October 2013 Newsletter

President’s Column
By David Sohn

Dear Friends,

We have completed the first half of our 2013-2014 term, and I am proud to report the following:

  • Our annual Summer Law Clerk Reception was an extraordinary success.We raised more money than we have ever raised before from our community of APA law firm partners.
  • Our new mentorship program has received rave reviews. After our kick-off event, we have held a number of smaller events for individual mentorship families. One mentee commented that our program has “gone over and above my expectations.”
  • Our Community Services Committee organized a preschool beautification event which had more volunteers (approximately 40) than we have ever had in recent memory.
  • Our Civil Rights Committee has organized multiple panels with truly inspirational speakers such as California Labor Commissioner Julie Su and Hon. Edward Chen of the Northern District of California.
  • Our LGBT Committee organized afirst-of-its-kindevent with BALIF entitled “Shattering the Judicial LGBT Glass Ceiling.” They were able to recruit trailblazing LGBT judges from across the country to share their thoughts on their unique paths to the bench.
  • Our Social Committee has organized a steady stream of exciting events starting with its kick-off mixer, the Summer Picnic, and the Giants Game. The Social Committee will be holding itsfirstjoint mixer with APABA-SV this week.
  • Our Solo & Small Firm Committeehas never been more prolific. They have organized three well-attended seminars thus far. Due to their efforts, the listserv for solo and small firm practitioners has grown significantly.
  • Our Women’s Committee has seenincreased attendanceat its monthly Wednesdays with Women lunches.
  • Attendance at our Partner Lunches has beengrowing significantly. At our most recent Partner Lunch, approximately 40 law firm partners attended.
  • We have beensteadfastlyserving our APA communities with our legal clinics in Oakland and San Francisco.

Additionally, a number of our members have been in the news for their professional achievements:

  • Two of our members have been honored byThe Recorderas “Lawyers on the Fast Track:” Quyen Ta of Keker Van Nest and David Tsai of Perkins Coie.
  • One of our long-time members, Tracie Brown, was recently appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to the San Francisco Superior Court bench.
  • Two of our members will be honored next month with NAPABA’s “Best Under 40 Award:” David Tsai of Perkins Coie and Rocky Tsai of Ropes Gray.

These last six months have been busy and exciting!  Over the next six months, we are organizing a number of events that you do not want to miss.  We are committed to working diligently to provide each of you with the professional opportunities you need to get you to where you want to be in your careers.  Please make sure to review our weekly email blasts for upcoming events.

You can rest assured there will be no AABA shutdown under my watch!

In This Issue:
• AABA Law Foundation Scholarships Aid Law Students in Pursuing Their Legal Aspirations
• 2013 Is A Banner Year For The Solo and Small Firm Committee
• The New Legal Economy: Finding A “JD Advantage” Job
• Debunking Myths about Plaintiff Attorneys and the Practice of Personal Injury Law
• Janet’s Teahouse Invites AABA’s Mentorship Committee Co-Chair, Joshua Chang, For A Cup of Tea
• AABA Partner Lunch

AABA Law Foundation Scholarships Aid Law Students in Pursuing Their Legal Aspirations
By Kathy Aoki and Alston Lew

After Michael Nguyen spent a summer in South Africa interning with Lawyers for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization dedicated to providing legal services to vulnerable, indigent individuals and communities, his interest in law grew with his dreams of working as a prosecutor. Now, Mr. Nguyen, a May 2013 graduate of the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, will be working as a law clerk at the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office.

Mr. Nguyen received the Asian Pacific American Judges’ Scholarship in 2012 that is funded by monies donated to the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area (AABA)’s Law Foundation that provides scholarships to deserving law students to help them pay for law school expenses.

According to the AABA Website, “The AABA Law Foundation is a nonprofit public benefit corporation dedicated to serving the community and law students through its Foundation Scholarship awards: The Raymond L. Ocampo Jr. Family Scholarship; the Joe Morozumi Scholarship; the AABA Law Foundation Scholarship; and the Asian Pacific American Judges Scholarship developed to recognize and honor the past and present API judges of the Bay Area.”

The Foundation Scholarships are presented during the annual AABA installation Dinner. AABA members and others working in the legal profession are encouraged to donate monies to the Foundation Scholarships. All of the scholarship candidates go through a qualification process.

Mr. Nguyen was born in a refugee camp in Malaysia during his parents’ escape after the Vietnam War. He grew up in Santa Clara, California, graduated from Harvard, and also spent a semester abroad in the Netherlands studying law at Leiden University.

“My interest in social justice and community activism has always made law school a compelling option,” said Mr. Nguyen, who heard about the scholarship he won through a listing on one of the student organization sites, but also knew about AABA through receiving their monthly newsletters/emails advertising their events and programs. “I spent summers in college exploring this interest: first, with Bay Area Legal Aid in San Jose; second with Lawyers for Human Rights in South Africa; and later with East Bay Community Law Center in Berkeley. These were all positive experiences that reinforced my interest in law school.”

For Yunah Rha, her interest in law began she saw her monolingual uncle being discriminated against by his employer. She felt helpless and irked by the inequity of her uncle’s situation that was the driving factor in her desire to become an attorney to represent the underprivileged.

Ms. Rha, a third year law student at Golden Gate University School of Law, is a 1.5 generation Korean American who hails from San Fernando Valley and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Global Studies from the University of Santa Barbara. She is the incoming Asian Pacific American Law Student Association President and has goals of promoting diversity and collaboration with other minority groups.

