WLALA Profile – The Honorable Sandra Klein
by Andrea Schoor
Kicking off this year’s WLALA theme of “Be The Change,” it was obvious that this month’s newsletter should feature The Honorable Sandra Klein, a lifelong changemaker. Here, in her own words, Judge Klein tells us about her background, career, inspiration, and hope for the future of women in the legal profession.
Judge Klein, You majored in music education at the University of Massachusetts and then went to law school at Loyola. After graduating, you clerked for a District Court judge and a Ninth Circuit Judge, worked at a private law firm and then transitioned into the public sector, spending almost fifteen years with the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ). In the meantime, you earned an MBA at UCLA. How has this breadth and depth of experience, and your incredibly hard work, impacted who you are on the bench and how you run your courtroom?
I strive to be the judge I would want if I were a litigant. I appeared before and worked with some amazing jurists and I model my courtroom demeanor after them. Before hearings, I read all the pleadings, research the applicable law, and am ready to address the key issues, which often can be buried in voluminous filings. I regularly provide litigants with tentative rulings so they know what to expect and can focus their argument on essential matters. During hearings, I invite the parties to explain what I may have overlooked or misunderstood.
Courtesy and efficiency are important to me. I am conscious of the adage that “time is money” and I begin hearings promptly and try to be respectful of everyone’s time. In my courtroom, I expect counsel to appear on time and be prepared to persuade and respond.
Pursuing an M.B.A. allowed me to better understand the complex financial issues that I confronted at the USDOJ. The M.B.A. skill set—and particularly the financial analysis skills—has helped me be a better and more efficient bankruptcy jurist. I enjoy “doing the math” and utilizing financial analyses to understand complicated issues.
How did your childhood shape your career?
I am blessed to be a child of loving parents who both worked inside and outside the home to provide for me and my two siblings. It may seem cliché but my parents taught by example. My dad, a pharmacist, owned a pharmacy. He worked 7 days a week, frequently from dawn to well after dark. He knew his customers, was attentive to their families and was very well-regarded in Winchester, Massachusetts, the small town where he owned the pharmacy for more than 30 years. It was a family business and we all pitched in. After learning to ride a two-wheel bike, I rode my pink stingray all over town delivering prescriptions for my dad. The pay was a dollar an hour and I could keep the tips. This taught me a tremendous amount about courtesy, “good” customer service, listening, and being on time, which I carry with me today.
My mom is inspirational: she taught me that learning is a life-long endeavor and it is never too late to pursue your dreams. She began college at 60 and was 75 when she received her Master’s degree from Harvard.
My courtroom and chambers are essentially a small business but one in which my client is the public. I pride myself on “providing” good customer service. Orders are entered promptly, rulings are clear, and time is valued. It is my privilege to afford the public the opportunity to be heard. And, I love my job because each day I learn something new.
During your time on the bench, have you seen women take increasingly larger roles in the cases on your docket?
I have been on the bench 6 ½ years and in consumer cases, female attorneys appear regularly in my courtroom representing both debtors and creditors. Although the number of women representing large corporate debtors has been rather low, I have noticed a slight increase recently and I hope that this trend continues.
What have been some of your most satisfying moments on the bench?
Presiding over cases with pro se litigants has been rewarding. Federal bankruptcy court is truly the people’s court because approximately 25% of the litigants in my cases are self-represented. Appearing before me may be the only time they have ever stepped foot in courtroom. I have an obligation to explain the process and the law, ensure fairness, and advise the litigants of outcomes with which they might disagree. Sometimes the law does not provide an avenue of relief or an outcome that a litigant might have hoped for. By courteously explaining why the law requires a particular outcome, many of those I have ruled against have sincerely thanked me for listening to them and for explaining why I ruled the way that I did.
You have been a member of WLALA for more than 20 years, on the Board of Governors for 8 years, and have witnessed several generations of female attorneys begin their careers. What are some of the biggest issues you see facing female attorneys today, and what advice do you have for women who are just starting out?
I urge women (and newer lawyers of any gender) to “carpe diem” – seize the day. Learn by watching; learn by reading (treatises, slip opinions, & articles); learn by shadowing those more experienced; learn by questioning; and most importantly, learn by doing. Never say “this is a dumb question” or you are not interested in or willing to do a particular type of work.
There has been much written about having a seat at the table, but to do so, you need to know where the table is, how it is comprised and what the rules are to have a seat. To get into that seat and up the law firm or corporate ladder, a novice must, no matter what:
1. Be prepared. No excuses. Just do it! Immerse yourself in the facts of the case and know them like the back of your hand.
