good. Been good. Well, my clients, go ahead.

Louis Goodman 19:28
Well, I wanna just kind of go back to academics and schooling a little bit for this reason, you must have taken the California bar at a later time than most people. And when you were in law school, you must have been older than most of the other people in the law school class?

Hans Sperling 19:47
Right. Absolutely. Yeah.

Louis Goodman 19:49
I’m wondering what your notion about that was and is.

Hans Sperling 19:54
Yeah, so I’d worked two years, you know, in the middle of my college thing, and then three years in Paris. So it’s five years roughly older than a typical student. There were other even older students, but I think the advantage was just that maybe I appreciated it more and I saw it less of kind of I dunno, school and more of education, if that makes sense. But the life thing.

Louis Goodman 20:17
Do you think that all that work experience and time off and being in other places gave you the ability to focus more in law school as a law student?

Hans Sperling 20:28
In a way, yeah, in a way, yeah. I think it let me get something out of it that maybe not some of the younger students couldn’t. I’ll give you an example. Both in Paris and Munich, the colleges had the study tours or cultural tours, they called them. Because we were in the middle of Europe and you go somewhere on our weekend to another European city, somewhere like that, or on a break. And some of them were for credit and there’d be lectures and you know, for example, I went to one called the London Theater Scene and you attended three plays, and you had lectures and then exam, it got one credit. One I think was two or three days. So, I went on a lot of, you know, we thought of them as, you know, people thought of them as easy credit, right? This isn’t like your chemistry class or math class going on this, I don’t remember almost anything from my chemistry class, you know? But those things, they were really an experience that I remember, you know, frankly, that one, the London Theater Scene, I didn’t really care about theater. I just wanted to go to London with a bunch of other students, right? For two or three days. Have a good time. It got me interested in theater. After that I went to theater. Anytime I passed through London, which that used to be how you got cheap flights. Yeah. London, New York. I would stop, stay a night and just walk around the theater district and go to a play or I would go to plays in Paris when I was there. You know, things like that, that really looking back, I’d feel like we’re a big part of like, development as a person. Even though you could say academically, you know, they weren’t as hard as something else.

I’m not sure that something being hard is necessarily better. It can be, but not necessarily.

Louis Goodman 22:07
Speaking of hard things, what bar exam did you take when you graduated from Tulane?

Hans Sperling 22:13

Louis Goodman 22:14
Oh, okay. So you knew you wanted to come and practice law in California at some point?

Hans Sperling 22:19
I always kind of thought, I kind of assumed, I guess I’d go to New York. There was a lot of maritime work there and you know, New York. But as I got closer to graduation, you know, I guess it becomes more real and you say, I took that to myself. Well, do I wanna go to a kind of cold city in the Northeast? I mean, if I don’t know anybody there anyway, why not go to a nice sunny city on the west coast? So in the end, I decided to come to California.

Louis Goodman 22:46
Smart. You’ve had all these experiences and you have ended up practicing law. Being a lawyer, you continue to practice. What is it about practicing law that you really like that has kept you as a practicing attorney?

Hans Sperling 23:04
One reason that I like the analytical work and you know, have you ever seen a movie Devil’s Advocate? There was one really good line I thought. So Al Pacino comes back as, he’s the Devil and he comes back to earth at end of days, right? The world is ending, and he comes back and he’s a lawyer, and at the very end, the hero of the story has him, like you could have come back as anything. Why a lawyer? And Al Pacino said, well, it’s kind of the ultimate backstage pass, isn’t it? Like you get to kind of see how things work, that not everyone can see. And I think that’s a big part of it.

Louis Goodman 23:38
If a young person were just coming out of school thinking about law as a career choice, would you recommend that?

Hans Sperling 23:44
I would not recommend it to them in a blanket way. You know, I would say, I would tell ’em things I like about it, like I was just saying. And I would also tell ’em it’s tough, you know, it’s not for a lot of people.

Louis Goodman 23:59
How has actually practicing law either met or differed from your expectations?

Hans Sperling 24:03
I thought I’d be doing maritime law and like most people who haven’t practiced law, like figured mostly what lawyers do is litigation. Maritime law is the admiralty jurisdiction federal court. So I thought I’d be doing a lot of litigation in federal court, which, you know, I really don’t do. So I think that’s been quite different than what I expected.