“I heard about the scholarship from the AABA Newsletter. Rob Uy, in particular, encouraged me to apply. It’s nice to have such an amazing support system from mentors,” said Ms. Rha, whose passion is in public interest.

“Public interest has always been where my heart was. The reality of public interest work, however, is there is very little money in the field,” Ms. Rha said.”That becomes incredibly stressful with the soaring amount of debt that you incur in law school. That is why I used my scholarship money to offset a little bit of my loans.”

Rising tuition costs and the uncertainty of finding employment after graduating from law school and passing the bar exam besides figuring out how to pay off law school loans that could be $100,000 or more are reasons for prospective law students to ponder whether pursuing a legal career is worthwhile for them.

During this year’s AABA Installation Dinner, AABA Law Foundation Board of Directors President Miriam Kim presented a PowerPoint presentation that showed how law school tuition has risen since 2003.  In the past decade, law schools including University of San Francisco and Berkeley Law School (Boalt Hall) have seen staggering increases. USF Law School tuition in 2003 was $26,282 compared to $42,364. Tuition for Berkeley Law School for in-state-residents was $11,207 and is now $48,068. For non-residents attending Berkeley, tuition rose from $22,159 to $52,019.

ThucMinh Nguyen (Minh Nguyen), currently a rising 3L at Stanford Law received the Raymond L. Ocampo Jr. Family Scholarship in 2012. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the Stanford Journal of Law, Business and Finance. Ms. Nguyen and her family entered the United States in 1993 through Humanitarian Operation 16, a government sponsored program for families of prisoners of war. Her father, who served as a lieutenant for the Southern Vietnamese Army, was sent to a re-education camp for seven years when the Vietnam War ended. Her experiences as a first-generation political refugee from Vietnam have driven her to challenge policies directed at disenfranchised individuals and have instilled in her a deep appreciation for the impact of attorneys.

“I heard great things about the Foundation through various mentors I had the honor of being my role models,” said Ms. Nguyen, who earned a B.A. in Government and Economics from Harvard College, where she served as a Human Rights Scholar for the University Committee on Human Rights Studies and President of the Intercollegiate Vietnamese Student Association of New England.

“When I researched Ray L. Ocampo Jr. and his story, I found a deep connection that inspired me to apply,” Ms. Nguyen said. “The more I read about him, the more I wanted to meet the man. He is an extraordinary person and I am grateful to have his guidance.”

Raymond L. Ocampo Jr. began providing an annual scholarship through the Filipino Bar Association of Northern California (FBANC) since 2000. Mr. Ocampo started providing a similar scholarship through AABA a few years later. Two years ago, Mr. Ocampo changed the names and focus of the FBANC and AABA scholarships based on his work with the Asian Pacific Fund, a community foundation.

“The underlying theme of why the Asian Pacific Fund existed and why our board members served the organization and the community was that we wanted to honor the sacrifices that our families had made to ensure that we had greater opportunities for a better life,” said Mr. Ocampo.

“My parents struggled financially,” Mr. Ocampo continued. “Even though they wanted me to continue to focus exclusively on my studies, I worked through college and law school to fund my education because the scholarships and loans I received did not cover all my expenses. I know that my parents wished they could have helped me financially, and no doubt other parents have felt the same way. Funding the scholarships is a way of acknowledging the love of my parents and honoring the love that immigrant parents have for their children.”

Nicole (Nikki) Marquez is the 2013 recipient of the Asian Pacific American Judges’ Scholarship. She is a rising 2L at Stanford Law School with interests in immigration law, human rights and civil rights. Ms. Marquez earned a B.A. in Public Policy from Stanford University and M.A. in International Relations from The John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

“I came to law school knowing that I wanted to work in public interest law,” said Ms. Marquez, who before law school worked in Washington, D.C. on human trafficking policy, economic security for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, and re-entry services for current formerly incarcerated individuals and has a goal of working in public interest law. “I have been very watchful of the cost of law school in relation to my future earnings. I have been keeping an eye out for opportunities to earn extra scholarship funding.”

Ms. Marquez added that scholarship recipients may become donors to the Foundation scholarships after they have graduated.

Lincoln Lo, a first-generation Chinese American from San Francisco, is the 2013 Raymond L. Ocampo Jr. Family Scholarship recipient. Mr. Lo is a second-year law student at Stanford Law School who is also involved with the Asian Pacific Islander Law Students Association and Community Services of East Palo Alto.

“As immigrants with limited English ability, neither of my parents have stable full-time jobs,” said Mr. Lo, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of California, San Diego. “As they would be unable to contribute much, I was interested in paying our ever-increasing law student tuition through grants and scholarships rather than through more loans.”

Before law school, Mr. Lo worked for two years at the San Diego Superior Court, assisting indigent individuals on domestic violence, custody and eviction matters. He is also involved with Adopt-An-Alleyway and other community advocacy programs in San Francisco’s Chinatown, working on housing rights and quality-of-life issues. His interests are intellectual property and technology transactions.

Yungsuhn Park, now a Special Assistant to Labor Commissioner Julie Su, received the Joe Morozumi Scholarship about a decade ago. She was born in Los Angeles after her family immigrated to the United States. Ms. Park credits her family’s immigrant experience and the Los Angeles riots in1992 as her influences for pursuing a legal career.