2. Be creative. Do not lose the spark that many lawyers had before law school. Use those creative juices to analogize and distinguish the facts of your case and to come up with creative solutions to problems. Always anticipate and be prepared to confront counter arguments.
3. Accept challenges offered. That means “just say yes” to whatever assignments come your way and show your tenacity and commitment handling all cases and challenges. If you are interested in an area of practice, let people know about your interest and volunteer for work in that area.
4. Be ethical. Know the rules. Your reputation is everything.
5. Do not be afraid to voice your opinion, take a contrary position and participate actively in meetings. If you have an idea, express it with conviction.
6. Allocate time to pro bono activities. No matter how busy you are, it will give you a whole new perspective on life.
7. And finally, find a mentor. Someone who can explain the ropes and provide guidance, encouragement and even a nudge forward. I have been extremely lucky to have a cadre of people to whom I will always be indebted. I must recognize four people who have been my wonderful mentors for so many years: a) Judge Arthur Alarcón, who died much too soon and for whom I clerked on the Ninth Circuit. He taught me that each case is equally important regardless of the dollar amount or complexity because of the impact it will have on the litigants’ lives. b) Judge Lourdes Baird, for whom I clerked on the District Court, who taught me about presiding over a courtroom with dignity, courtesy and grace. c) Professor Laurie Levenson who taught me so many things including how to analyze all sides of an issue, how important it is to write clearly and persuasively, and how powerful it is to know the facts of a case inside and out. d) Julie Werner-Simon, my evidentiary rules guru at the U.S. Attorney’s Office who taught me that our job was to “do justice.”
As someone who does not have children, I am lucky to have a wonderful court family. One of the most fulfilling aspects of being a judge is mentoring my law clerks, externs, and hundreds of law students who I meet each year. I celebrate their successes, both personal and professional. Once part of my chambers, always part of my life.
Which of your many community outreach activities has brought you the most satisfaction?
Community outreach invigorates me!
We recently concluded a contest for high school students with the theme: “Not to be Forgotten: Legal Lessons of the Japanese Internment” and we received more than 300 entries from all over the Central District. The Japanese American National Museum was the perfect backdrop for the contest winners’ reception during which we heard from a phenomenal guest speaker: Samuel Mihara, who was incarcerated as a child and eventually become a rocket scientist. Not only did students learn a great deal by participating in the contest and the reception, but also did the adults: after hearing Mr. Mihara speak a number of judges remarked that they did not realize how bad things had been. Ninth Circuit Judge Tashima—who was incarcerated—summed it up so eloquently: “We study history because those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The Girl Scouts Justice Patch Program (Program) is near and dear to my heart. After discovering that Boy Scouts learn about the law and earn a badge but Girl Scouts did not have a comparable opportunity, I created the Program. As part of the Program, I have hosted numerous Girl Scouts troops in my courtroom. The girls ask wonderful questions, such as “have you ever been bullied?” and “how would you respond to someone who says girls are not as good as boys?” All of the girls who I have met are bright, motivated and self-confident. They are our future and from my interaction with these girls, I am convinced that our future is very bright.
Years ago, I created a video called “Stop ID Theft Now!!!” which was designed to educate and help protect the public from identity theft. Identity theft is now a hot topic, but when I created the video, there was very little information available. The video was a hit especially with senior citizens—more than 15,000 copies were distributed nationwide.
What are some of the things you like to do in the limited moments when you aren’t working or giving your time to the community?
Cooking and experimenting with tasty, healthy meals is something that I enjoy. I am a Pilates devotee and have just discovered Gyrotronics.
What might WLALA members be surprised to learn about you?
I am a dog lover, with an affinity for boxers. There is definitely a boxer in my future.
When you think about the future of women in the legal profession, what gives you the most hope?
Although we have a long way to go before women are equally represented at the highest echelons of law firms and corporations, things have definitely improved. When I was looking for a post-clerkship position, I interviewed with an international firm. After receiving an offer, I asked to meet with a female senior associate. In response, the firm set up a meeting with a 70-year old male! I decided that that particular firm might not be a great fit for me.
Even though the number of women in senior associate and partnership positions are not what they should be, I would expect that firms now will have numerous female associates and partners to meet with a woman interested in joining their ranks.
What is your vision of the future for female attorneys?
I hope that someday we will no longer need the Joint Task Force on the Retention and Promotion of Women Lawyers and it will no longer be remarkable to have a woman managing partner of an international firm or a woman general counsel of a Fortune 500 company. I look forward to a time when gender is no longer mentioned when describing a woman’s achievements.
To view more photos of the event, please CLICK HERE.
Andrea Schoor is the WLALA Business Development Commitee Co-Chair. Ms. Schoor is Senior Counsel at Allen Matkins.