Otis Landerholm / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect.
Founding attorney of a successful immigration law firm based in Oakland, California. He wants to change the world by defending the rights of immigrants. He speaks both Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, in addition to the King’s English. He is the author of several books. And of great interest to me, he hosts the empowered immigrant podcast, Otis Landerholm, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Otis Landerholm: Louis, thank you so much.
Louis Goodman: Well, [00:01:00] I’ll tell you, it’s really interesting having you on because not only are you an attorney, but you’re also a podcaster. So I want to talk about all of those things as we go forward this afternoon.
Otis Landerholm: Yeah. Thank you. And it’s a real pleasure to be doing this with you. I love that you also are a podcaster and a lawyer.
I don’t think that there’s that many of us, so yeah, this is an absolute pleasure.
Louis Goodman: I don’t know, you do some internet Googling. You might be surprised.
Otis Landerholm: Probably more by the day, right?
Louis Goodman: I think so. Yeah. Well, when you’re not podcasting, what kind of Law Practice do you have?
Otis Landerholm: Right. So we are an Immigration Law Firm based in Oakland, as you said there, and thank you for that introduction.
And we specifically within Immigration Law, we focus on Deportation Defense. And so we love the complex immigration cases where, nobody else [00:02:00] wants to take them. And there’s deportation proceedings involved and immigration is coming at four in the morning and knocking on our client’s door and looking to enforce immigrant laws.
And we like to fight for people and like to fight so that people can stay in the U S
Louis Goodman: How big is your firm in terms of employees?
Otis Landerholm: We have 19 employees.
Louis Goodman: Wow.
Otis Landerholm: And so, yeah, so quite a few staff. Of those three or three aside from myself are Attorneys. So I guess, including me, there’s four total attorneys.
Louis Goodman: Where are you from originally?
Otis Landerholm: I was born in Washington state. Just North of Seattle. And I had quite a, I would say a diverse childhood. So my father was the pastor of a church. He was the pastor of the United Methodist church where I grew up. And then [00:03:00] when I was three years old, we as a family moved up to Alaska.
Louis Goodman: Where in Alaska, did you move to?
Otis Landerholm: We lived in a little town that hardly shows up. It might show up on maps nowadays, but it’s called Kiski, Alaska and it’s on, what’s called the Kenai Peninsula, just South of Anchorage. Sure yeah, I’ve since gone back to visit a few times, I have a lot of very fond memories from when I was a young child. I was there from what I was three to when I was 11. And so, yeah, I’ve gone back a few times. I took my wife back a few years ago and had great fun to visit kind of the old stomping grounds there in Alaska. But one of the things that I think that that meant for me was a, it got me comfortable meeting with and speaking to, and getting to know people from other cultural backgrounds.
Louis Goodman: Where did you go to high school?
Otis Landerholm: Oh yeah. So after Alaska, [00:04:00] we moved back down to a place in Washington State and I lived in a town called Vancouver, Washington.
Louis Goodman: Right by Portland?
Otis Landerholm: Right. Exactly. So yeah, not to be confused with Vancouver, British Columbia, but yeah, Vancouver, Washington, and that’s where I went to high school. That’s also, I went to middle school. Had a great time there as well.
Louis Goodman: So how was your experience at the high school in Vancouver?
Otis Landerholm: Oh, I loved it. Yeah. I was very involved in all kinds of things. So I played football, basketball and track. And my best athletic event was at the Triple Jump.
I actually set our high school’s, freshman record in the Triple Jump So I was interested in athletics. What I was also interested in lots of other things. I was in a high school government. I was actually the senior class president [00:05:00] and I did a program that was a very rigorous academic program also. So I was sort of like a nerd and a jock and a, you know, school government person all melted into one.
Louis Goodman: What’s the Triple Jump?
Otis Landerholm: The Triple Jump is an event in track.
Louis Goodman: And what position did you play on the football team?
