Jocelyn Sperling – Member Spotlight (March 2023)
ACBA member Jocelyn Sperling is of counsel with the Complex Appellate Litigation Group and has represented clients in the California Courts of Appeal and Ninth Circuit for more than a decade. In addition to her time in private practice, Jocelyn spent many years as a law clerk and staff attorney at the Ninth Circuit and Alameda County Superior Court. She is chair of the ACBA’s Judicial Appointments Evaluation Committee and is vice chair of the ACBA’s new Appellate Section. She also routinely handles pro bono work for Centro Legal de la Raza. Jocelyn graduated Order of the Coif from UCLA School of Law, where she was in the first class of the Program in Public Interest Law and Policy.
When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?
I did not consider becoming a lawyer until after college. I was volunteering on a domestic violence hotline and heading toward a graduate program in psychology. But the hotline work was intense, so I began to question my career path. I noticed that volunteer lawyers were making a difference in another way by helping women obtain restraining orders, and I decided to explore the legal field. After working at the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Volunteer Legal Services Program—where I met Tiela Chalmers (now ACBA’s CEO and general counsel) and Rachel Shigekane (now ACBA’s Lawyer Referral Service Director)—I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. It must have been their influence!
If you hadn’t become a lawyer, what would you be doing instead?
I’d likely be a psychologist. Possibly an epidemiologist; after college I worked at UCSF’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were first admitted to practice?
I wish I had the perspective I have now on advising clients and on my own development as a lawyer. In terms of working with clients, one thing I’ve learned is that sometimes the best advice is to avoid litigation. A contentious legal dispute can have an enormous psychological impact, which clients may not realize until they are fully immersed in it. In terms of advice to myself, I’d say “act braver than you feel.” As a young lawyer I often dealt with hostile or intimidating opposing counsel (primarily during discovery), and I got bogged down in the dispute. I wish I had known to be firmer and not let it shake my confidence.
What is the biggest challenge facing you as a lawyer today?
As an appellate lawyer, I often advise trial counsel about the negative appellate consequences from certain actions or inaction in the trial court. One challenge is to avoid coming across as a Monday-morning quarterback.
What is your favorite part of being a lawyer?
Aside from the obvious answer (winning appeals for my clients), it’s rewarding to share with trial counsel my knowledge of appellate law and my perspective as a former law clerk and staff attorney—particularly when the advice may help preserve issues for appeal or avoid an appeal altogether.
What is your dream vacation?
I would love to go hiking in Patagonia. While not quite as exotic, I’m also happy hiking in the East Bay regional parks.
What are you reading now?
Typically I read fiction, but now I’m reading Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation’s Top Advocates (by Ross Guberman). It contains strategies for clear and engaging legal writing, with examples from exceptional briefs. It’s a pretty entertaining read—but perhaps not as entertaining as the comic strip Bloom County: The Complete Library (by Berke Breathed), also on my coffee table.
What’s one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?
While I may be a grammar snob, idioms often stump me. People are always surprised when I don’t know common idioms. I’m not sure why I didn’t learn more of them growing up.
Why do you choose to be a member of the ACBA? What is the greatest benefit you have enjoyed as a member?
Appellate work can be isolating, so I joined the ACBA to meet more members of the legal community and be more connected to it. A highlight has been serving on the Judicial Appointment Evaluation Committee, which functions like the JNE Commission. I also benefit from the exceptional (and free) CLE programs. And I always enjoy mingling at ACBA events.
Get involved—join Jocelyn and the ACBA’s Appellate Section!
The Appellate Section focuses on appellate practice and procedure in the state and federal courts. Sections members include not only appellate lawyers but also trial lawyers interested in appellate law. The Section provides CLE programs to help trial lawyers effectively litigate their cases to maximize their chances of success on appeal and avoid common mistakes that can harm an appeal.
The Appellate Section’s inaugural CLE program is on March 29 at noon. View the program here.
To join the section, please contact our Membership Department at (510) 302-2200 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Section membership is free in 2023.