“As an undergraduate student, I learned about the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles (now Asian Americans Advancing Justice) and how they were using litigation to protect low-wage immigrant workers’ rights, fight sweatshops and enforce civil rights. This is how I discovered that law was a powerful tool that could be used to effect positive social chance,” said Ms. Park.

Ms. Park’s scholarship funds were used for her law school expenses and to fund her public interest jobs during school. “I was very active in several student organizations and interned at several organizations through law school,” Ms. Park said. “It was hard to balance all of this with academic work. But I had to be involved and get practical experience in order to stay motivated and focused on my public interest goals. Law school is tough for public interest students because the odds are often against your pursuit of a public interest career – law school is expensive, there are so few public interest jobs for new attorneys and they are very competitive. That is why scholarships and support from the Law Foundation are so important – they enable students to continue to pursue public interest careers, despite these challenges and the high cost of doing so.”

Dale Minami was not involved in the formation of the AABA Law Foundation, but was instrumental in the Joe Morozumi Award for Exceptional Legal Advocacy being awarded to a deserving law student. According to information about Mr. Morozumi from the AABA Installation Program Booklet, “Joe Morozumi was one of the first and finest Asian American trial lawyers in the Bay Area.” This award honors Mr. Morozumi’s “spirit and passion for justice and his tireless advocacy for the poor and the underrepresented.”

Mr. Minami’s involvement stems from his passion not only to help APA law students with alleviating their financial burdens, but also to help them never forget the attorneys who came before them, who broke barriers, and paved the way for others to achieve success in their legal careers.

“I not only wanted to help students financially, but also wanted them to remember the importance of giving back and to remember the people who came before them,” said Mr. Minami. “It’s important that the scholarship recipients not only think about themselves and their own goals but also the contributions made by others in the APA legal community.”

Mr. Ocampo has given much thought on what the AABA Law Foundation can do to continue to help law students survive the financial burdens they face with soaring tuition costs. “I encourage the AABA Foundation to consider creating an interest-free loan program modeled after the Navy Relief Fund, one of the loans I received in college,” said Mr. Ocampo.

“It can start small,” said Mr. Ocampo. “For example, those needing a loan to pay for bar review courses should be able to apply for, and to receive, the loan with minimum fuss. Eventually, the program should grow so that it can underwrite the legal education of many of the students in the Bay Area. There are complexities to such a program, and there are always fundraising challenges, but I believe that students would be diligent about paying off their loans, especially if they know the future of the program is dependent on their honesty and their future contributions.”

“By selecting me as a recipient,” Ms. Rha said, “I feel like they also believe in and hope for the same things that I do. In a way, it’s as if they’ve validated my own goals and aspirations.”

Michael Nguyen commented that “AABA does does a lot of great community work. And from attending the scholarship dinner, as well as other various other events sponsored by AABA, I know that this organization is committed to building a strong community among Asian American attorneys in the Bay Area.”

All of the scholarship recipients faced unique challenges they had to overcome to survive the rigors of law school and to pay for tuition.

“My father once told me a story of a man who needed a needle, but only had a great stone,” said Minh Nguyen in answer to a question about advice she would give to young people entering the legal profession. “Every day, the man would sit by his stone and carve it, and day by day, the stone got smaller, until one day the man finally made his fine tipped needle. If you have the passion and the drive, you will get to where you need to be.  You just have to want it enough. Perseverance and determination are vital to success.  Everything can be overcome.”

Michael Nguyen, currently an AABA law student member, looks forward to participating more in AABA. “Mentorship and public service are important to me,” he said. “I hope to contribute in these areas as I become more involved.”

Information about the AABA Law Foundation scholarships is available on the AABA Website.

Top left to right: Lincoln Lo, Nikki Marquez, Michael Nguyen
Bottom left to right: Minh Nguyen, Yunah Rha, Yungsuhn Park

2013 Is A Banner Year For The Solo and Small Firm Committee
By Ronnie Gipson and Emily Yip, Solo and Small Firm Committee Co-Chairs

AABA’s Solo and Small Firm Committee kicked off the year by hosting the “Business Development and Networking Seminar” at the Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) Conference Center in San Francisco.  While this June CLE was designed for attorneys who started their law offices within the last five years, the program attracted both freshly minted attorneys to experienced attorneys alike from a variety of law firm and solo practice settings.

The workshop, which earned five star reviews, was led by AABA Board member Marina Sarmiento Feehan, Esq., founder of Positive Counsel.  Attendees focused on the fundamental principles of marketing.  Topics such as common marketing mistakes, how to market smarter, and why branding is an essential part of one’s legal career success were also discussed.  At the end of the workshop, attendees put their newly-found networking skills to use at an exclusive networking session with small business owners and independent consultants.

On July 25, 2013, the Solo & Small Firm Committee and PG&E hosted a Retirement Planning Seminar presented by Union Financial Partners.   At this well-attended event, participants gained valuable knowledge on retirement planning strategies and products available to them as practitioners in solo or small firm settings.

After producing two substantive events, the Committee celebrated with an end-of-the-summer happy hour in SOMA.  Solo and small firm attorneys mingled and expanded their professional networks to include other APA attorneys and law students.

