John Sandberg is a lawyer who sails part-time. Sometimes, he jokes, he’d rather be a sailor who practices law part-time.
As an amateur seaman, Sandberg has logged serious nautical miles. He has hand-steered boats across the Atlantic Ocean twice and navigated the Great Circle Route around the eastern United States and Canada for an epic six-month journey with his family.
Meanwhile, back home in St. Louis, he’s best known as one of the city’s top business litigators.
After graduating from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1972, Sandberg worked at Coburn, Croft, Shepherd & Herzog, where he developed a taste for trial work.
In 1979, he and some colleagues decided to strike out on their own and launch Sandberg Phoenix. Work poured in immediately. Sandberg recalls how he and his partners all worked late into the night during those first three years.
Two of Sandberg’s biggest cases at his own firm have put him on the plaintiffs’ side, particularly in the commercial realm. One unfolded in the mid-1980s. He represented Monsanto in a suit brought against Koch Industries, alleging that the latter had sold faulty equipment to Monsanto to be used inside a distillation tower. After a six-week trial in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Sandberg won a verdict for Monsanto, with Koch Industries paying more than $7 million.
More recently, Sandberg represented a St. Charles-based phone company, Omniplex Communications, after it went bankrupt and sued Lucent Technologies for having sold defective switches. The exact settlement amount agreed upon in 2005 remains confidential but was reported in local press accounts at $50 million.
On the defense side, Sandberg once was retained by a neurosurgeon in St. Louis County to fight a $3 million claim of wrongful death related to treatment in a hospital emergency unit. Sandberg won a verdict for his client.
After more than four decades of practicing law, Sandberg says he feels like a trial attorney at heart.
“I like discovery less and less, but I like trials more and more,” he said. “I like trying to figure out how to convince a jury that your side’s right.”
That said, Sandberg has an appreciation for the written word, too. He was the managing editor of the Missouri Law Review during law school, and more recently he became a volunteer editor of the Civil Practice and Procedure section of The Missouri Bar’s Courts Bulletin for the Eastern District Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. In addition, during his off hours, he participates in two book clubs.
He also itches to get back on the water. Sandberg sold his boat in 2000, when his five children (two of whom are attorneys) began heading off for college. He has kept his skills sharp in the meantime by racing a friend’s boat in the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac five times. But he hopes to acquire another seaworthy vessel for himself eventually.
“I keep an eye out,” he said.