Otis Landerholm: I was a tight end and did a little bit of various positions on defense linebacker, things like that. But I really liked offense. I liked to score touchdowns.
Louis Goodman: I guess. So after you got done scoring touchdowns and jumping in high school, where did you go to college?
Otis Landerholm: Right. So I ended up going to Washington State University. Which is in Pullman, Washington. It’s in Eastern Washington.
Louis Goodman: Right. And they’re the Cougars, right?
Otis Landerholm: The cougars. Yeah. That’s right. Go Cougs. If there’s any Cougar fans out there, I’m sure they’re around. Every once in a [00:06:00] while you run into one.
Right. But yeah, so I graduated from Washington State University. I ended up getting two degrees there, one in what they call Foreign Languages and Cultures. It’s basically their Linguistics Degree. And the other degree I have is in Philosophy.
Louis Goodman: Well, yeah, philosophy that’s, I’m always impressed by people who are philosophers.
Otis Landerholm: I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m much of a philosopher really, but I did get a degree in it.
Louis Goodman: Now after college, did you take some time off before you went to law school or did you go right into law school after you graduated?
Otis Landerholm: Yeah. Well, when I was in college, you know, my freshman year of college actually was when 911 happened.
And so I remember being there and I remember, you know, the twin towers falling. And I remember I was like, I was studying philosophy. I was like, gosh, I’ve got to get to the bottom of this. I’ve gotta like, figure out what are [00:07:00] all the problems in the world? Right. And so part of that was like, okay, I started really getting the travel bug.
And when I was in college, I decided to study abroad. I studied abroad twice in my Undergraduate Degree, first in Spain and then in Argentina and really I was going, I wanted to really get good at Spanish. And so, yeah. Yeah, that’s what I did. And then after graduating then I, I still had the travel bug in me.
And so yes, I took time off in between College and Law School. But what I did with that time off is first I went to Japan for one year, cause I had, you know, I’d been in Europe when I was in Spain and I traveled quite a bit in Europe and then I’d been in Argentina to study Spanish, but I traveled all through South America, you know, through Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, I went all over the place and so I [00:08:00] hadn’t ever been to Asia and I was like, well man, you gotta go check out Asia.
And so I went to Japan for one year and I was teaching English and studying some Japanese. I was playing guitar and doing some other fun stuff. And then I went to China for two years and I really, I really fell in love with China and decided to really go for learning Mandarin. Before figuring out what I really wanted to do with my life, which back then, I wasn’t sure what that would be, but I did decide to apply for Law School and then got in.
I didn’t do as well as maybe I would have loved to have done on the LSATs, but I got into Golden Gate University in San Francisco. And started there in 2007, I think it was. And I had an outstanding [00:09:00] experience in Law School.
Louis Goodman: Tell me about that outstanding experience.
Otis Landerholm: You know, I, I didn’t know whether or not Law School would be for me, and I can tell you the backstory there. My grandfather was a lawyer. And actually, if you want to know the cool truth about my history, my grandmother was a lawyer. Wow. So she was one of the first women to graduate from a University Oregon Law School. Okay. And I think she was, I think she was the second woman to graduate from U of O School of Law. And so that was pretty cool. Well, so I had a lot of lawyers in my family. In fact, my Aunt is a Judge. My brother’s an attorney. I’ve got cousins who are lawyers. And my grandfather was the founding attorney of the largest law firm in Vancouver, Washington.
Louis Goodman: Graduated from college. You’ve spent a year working [00:10:00] in teaching in Japan. You’ve spent a couple of years in China. You’ve learned Mandarin. I mean, what is it that kind of got you to say, Hey, you know, I want to go back to the United States and be a Lawyer.
Otis Landerholm: Well, so the truth is, I wasn’t exactly sure if I wanted to be a lawyer or not, but I did have this burning question.