Louis Goodman 24:27
What about the business of practicing law? How’s that gone for you? And, you know, perhaps how has that either met or different from your expectations and what sort of business advice can you give to lawyers?

Hans Sperling 24:41
You know, I’ve heard a lot of lawyers say that they should teach marketing in law school, that it should be mandatory should be maybe one of the like first year classes that everyone has to take. Well, I don’t know if that’s a good idea or not, but in a way it would be. Because I can remember even when I was working in practice support right after law school, that they were the big corner offices that had the fancy furniture that was better than every else’s furniture, you know, those were the rainmakers, you know, they may or may not have been the best technical lawyers in the firm or the most knowledgeable. I don’t know, but I don’t, I doubt that they were, you know, they were the rainmakers who had the big client.

Louis Goodman 25:22
Yeah. There’s a guy named Neil Tyra, who does a podcast called The Law Entrepreneur, and he talks about the business of law, and he really feels that it’s just virtual malpractice, that law schools don’t talk about legal marketing and running a business and the importance of being in business for lawyers. I think you’re right.

Hans Sperling 25:50
Yeah. They’d be happier about what they spent to go to law school, you know?

Louis Goodman 25:54
Yeah. I think you’re right. What do you think is the best advice that you’ve ever received?

Hans Sperling 25:58
You know, the details matter. Like that’s a lot of what, you have to see the big picture too. But you know, details are exceedingly important.

Louis Goodman 26:06
What advice would you give to a young person who is just starting out a career as an attorney?

Hans Sperling 26:13
Always be thinking about finding your path. I would advise someone to always keep that in mind and try to make your own path rather than just follow the path that presents itself.

Louis Goodman 26:25
Do you think the legal system is fair?

Hans Sperling 26:27
I can’t say yes in an absolute way. I wouldn’t certainly not say no in an absolute way. You know it. I remember there’s a phrase, I think I heard it in law school at the term, the administration of justice and that term really struck with me because you know you have justice, right, with a capital J like carved into the granite on the courthouse. Sounds big, right? It’s a huge word. And then you have administration, which sounds really sort of bureaucratic and very ordinary, very daily work kind of thing. So that, to me, there was a juxtaposition in that term, and I think that’s really true.

Like, it’s one thing, there is a sort of abstract, there’s some justice and there’s the thing, that problem that you have to be made to work every day through us, either lawyers and judges, and then even clients. And it always comes back to the real world. And the real world is not always perfect or pretty.

Louis Goodman 27:25
How about recreational pursuits? Anything that you enjoy doing when not lawyering?

Hans Sperling 27:29
You know, I think it was guitar. Never got very good, but I thought I really enjoyed that. So I’ve sort of been teaching myself. I kind of retook that up two or three years ago, restarted and I’ve been teaching myself and I really enjoy that.

Louis Goodman 27:42
Let’s say you came into some real money, several billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?

Hans Sperling 27:49
Pay any bills, pay any debt. I might get into some areas of the law that I’m just interested in or, you know, sit down and start writing a book that like, there have been an idea that I may have had for years and just never kind of have time. I think I would do those kinds of things. Yeah.

Louis Goodman 28:10
Let’s say that you had a magic wand. There was one thing in the world that you could change the legal world or otherwise, what would that be?

Hans Sperling 28:17
I guess being in Japan for seven years, they’re much, much less litigious than we are. And I think it’s not just the legal system, it comes from a culture. Their social harmony is much more important to them, and conflict is not, you know, it’s something to be avoided. If everyone could be just a little bit more, a little bit less confrontational, I think that would be a big improvement.

Louis Goodman 28:41
If someone wanted to get in touch with you and your firm, what would be the best way to do that?

Hans Sperling 28:49
I’d say go to my website, sperlinglawcorp, or find me on LinkedIn.

Louis Goodman 28:57
We’ve had a wide-ranging discussion. Is there anything that you wanna talk about that we haven’t touched on?

Hans Sperling 29:03
No, I think we have covered a lot of stuff. It’s been quite interesting. Quite interesting.

Louis Goodman 29:09
Hans Sperling, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast.
It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.

Hans Sperling 29:16
You too. Thanks a lot.

Louis Goodman 29:18
That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and follow the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs and information.

Thanks to my guests and to Joel Katz from music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.

Hans Sperling 29:58
You know, you might aspire to that abstract kind of perfect thing, perfect legal system, but, but you could compare to, uh, well, what’s the alternative?

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