AABA’s solo and small firm attorney community has grown tremendously the past few years.  This is demonstrated by the significant increase in participation in the Solo & Small Firm Listserv.  Since the beginning of the current leadership term, participation in the Solo & Small Firm Listserv has grown threefold.  The Listserv serves as a trusted conduit for AABA members to pass referrals, share practice-specific knowledge, introduce expert witnesses, and meet the needs of the community as they arise.  If you are interested in joining the Listserv, please contact AABA Operations Director Maggie Owyang.

The New Legal Economy: Finding A “JD Advantage” Job
By Marina Sarmiento Feehan, AABA Board Member

You have probably seen multiple articles and blog posts on there being too many law graduates and too few jobs. With the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting only a 10% job growth in the legal industry in this decade, (approximately 70,000 new jobs in 10 years) where will all the new law graduates go? In the first three years of this decade, law schools graduated over 40,000 students per year.

Graduation Year Number of Law Graduates
2012 46,364
2011 44,495
2010 42,854
TOTAL Graduates (2010-2013) 133,713

Source: National Association for Law Placement (NALP) and the American Bar Association (ABA) 

While law school applications are down, as the BLS puts it, competition for the scarce legal jobs available “should continue to be strong because more students are graduating from law school each year than there are jobs available.”  Extrapolating from the BLS data, if only 70,000 new jobs are created this decade, then the 21,000 new lawyer jobs created since 2010 have already been taken by the classes of 2010, 2011, and 2012!

Bureau of Labor Statistics
Number of lawyer jobs (2010) 728,200
Projected job growth (2010 to 2020) 10%
New jobs created (2010-20) 72,820
New jobs per year 7,282  per year

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics 

So just where will the new lawyers go? Many will need to turn to alternative or non-traditional legal careers. So many recent graduates have done just that thus requiring NALP, the National Association for Law Placement, and the American Bar Association (ABA) to coin a new term:  “JD Advantage.”  Starting with the Class of 2011, NALP and the ABA created a new job category by using this term while reporting employment statistics:

This term is used to describe a category of jobs for which bar passage is not required but for which a JD degree provides a distinct advantage. Nearly one in seven jobs taken by the Class of 2011 was reported as a JD Advantage job. In numbers, this translates to more than 5,200 jobs. These jobs were most common by far in the business realm, which accounted for 46% of the JD Advantage jobs obtained by the Class of 2011.

What Kinds of Jobs Does The JD Advantage Category Include?  

According to NALP:

Examples of positions for which a JD is an advantage include a job as a corporate contracts administrator, alternative dispute resolution specialist, government regulatory analyst, FBI agent, and accountant. Also included might be jobs in personnel or human resources, jobs with investment banks, jobs with consulting firms, jobs doing compliance work for business and industry, jobs in law firm professional development, and jobs in law school career services offices, admissions offices, or other law school administrative offices. Doctors or nurses who plan to work in a litigation, insurance, or risk management setting or as expert witnesses could fall into this category, as could journalists and teachers (in a higher education setting) of law and law-related topics.

Considerations When Searching For A JD Advantage Job

Before you start searching for an alternative legal career position, Aichi Nguyen, a May 2010 graduate working in a “JD Advantage” job has a few words of advice.  Ms. Aichi is currently a Senior Regulatory Case Manager for Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E).  “Making the decision to pursue an alternative legal career is very personal. Those considering it should reflect on why they went to law school, what they have gained from law school, what skills they want to utilize in an everyday job, and what they want to get out of that job. In the end, you have to be comfortable with not practicing law, confident in yourself to be ok with that decision, and know that it is never too late to return to practice law if you want to in the future.”

Conducting a self-assessment of one’s skills is a key to success. A great tool to use is the StrengthsFinders test, which can be taken online. The premise of the StrengthsFinders test is that when a person is in a job that takes advantage of their strengths, that person is happier, more engaged, and more productive. The StrengthsFinder’s assessment allows you to discover your top five strengths. Once you learn what your “signature strengths” are, you can search for JD Advantage positions that take advantage of your natural talents.

Legal Skills Used In JD Advantage Jobs

Law school teaches us several skills, the main ones being research, analysis, advocacy and writing. While each job is different, Ms. Aichi explains how she uses her legal skills in her regulatory position.  Her three main job functions are: (1) provide regulatory strategy for cases before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC); (2) manage communications between her team and the senior and executive management; and (3) build and maintain relationships between PG&E and external companies and other utilities.

While these duties sound very business-like, when determining a regulatory strategy for a case, Ms. Aichi draws upon her legal analysis skills to analyze and attack issues separately. Her ability to break down the case, and determine what the individual issues are and breaking them down in an IRAC format allows her to explain and solve complex issues which can be overwhelming to non-lawyers.

Ms. Aichi regularly draws upon her research skills to learn the workings of a heavily regulated public utility.  “The business is highly technical and, oftentimes, I have to teach myself. Law school taught me when to recognize when I need to research and how to actually DO the research. All that reading I did in law school paid off because now I can take huge amounts of information, synthesize it, and learn a new matter in a relatively short amount of time.”

As a Senior Regulatory Case Manager, Ms. Aichi works closely with PG&E’s legal department and outside counsel. “Whenever we have a case, there is a case manager and attorney assigned. The case manager will provide the regulatory background and our in-house counsel provides legal support.  We partner on the case and I will work with our attorneys to draft and edit motions and briefs to the CPUC.”

What does Ms. Aichi enjoy the most about her JD Advantage job? “I enjoy the ability to think and brainstorm strategically through a case, learning the technical aspects and nuances of the issues from our technical experts, and building relationships with a broad range of people throughout the company. One of my co-workers, who is also a lawyer working as a case manager, said it most eloquently, ‘I get to do a lot of the fun sexy lawyer stuff [prepping witnesses] without doing the boring lawyer stuff that I don’t like [legal research]’ ”.

How to Find a JD Advantage Job

Ms. Aichi found her JD Advantage position with PG&E, one of the largest combined natural gas and electric utilities in the United States by casting a wide net after receiving her bar results.  “Instead of concentrating solely on attorney positions”, said Ms. Aichi, “I searched for jobs where I could learn something new, where I could sell my skills, and where I could apply what I learned in law school.” She conducted an online job search using sites such as IndeedSimplyHiredCraig’s List, and Monster.

  • Search for Different Job Titles

Ms. Aichi looked at consulting jobs and jobs that had titles such as “investigator” or “analyst” where she felt her legal skills could be used. She examined job descriptions closely and, for each application, she highlighted what skills employers wanted, and carefully tailored each cover letter and resume to the specific job. She explained, “A JD or passing the bar alone does not necessarily impress an employer. You also need to translate and transfer your legal skills to fit the job description and what the employer needs.”  Not all are as skilled as Ms. Aichi at translating and transferring her skill set to a business context. Ms. Aichi notes, “Talking to a legal career counselor is helpful but if you don’t have access to one, then find a mentor or a friend in the business world to help you evaluate your skills.”

Hired initially as a staff consultant for Celerity Consulting Group, a business and litigation consulting firm, Ms. Aichi was placed on a long-term project with PG&E’s finance organization in her first week of employment.  Within six months, Ms. Aichi’s unique legal skill and attorney work ethic impressed her managers such that PG&E offered her a full-time permanent position as an employee. “I accepted the position and started in Finance Organization as an Analyst responding to financial discovery requests and, within 6 months, I was promoted to Senior Analyst.  From there, I moved to the Regulatory Affairs Organization as a Senior Analyst working on the General Rate Case (GRC), as I found the regulatory department to be a better fit for my legal skills than the Finance department.”

  • Conduct Informational Interviews

In addition to searching online, those interested in JD Advantage positions can conduct informational interviews to learn more about a particular job or industry. By learning what others like about their jobs, what skills they use and what they actually do day-to-day, you’ll gain valuable insight as to whether it is a position which may be a good fit for your skills and interests.

  • Research Alternative Legal Careers

There are a number of resources to help you research alternative or non-traditional legal careers and JD Advantage positions. Here are a few:

  • Book: Deborah Arron, “What Can You do with Your Law Degree” – the seminal book on alternative legal careers, in, out and around the practice of law.
  • Handout: “What Can I Do with a Law Degree” – handy list from South Texas College of Law of 300+ jobs that you can do with a law degree along with tips on how to find such positions.
  • Video: “What is the JD Advantage?” a video series prepared by NALP featuring law graduates in JD Advantage positions.

As we enter the remaining seven years of this decade, one thing is clear, law graduates will need to think outside the box to find a job. By being open-minded and thinking about what skills and natural talents they actually enjoying using, the new crop of lawyers may actually find career satisfaction in JD Advantage positions.

About the author: Marina Sarmiento Feehan, Esq., who is currently serving her second term on the AABA Board, is the founder of Positive Counsel, a legal career consulting and business maximization firm.

Debunking Myths about Plaintiff Attorneys and the Practice of Personal Injury Law
By Kimberly Wong

If you ever watch late night television, you have likely seen a few cheesy advertisements for personal injury attorneys which seem more like a farce rather than advertisements for professional legal services.  Some popular television programs have further fueled a common misconception that personal injury attorneys are “ambulance chasers” who are more interested in a big pay day than helping individuals who have undergone life-changing injuries.

While these characters are of course fictitious, they still reflect some negative stereotypes about the practice of personal injury law.  These stereotypes are not only false, but they also undermine our legal system which was designed to provide justice for those in need of protection.

Many personal injury attorneys like myself have chosen this career path because we believe in helping the injured obtain justice and fair compensation for their losses which were caused by someone else’s negligence or willful acts.  This article is intended to debunk some myths and stereotypes associated with personal injury attorneys and the practice of personal injury law.

What is Personal Injury Law

Personal injury law covers physical injuries, mental injuries, and death that result from the negligence or intentional misconduct of another person, group of people, or entity.  Contrary to popular belief, personal injury law is broader than just auto accidents, defective products, slip and fall accidents, and medical malpractice.

For example, many people are surprised to learn that an employee injured at work may have a “third party” personal injury claim in addition to a workers’ compensation claim.  A third party is someone other than the employer who has partial or full legal responsibility for causing the employee’s injury, such as the manufacturer of a defective machine that injured the employee.  Third party cases may also arise from work-related injuries on construction sites where another contractor created a dangerous condition or failed to warn about one that causes injury.  Further, there may be a third party case when someone other than the employer retained or assumed control over safety at the worksite.

These are just a few examples of potential third party cases.  Additionally, under some narrow circumstances, employees injured on the job may be able to pursue a civil claim against their employer in addition to their workers’ compensation claim.

What many people often do not realize is that workers’ compensation benefits do not fully compensate the injured.  Workers’ compensation benefits only include medical care for the job-related injury and disability payments which are often insufficient to cover all living expenses.  Many injured suffer additional harm and losses as a result of their injuries which commonly impair their daily activities, their ability to earn a living, their family relationships, the ability to take care of their house, and their social activities.  Where third party liability exists, the injured can recover damages for these losses in addition to their pain and suffering, which is greater than what workers’ compensation provides.

What the Practice of Personal Injury Law Involves

Personal injury lawyers often work at small plaintiff firms.  Cases are typically handled on a contingency fee basis where the firm pays all of the case costs and receives no fee for its services or reimbursement of costs unless it is able to recover money for the client.  Because work is done on a contingency fee basis, personal injury attorneys have no billable hour requirements, which typically mean a better work-life balance.

Practicing personal injury law generally involves a traditional litigation and trial practice.  To help establish liability and damages of a client’s claim, attorneys work closely with experts in different fields, including mechanical engineering, accident reconstruction, economics, life care planning, vocational rehabilitation, and various specialties of medicine.  Learning about these various disciplines and their application to individual cases keeps the practice interesting.

Unlike most fields of law, personal injury law truly is personal because each client has suffered a difficult life-changing injury.  Being a personal injury attorney requires compassion, the ability to listen, and the ability to counsel clients during their times of need.

My Path to Becoming a Personal Injury Attorney

I have always had a desire to help people.  In college, I pursued an undergraduate degree in psychology, but eventually decided that becoming a psychiatrist or psychologist was not for me.  So I ventured off to law school to become a different kind of counselor, a counselor at law.  I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do plaintiff’s work so I could work directly with people in need, which is exactly what I did and I have not looked back since.  My clients are people who are going through what is often one of the most difficult times in their lives.  I find being their advocate and counselor to be meaningful and rewarding work.

Every client I have represented has told me that if they had the choice, they would rather erase the accident from history than have to endure their pain and injuries, regardless of what amount of compensation they may receive for their personal injury claim.  But, unfortunately, there is no miraculous solution that can rewrite history.  The only thing that clients can do is to try to adapt to their new circumstances and move on with their lives as best as they can, which is often a very difficult process for them and their family.

Helping clients to obtain a fair settlement or a favorable verdict is not really about the money.  Rather, it is about justice and accountability.  It is about helping injured individuals get back on their feet.  The money clients receive from their personal injury claim is simply the means that empowers them to get their lives back on track to begin the long process of trying to recover both mentally and physically.  It provides them with the financial security to afford necessary medical treatment and to take care of their life expenses which add up quickly, especially when clients cannot return to their prior work or are unable to work at all due to their injuries.

There are a lot of thankless jobs.  I feel fortunate to not hold one of them.  And while a client never needs to say “thank you,” when a client does, it makes my job feel extra rewarding and reaffirms that I have chosen the right career for me.

About the Author
AABA member Kimberly Wong is an attorney at The Veen Firm P.C. in San Francisco where she represents clients who have suffered life-changing and career-altering injuries.  Her practice focuses on litigating of catastrophic injury cases involving negligence, wrongful death, products liability, industrial accidents, and exceptions to the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy doctrine.

Janet’s Teahouse Invites AABA’s Mentorship Committee Co-Chair, Joshua Chang,
For A Cup of Tea

By Janet Li, Newsletter Committee Chair

Please join me when I invite AABA family and friends to share their riveting legal journeys, life triumphs, and war stories with me over a cup of tea.

Joshua Chang shared with us his fascinating journey from engineer to patent prosecutor over a refreshing cup of chrysanthemum tea.  Mr. Chang grew up in San Francisco.  Having always been good at mathematics and science, and upon the advice of his parents, he majored in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California at Berkeley.  After deciding that a career in engineering was ultimately not for him, his love for logical arguments eventually took him to Harvard Law School.  Upon graduation, Mr. Chang worked at Weaver Austin Villeneuve & Sampson, LLP and then at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP.  Mr. Chang now practices law at Kwan & Olynick LLP, where he focuses his practice on intellectual property issues.  He enjoys helping scientists, engineers, and creative people achieve patents on their inventions.

As a Co-Chair for the Mentorship Committee, Mr. Chang helps foster genuine relationships between more seasoned attorneys and younger attorneys by bringing them together at “family gatherings.”  With a strong drive to succeed in aspects of life that he cares about, his quest for excellence goes beyond his distinguished academic credentials and blossoming legal practice.  His bowling prowess has allowed him to frequently score above 200.  During college, his multi-faceted talents took him bartending on the college campus, teaching swimming to children, singing with his a cappella group, and performing hip hop with his dance troupe.

Welcome to Janet’s Teahouse, Mr. Chang!

Please tell us how you first became involved with AABA.
Well, my sister is a lawyer and when I was in law school, she talked about AABA and how I should join because it’s a good group for Asian lawyers to be in.  There’s a lot of support there and a lot of good resources.  I figured it might not be easy to be an Asian lawyer these days, so I went to a couple of events.  I checked it out and I really liked it.