It wasn’t whether or not to practice law. The question that I had was, Hey, you know, something I have now traveled in over 25 different countries. I have lived in five different countries, Spain, Argentina, Japan, China, and then Ecuador. I was actually in Law School. I did a legal internship in Ecuador and I’ve traveled to all these places and it was very simple.
For me to be able to travel to each of these places, you know, get a visa, [00:11:00] get it in my passport, get on an airplane, fly there in China, it took a couple of days is for them to switch my visa to a work visa in Japan. It was a little bit more of a process. All right. But not really a big deal, not really a big deal.
And at the same time, there are thousands, thousands, thousands of people who die trying to enter the United States. And it’s like, so insanely difficult to get a visa or to get a permit or to get some kind of access to the United States. And it just had me wondering this big question, like, why is it so simple?
For some people like you or I to travel pretty much wherever we want to on planet earth and yet, why is it so insanely difficult [00:12:00] for the vast majority of people on planet earth to do the same thing? And that was like the question that I was like, okay, I should go to law school if for no other reason, maybe I don’t want to be a lawyer, but I want to figure out the answer to that question.
Louis Goodman: Interesting.
Otis Landerholm: And I found out the answer.
Louis Goodman: Alright. And what is it?
Otis Landerholm: I mean, the answer is simple, right? And you do learn about it in Law School. And it’s like, look, the reason that there’s this difference where it’s so easy for some people to travel so hard for so many other people to travel is because we’ve got a legal system that creates that difference.
Louis Goodman: Well, what was your first legal job actually?
Otis Landerholm: So during Law School, I did a lot of different internships. All right. With the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office with a couple of small Immigration firms locally, you know, even with a [00:13:00] PI Attorney, I did an internship, but if you want to know my real first job, I’m in it right now, right out of law school, you know?
So. I took the bar exam whenever that was in July. We were getting bar results in November, but by the end of July, and, you know, as I was studying for bar exam, my wife and I found out we were expecting our first child. And so then it was like, okay, awesome. So then we’re waiting for bar results, but I was applying for different jobs and things like that, but really what it was is I was working as like a Law Clerk for an Immigration firm.
I’m just a solo practitioner here in the Bay Area. And I was like, you know, I can do this.
Louis Goodman: What do you like about practicing law? I mean, you’re someone who, you know, just seems to really have a lot of enthusiasm about it.
Otis Landerholm: You know, I didn’t [00:14:00] know how much I would love it. I love it. I love being a lawyer.
I loved law school even. I really enjoy rational debate kind of back and forth of how are we going to argue this? How are we going to present that? How are we going to, you know, how are we going to convince this judge? Right. How are we going to, you know, negotiate a way, these couple of issues with the Department of Homeland Security, how, you know, I love strategy and immigration lies.
No, it’s no simple, lots of being up against the Department of Homeland Security is no easy adversary, but I have learned to love it. Part of it also is we make such an impact on our client’s lives that, you know, when we win in court, it’s like, we’re the [00:15:00] hero. And it really makes a tremendous difference in the lives of our clients.
And it’s such a great feeling.
Louis Goodman: Would you recommend it as a career to a young person?
Otis Landerholm: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that globally, there is still a huge interest in coming to the United States. Like we have something in the United States that is uncommon in the rest of the world.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I mean, I think right now, you know, there’s, you know, there’s so much going on and there’s so much negativity and, you know, the whole thing with COVID and the politics and everything, but really America is, I mean, I think it’s a very special place.
And I mean, , you know, I hear you saying it, but I consider myself a real Patriot and, because of it, it is a place of opportunity and a place where you know, really great things happen for people.
[00:16:00] Otis Landerholm: You know, and I see it. I see it when we win a case, for example, for an immigrant family, who’s been trying to make a go of it in the U S and then finally they like have a green card and now they’re able to open a business.
Or now they’re able to study, like they’ve wanted to study forever, or, you know, really do something with their lives. It’s like the opportunity door opens. And it’s a country. Our country that we live in is a country full of opportunities that the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily, I mean, some countries yet, but it’s uncommon.
