While he was a high school student in Chicago Heights, Carl Salans, ’57, joined with some other students to form what they called the “47 Club.” Their shared interest was international affairs; the name of the club reflected the number of countries that were members of the United Nations at that time. Today the UN has 192 member states, and the international law firm that Salans cofounded employs over 450 attorneys in offices throughout the world.
It’s not every day that a high school student’s interests become an industry-shaping reality. True to his passions, Salans studied international law and government at Harvard and then earned a degree in public international law at Trinity College, Cambridge. A year at University of Chicago Law School earned him a JD, whereupon he returned to Trinity College to acquire an LLB in public international law. His time at Chicago was anything but fun filled. “I was dropped into the third year, knowing no one, and I had not been exposed to the Socratic method in Cambridge, so life was tough and the classes were even tougher for me,” he recalled. “But Chicago was where I really learned what it was like to be a lawyer. At the time, I could hardly wait to get out. In retrospect, it was one of the most valuable experiences of my life.”
Joining the United States Department of State in 1959, Salans soon became its top lawyer for legal issues in Asia. He advised the U.S. delegation to the Geneva conference that established the neutrality of Laos in 1962, serving under chief negotiator Averell Harriman. “Laos was a major hot spot at that time,” he recalled. “President Kennedy had even held a nationally televised news conference about Laos, saying he was prepared to send troops there. It was my first experience with an international negotiation conference, and quite an experience it was.”
It wasn’t many years later that he was involved in negotiations that were even more critical and more closely watched. In 1968, Harriman asked Salans to accompany him to the negotiations in Paris aimed at concluding the war in Vietnam. He moved his family to Paris and lived there as the talks continued for several years. But he resigned from the State Department in 1972 to express his dismay that the United States Government, i.e. President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, did not seem to him to be truly pursuing a just and honorable peace settlement.
“So there I was after I quit,” Salans said, “in Paris and committed to remaining there because my wife was French and I loved the city and it had become home to my children. I was thirty-nine years old, and I had never practiced law at a firm. Luckily I found one that would hire me, and I worked there for several years.”
Then in 1978, he and two others, Eliane Heilbronn and Jeffrey Hertzfeld, realized that they shared an idea for a kind of law firm that didn’t then exist—one that was genuinely international. “There were American firms and English firms with offices in other countries, but that wasn’t our vision. We didn’t want a Paris headquarters with branches elsewhere; we wanted to gather attorneys in many different places who each had a natural understanding of their nation’s style of thinking and problem solving, as well as its legal system. No one culture would dominate, allowing us to work without demarcation lines between offices and practices and to focus all our efforts on providing clients with globally integrated service.”
Salans Hertzfeld & Heilbronn was formed. Geopolitical events such as the rise of Perestroika and the fall of Communism helped the firm to grow to its current size. Cofounder Hertzfeld spoke Russian, and the firm was soon opening offices in Russia and many other countries of the former Soviet Union. Today it has offices in Almaty, Baku, Berlin, Bratislava, Bucharest, Istanbul, Kyiv, London, Moscow, New York, Paris, Prague, Shanghai, St. Petersburg, and Warsaw.
Salans retired from the firm in 1998, and its name was shortened to Salans in 2002. Retirement, for now, means two things: First, he can enjoy more time with his beloved wife, with whom he celebrated a fiftieth wedding anniversary earlier this year, and with his three sons and seven grandchildren. Second, he can take on more assignments in a discipline he loves and that brings together the skills and knowledge he’s developed over his entire career—arbitrating international commercial disputes. As counsel and as an arbitrator, he has participated in many such arbitrations. “I lost count at a hundred,” he said wryly. He is also a vice-chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce International Court of Arbitration and, since 1984, an arbitrator in the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal at The Hague.