How did you become involved with the Mentorship Committee?
Actually, David Sohn, the President of AABA, approached me.  I already knew him from before.  We went to the same law school, but were different years.  We met each other at the alumni events and he was a really good guy.  He approached me one day and was just asking an opinion about what I could suggest for improving AABA awareness for the following year.  I threw out some ideas and he eventually said that he thought it would be a good idea if I get involved in AABA, like on a Committee.  I thought that Mentorship would be a good fit.  He asked me if I was willing to be a chair on the committee and I said yes.

Why did you go to law school?
It’s tough to choose a career when you are 18 and starting college.  I majored in engineering at Berkeley but ultimately decided that it wasn’t really for me.

I like logical arguments. I realized that whenever I was talking with friends, I would be very detailed and technically quite annoying to my friends because I was always saying things like “what do you mean by this” or “actually…”– you know, looking for some clarifications and logical reasoning.  These phrases might seem commonplace to lawyers, but to my non-lawyer friends, it’s very annoying [laughing].  Anyways, I was thinking that logic controls the law, right?  LSAT is a logic-based test.  So naturally, I thought that I would be good at it. I didn’t know anything about the law when I decided to go. I think a lot of lawyers were or are probably in the same boat. However, I did know that there was a field called intellectual property, and I knew that it was an area that an engineer could go into. But then again, I had no idea what that entailed either.

Like I said before, my sister went through law school. She made a lot of good friends.  They have a lot of interesting careers.  She likes her job.  And I’m very similar to her in some ways. So I thought, why not? I took the LSAT. I did well. So I said, “ok, I‘ll go.”

Besides, we live with the law. It’s everywhere.  We learn in law school that if you don’t know the law, it’s not a defense. So as a citizen, you’re expected to know it. After going through law school, you wonder how is any ordinary citizen, who has not been to law school, supposed to figure this stuff out? Seems crazy to me.  Anyways, I really, really appreciated what I learned in law school.

Please tell us about your current position.
I’m a patent prosecutor so it’s pretty cool because it’s very niche.  You don’t need an engineering degree but it is definitely preferred. You have to take the patent bar. Basically, I write patents. I take inventions that scientists, engineers, and very creative people have developed, and I transform the invention into a legal document. They see a problem and they solve the problem and they tell me about it. It’s pretty awesome when they’re very excited about it. After I transform the invention into a legal document, I submit it to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and try to turn it into an enforceable patent, something worth money, basically…potentially, a lot of money.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?
What I find rewarding is helping my clients achieve a patent.  A lot of times the clients I work with are small startups and lone inventors. I appreciate the big corporations providing a lot of work, but they’re not as excited about their inventions as individual inventors. Sometimes you go talk to people who just thought of something in their garage.  They are super excited and want to talk to you, to convey their idea.  You help them achieve a patent, I mean get a patent granted, and they feel that their ideas are legitimate. So that’s important. I also like learning the cool technology first so I know what’s out there before it even hits the market. It’s kind of cool to be in the know.  To see how people’s brains work– that’s pretty impressive.  They see a problem and they are very creative in solving it.

I also like the balance. Smaller shops are more flexible. You can make your own career and it’s great.  Plus, you get more chances to develop business. I love that aspect. Going out to get business, signing people on, convincing them why we are their best option (in our opinion of course).  That’s one of my favorite parts of the job.

What are your favorite weekend activities?
I play basketball.  I also like karaoke–or any form of singing.  I also like watching movies.  Oh, and bowling.  Definitely, bowling.  And dancing, too– but more like hip hop dancing, though.  That’s because I was in a hip hop dance troupe when I was in college.  Back in the good ol’ days [laughing].

What is your biggest accomplishment in life so far?
Wow. I have to give that some thought.  I’ll say the biggest accomplishment actually is when I became financially independent and stable enough to buy my own place. That was pretty big. I felt very accomplished, you know. You see, people have several things that they think are big in life– having a career, buying a house, and getting a family, right? I feel like I’m very lucky to have two of the three.  So that’s a big milestone for me.

What is the biggest obstacle you have faced?
One of my biggest obstacles is knowing how to deal with failure. I feel that very successful people know how to fail and they know how to recover from failure. And I’ve been so competitive my entire life. I hate to lose. I pretty much have a Type A personality or an overachiever mentality. I’ve lived my entire life like failure is not an option.  And it’s been tough.  I’ve encountered some failure and tried to get past it, but it was very difficult. However, I do feel like I’m getting a little better, slowly [smiles].

I think the drive to achieve goes hand in hand with the fact that I don’t like to lose or be bad at anything.  So, when I do something I like to do it very well.  It’s basically my motivation for everything, or for things that I care about at least.  But I care about a lot of things.  For me, sports is definitely that way.  I play basketball a lot but I don’t just play. I do drills, watch videos, and ask others for advice in order to make sure I’m improving.  When I started bowling, I didn’t like how I was not getting a high score or getting strikes. So I would study how to bowl to figure it out.  I know, it’s pretty weird.

What are your professional hopes and dreams?
The hope and dream would be to grow the business to be as large and successful as possible, while still maintaining the flexible and intimate culture of a small firm that I have come to love so much.  I actually really like what I’m doing now. I go out, meet people, get business, and learn cutting-edge technology. It’s pretty awesome.  Since I like what I do now, I just want to keep it going.

Please tell us about the Mentorship family gatherings that are going on right now.
The idea was to do exclusive brunches and not do just one giant event.  I just felt that a more intimate setting promotes more genuine relationships.  I think one of the strongest assets that AABA has to offer is the access to role models that are very accomplished Asian lawyers.  I can’t speak for everyone but I think that it’s not easy to be an Asian lawyer in this day and age.  No matter what, we’re still a minority.