It’s uncommon. And we are blessed. We are fortunate. We are lucky, whatever language you want to use to live in the U.S.
Louis Goodman: You know, I’m sitting here with a copy of the Empowered Immigrant by Otis Landerholm in my hand. [00:17:00] Okay. And, you know, I haven’t read every word of it yet, but I’ve certainly skimmed a good deal of it.
And you’re a cheerleader and you are a power of positive thinking person. And you’re someone who I don’t know, is almost evangelical in terms of his approach to the practice of law and yourself and your clients. And I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about that.
Otis Landerholm: I love the first word that you used. I do feel like a cheerleader. I am like, yeah. I’m naturally, I think a positive person. I love to smile. I play the guitar. I love to sing songs. But you know, now that I have staff, I do feel like I’m the cheerleader. Like I’m rooting my team on. Right. And I love that we’ve created in my firm a culture that really, [00:18:00] we share our wins and we love to look to the good yeah. And all of our clients. And so, gosh, if you start to address somebody. Somebody’s feelings of self worth or their feelings of self confidence. If you start to address that. And if you fix that issue, then it’s like, Oh my God, their case becomes their cases simple compared to addressing that piece.
Louis Goodman: What do you do to address that piece?
Otis Landerholm: Well so I’m constantly looking for more part of it is our podcast. Part of it is our new book, which thank you for referencing that. But one thing that we’ve started doing for our clients, and this is just, you have to be a client of our firm to receive this, but we do a quarterly, we call it our Client Success Summit.
And this is something that we’ve started to do during Covid, and it’s a [00:19:00] quarterly event. And so we’ve done two, we’ve got our next one coming up here and yeah but we’re going to be doing it and we’ve been getting more and more people in it. And so our Client Success Summit is basically a meeting for our clients where we talk about things that are not their immigration case.
And we talk about how can we succeed? How can we achieve really any goal that we set for ourselves regarding financing, regarding, you know, any area of our lives. And how can we really go for it?
Louis Goodman: I know that goal setting is an important part of your way of looking at the world. And I’ve heard it said that if you said your goal is nothing, you’re going to be bound to hit it.
And so I mean, I agree that setting goals and figuring out how to get there is important. You know, kind of to that end maybe you could talk a [00:20:00] little bit about the business of practicing law. I mean, you’re someone who runs a firm of 20 employees and there’s a payroll to be made every couple of weeks.
And I wonder if you’d talk a little bit about that and how you go about meeting the goal of making that payroll next week.
Otis Landerholm: Right? Yeah, exactly. You know, and I had to grow up in regards to that, and it was not pretty. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows to quote, I think Rocky said that, right?
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, you know. In 2013, two years into opening my firm, I almost lost everything. And I’ll never forget it. I mean, it was like staring bankruptcy, right in the right in the eyes. Cause we were out of credit and I had an attorney at that point and I had an attorney, a paralegal [00:21:00] and an intern and, but I wasn’t managing it.
And really what I wasn’t doing is I wasn’t pricing our services correctly. And I was very much undercharging. I wasn’t valuing myself for the work that we do. And so I was super scared cause I thought I was going to lose it all. And what I did is I took the very last bit of money that I had and I hired a consultant who is like a bit business consultant because obviously they don’t really teach you how to run a business in Law School. And I know a lot of people say that, right, it’s not just a saying it is like, it’s true.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, I know.
Otis Landerholm: And so, yeah, anyway, I ended up hiring a consulting firm to start the process of training me [00:22:00] in growing up and becoming a business owner and being like, if I’m going to stand for empowering our clients, if I’m going to encourage our clients to charge what they’re worth, then I’ve got to charge what I’m worth.
Louis Goodman: With respect to the legal system, do you think that it’s fair?
Otis Landerholm: Oh no.
Louis Goodman: Somehow I thought that would be your answer.