As younger Asian attorneys, we look up to older Asian attorneys who have succeeded and have impressive credentials and wonder– how did they do it?  And they did it during a time when it was even harder for them than it is for us now.  I can’t imagine what that must have been like.  So we have very good resources, but many of us just don’t know how to take advantage of them.  We attend these networking events and admire the role models from a distance, maybe introduce ourselves once or even twice, but we don’t know how to start meaningful relationships with more senior attorneys which lead to them becoming our mentors.  This is where the Mentorship Committee comes in.  Our job, as the Mentorship Committee Co-Chairs, is to help create and foster those meaningful relationships.  That’s what the mentorship program is all about.  It’s something very valuable that AABA offers.  A lot of senior lawyers in AABA are very willing to help.  I know that many younger attorneys would really appreciate an opportunity like this.  We got really good responses from potential mentors and mentees.  Now we just have to bring them together!

Mr. Chang, thank you for sharing with us your engaging story and how you found a vocation that inspires you and is truly fulfilling to you.  

We appreciate your innovative ideas and selfless service devoted to the Mentorship Committee.  With the help of accomplished role models, your efforts will no doubt help pave the way for younger attorneys to even bigger and better things in the profession. 

We also admire your drive for success and excellence, an indispensable quality in the practice of law.  We applaud your dedication and achievements and cheer you on to your next goal!

Please stay tuned for upcoming chats with other esteemed members of our AABA family.

AABA Partner Lunch
By Theodore Ting, AABA Vice-President

Network. Do what you enjoy. Set your goals. Take chances and look for opportunities. Be flexible and tackle new subjects.

Those were just some of the keys to success offered by a distinguished panel of successful APA lawyers consisting of Bill Lann Lee, the Hon. Michael Begert, Jamie Chung, Catharina Min, and Sangeetha Raghunathan at the recent AABA Partner Lunch. Approximately forty partners packed the main conference room at Keker & Van Nest on September 13, 2013, to hear the panelists talk about their careers and potential career paths for law firm partners.

Mr. Lee, a partner at Lewis Feinberg, shared his experience about joining the government in 1997 when he was appointed to the nation’s highest civil rights post: Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). After beginning his career as a civil rights attorney for the The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Educational Fund, he worked on a wide variety of matters affecting many different minority communities. In doing so, he established his credentials as a principled lawyer who fought hard for all minority groups. He also built a network among the civil rights community that crossed racial and ethnic lines. Mr. Lee believes that was a critical factor that led to President Bill Clinton appointing him to the DOJ position because during the vetting process, he received wide support from numerous diverse constituencies with whom he had built relationships.

Before becoming a San Francisco Superior Court judge, Judge Begert maintained a successful litigation practice as Bingham McCutcheon’s partner. Although he was involved with various pro bono and community activities, he said becoming a public servant was not part of his long-term plan. But after his friends and colleagues encouraged him to pursue a judgeship, he began to consider it. When he finally applied, he heard his timing might have been poor since he was doing so at the end of a Republican governor’s term. Nonetheless, he was appointed. He attributes his success to his philosophy of doing work that he really enjoyed and his involvement in various APA organizations and working on matters that he found enjoyable.

Many partners have considered going in-house, but few have ever gotten an early preview, yet that is precisely what happened to Ms. Chung, General Counsel for Walmart’s E-commerce Division. While just a young associate at a major Silicon Valley firm, she took a position with a large firm client. During a two-year stint, she obtained valuable experience and perspective. Moreover, she determined that if she worked in-house again in the future, she would want the top position. She returned to her firm and became a successful partner, during which time she periodically received in-house inquiries. Having identified one potential goal, she patiently declined various offers until she finally received the general counsel position that she wanted. While a law firm partner typically becomes an expert on a particular area or topic, she indicated that her role as chief legal officer is more dynamic because it requires her to be knowledgeable about many different issues at the same time.

Even before becoming a partner at Reed Smith, Ms. Min established a successful transactional law practice in Silicon Valley. Choosing to remain at her firm, she found new opportunities to be engaged and challenged when she was agreed to become the managing partner of Reed Smith’s Palo Alto office. She embraced the opportunity to be a leader and a role model as the first Asian American female managing partner of a Reed Smith office. In listening to her describe her journey, it was clear that part of her success derived from her willingness to take chances and explore opportunities. After all, as a young lawyer who did not speak Korean, she accepted an offer to work in South Korea. Five years later, that bold decision enabled her to develop contacts and business relationships that have continued to pay dividends.

Finally, Ms. Raghunathan described her unique journey, which has given her a breadth of experience that anyone else would have difficulty matching. Beginning as an intellectual property litigation associate, she transitioned to deputy attorney general in the anti-trust division to in-house privacy counsel to her current role as Senior Counsel at Disney Interactive, advising on issues relating to e-commerce and social gaming. She explained that she wanted to be a transactional lawyer, but the post-graduation market conditions drove her to become a litigator. While it took time, she transitioned successfully by being flexible and enthusiastically mastering new subject matters. Indeed, she said her former manager provided a strong recommendation, indicating that while she may initially lack the subject matter expertise, nobody would work harder than her to become an expert.

The panel ended with the panelists answering questions from the audience.

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