And I asked, I really do ask the question neutrally, but in your case, I sort of suspected that that would be the answer.
Otis Landerholm: The law is so stacked against the majority of people. Yeah, no, there’s, you know, fairness I think was thrown out the window a long time ago, but it’s an interesting question.
Louis Goodman: You are also a podcaster. And how did you decide to start thinking about doing a podcast?
Otis Landerholm: Great. Yeah. Thank you for asking that. My initial [00:23:00] reaction to COVID-19 was calls from clients who are anxious. We’re getting a lot of phone calls from clients who were worried about, okay, immigration is already delayed their cases already taking years and years and years to get an answer.
All right, how is this pandemic going to affect their immigration case? And so what I did is I started having a weekly call. All right. And I did 12 weekly calls for our clients and I did, it was 9:00 AM on Wednesdays. I would do it at 9:00 AM in English, and I would do 9:30 in Spanish. All right. And I would talk about the Corona Virus and I would talk about how it’s affecting the world of immigration.
And I would share one thing that was positive. Share one thing that was happy [00:24:00] that was going on in my life. Or I would interview one client or something like that. Like I would try to do something that wasn’t just doom and gloom, try to keep people relating to each other and communicating with each other and stay active and stay engaged.
Right. And so that’s what I did. I did it for 12 weeks and as I was doing it, clients were responding so well to it. And we were recording them. Right. And you know, and with people’s permission and all of this, we uploaded them to YouTube. I love that we’ve got a YouTube channel. I love putting things on there.
And then we ended up, I ended up being like, Hey, if these are going so well, Why can’t we do this in a different context where it’s potentially beneficial for all immigrants throughout the country or anywhere, not just for clients of our firm. And so that’s why it was really, you know, that [00:25:00] was the lemonade that I squeezed out of the lemons.
Right. Of COVID-19. And we launched our podcast. I want to say the end of June, June 29th. I think it was. And, and it’s been going strong and, we just had our 200th download, so I like that. And then if anybody’s out there listening and you want to check it out, look for the Empowered Immigrants and on any platform and check it out. See what you think.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, I’ll put it in the show notes too. So it’ll be there. Cool. What’s your family life like? What do you,
Otis Landerholm: yeah, so my wife, Wendy is how can I describe Wendy? She was born in Taiwan. She’s an immigrant herself. She immigrated to the U S when she was four years old. And I would describe her as the rock of our family and the PRI would call her the [00:26:00] rock of the whole firm.
Louis Goodman: I ask you this, if you came into some real money, a couple of billion dollars, what would you do with it? Or what would you do? Would you change your life at all? Would it change the way you live?
Otis Landerholm: Yeah. Cool. I would explode our operations. Like you know, my vision, like my 20 years goal in this firm is to have a headquarters and then have 20 satellite offices throughout the Western United States fighting immigration cases. I want to open a branch of my firm outside of every single immigration detention facility.
Louis Goodman: Otis, that’s been a real pleasure talking to you. You’re a fascinating interview. You’ve had so many really interesting experiences in your life, and you obviously have a lot of interesting experiences ahead of you. So I appreciate your coming on the pod. And I [00:27:00] look forward to listening to your podcast as well.
Otis Landerholm: Louis, thank you so much. And thank you for not only the invitation to be here with you today, but thank you for what you are doing. You know, connecting the legal community, connecting us lawyers. I love, you know, we lawyers sometimes we feel like we’re alone in our own battles in our own offices, whatever, but we are a stand that lawyers are not alone.
And you’re really building something generous and something amazing for our community. So thank you for your work.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests contributed their time and wisdom and making this show possible. Thanks to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for the technical support and Tracey Harvey, I’m Louis Goodman.
[00:28:00] Otis Landerholm: ask your employer for a raise. You know, even if you don’t have immigration status, go ask your employer for a raise. Why? Because you’re a human being and you’re worth it.
Otis Landerholm / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript