At its black-tie gala in November, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) announced its Best Lawyers Under 40. This year, 22 Asian-Pacific American attorneys were honored for their skills, leadership, and public service.
"It gets more difficult every year," remarks Jim Goh, chair of the selection committee and partner with Holland & Hart, LLP, "but today, our honorees have shown us that they have more than just potential. They are already stars in their own right."
Fellow selection committee member Wilson Chu, partner at Haynes and Boone, LLP, agrees. "Being NAPABA's Best Under 40 is all about positive images of Asian American attorneys. This year, we have another impressive collection of young attorneys who, while each excelling in their 'day jobs,' find the time and energy to be community leaders who make a positive difference for others."
Personally Committed, Publicly Oriented
Public service lies at the forefront of this year's list. Ekwan Rhow, partner with Bird, Marella, Boxer & Wolpert, represented pro bono California garment workers, obtaining a multi-million dollar settlement against Los Angeles garment manufacturers. "Ground-breaking litigation," marvels Clifford Yin, "for never before had the Fair Labor Standards Act been applied to retailers." The result, says Yin, is that Rhow "helped bring to the forefront the now widely discussed issue of sweatshop conditions both within and outside this country." Past honoree Julie Su of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center lauds Rhow, her co-counsel in that case, emphasizing that, "[He] viewed his education as a privilege to be shared with the less fortunate, and the legal system as a tool for fighting inequality."
Another honoree, Bettina Yip, counsel with Cingular Wireless, formed the People's Law School for the Asian Community. Through the school, lay people in the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and South Asian communities in Georgia can learn about their rights under the law. Asked about her proudest moments, Yip cites, "Every time when someone who has gone through the People's Law School program comes up to tell me how much they've learned."
Individual Service, Justice for All
The public service of many of NAPABA's honorees helps more than just other Asians. While serving as chair of the Human Services Commission of Lake Forest Park City (Wash.), Nelson Lee, a prosecutor for King County's (Wash.) Most Dangerous Offender Project, observed that domestic violence in the city was sharply on the rise. Lee helped lobby the city to fund a much-needed domestic violence advocate. "Domestic violence victims now have a trained individual to help them obtain protective orders, find shelters and counseling, and navigate their way through the criminal justice system," says Lee.
Jayashri Srikantiah, who recently joined Stanford Law School as an associate professor, litigated cases involving mandatory detention policies of the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service and "no-fly" lists of persons with Middle Eastern surnames. "We are in the midst of a civil rights crisis, and we must fight for the rights of Muslim, South Asian, and Middle Eastern immigrant communities," says Srikantiah.
Giving Back Through Mentorship
Many honorees also give back on a more personal level, mentoring younger attorneys. "Motivated by the lack of mentors in my life," says Nelson Lee, "I mentor as much, and as often, as I can." So has Anurag Gulati, assistant general counsel of General Mills. "Through the General Mills Diversity Mentorship program," says Gulati, "I now help new minority employees transition into our business environment with advice and support."
Other honorees reach even younger minds. Through the Future of the Law Institute, Lee introduces high school students who are interested in studying law to attorneys and judges. Lee also advises law students. "In addition to helping them network with attorneys, I often meet with my mentees for lunch or a drink because it's important to remain approachable." Other mentorship extends into other fields. Victor King, university counsel for California State University, Los Angeles, mentors college students who intern for California legislators through the Center for Asian-Americans United for Self Empowerment (www.causeusa.org), a non-profit that supports Asian American voter registration, community outreach, and leadership development.
Mentorship: Foundation for the Future
Indeed, if there is one key to success that NAPABA's 2004 honorees routinely cite, it is mentorship. "Mentorship is almost number one in importance," says Yabo Lin, partner at Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin, LLP. "Without a good mentor, integration into firm culture, client interaction, and internal promotion would be very tough." Marisa Chun, partner at Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass, LLP concurs. "Good mentors can teach by example how to navigate ethical issues, work effectively with people, and make decisions."
And mentorship is crucial because some things can't be learned, they must be taught. "Do you want to succeed? Get out and network. Take ownership of your cases and deals. And realize there is no shame in asking for help: No matter how much you've accomplished, none of us got here alone," says Quan Vu, partner at Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP.
"Without a good mentor, integration into firm culture, client interaction, and internal promotion would be very tough."
More generally, mentors can also give a steadying perspective, says Grace Lee, general counsel and deputy treasurer for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, citing a man who once faced similar obstacles: Dean Robert V. Ward, "the first African-American dean of a New England law school." Bettina Yip concurs, citing past mentors who helped her filter out ephemeral goals. "One of the lessons that stands out is the importance of prioritizing what is important in your life-be it civic service, family, or even just time for yourself."
Mentorship: Navigating the Business World
Mentorship has proven just as important to navigating the business world. "When I joined General Mills after a law firm career," says Anurag Gulati, "my mentor helped me understand the business and transition to in-house life. Similarly, I've learned a lot from watching Janice Marturano, our vice president; Janice's clients place a premium on her advice because she takes the time to understand their business concerns."
Critically, given the dearth of Asian Americans in the executive ranks, mentorship helps with career navigation. "As you advance in your career," says Chun, "mentors can become important advocates." Indeed, it is this guidance that can make or break a career, remarks Don Liu, general counsel and senior vice president of IKON Office Solutions, Inc. "Early on, one mentor advised me, 'Don, don't rely just on me to support you. Make sure you have multi-pronged support in the company,' " says Liu.
Mentorship: Crossing Company Lines
Encouragingly, mentorship between attorneys can stretch across company lines, and Yip lauds the mentorship of an attorney from a different company. "The guidance of Don Liu [general counsel of IKON Office Solutions] has been essential to me since I came in-house," says Yip.
Recognizing the value of these cross-company relations, NAPABA recently instituted a mentorship program to foster frank discussion about careers-questions that might be more delicate if posed to a fellow company employee, says Liu. "Our goal is to foster relationships between experienced in-house counsel and members who are either new to the in-house position or who are at a critical juncture of their career," remarks Liu. Under the NAPABA in-house counsel mentoring program, mentors advise on professional development, transitioning into the in-house position, and how to take advantage of future opportunities. "There are always attorneys outside of your employment who can provide advice and support to your career. We're just making it easier for our members to take advantage of this resource," says Liu.
"Even when our country talks about 'people of color,' they seldom include Asian Americans in the discussion."
These solutions, unfortunately, are in response to the dearth of Asian Americans in the executive ranks, a reason that Anurag Gulati cites as a motivation for increasingly hiring minority-owned firms and minority attorneys at majority firms. "Our inability to effectively transfer our fast-growing demographics into matching political and societal influence can be disheartening," says Mark Keam, chief counsel for United States Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). "And for all our progress, our communities can remain invisible," he concludes. Grace Lee agrees, "Even when our country talks about 'people of color,' they seldom include Asian Americans in the discussion."
Notably, many honorees focus on inwardly changing the views of Asian Americans instead of focusing on changing the views of everyone else. "We need to educate Asian Americans and motivate them to have an active voice in the political spectrum and the community as a whole," says Bettina Yip. "We need to stop being just a 'model minority,' " says Quan Vu, "and to start being 'model leaders.' "
Voter registration drives and getting the word out to Asian Americans about their voting rights is a good start, but more can be done. "We must do a better job of recruiting and supporting Asian Americans to run for public office so that our interests can be championed with the same zeal as other minorities," says Nelson Lee. Ultimately, satisfaction with the status quo is detrimental in the long run. "If you're coasting, you can only go downhill," warns Christie Kennett, director of government affairs for State Farm Insurance Co.
Diversity Counts for Diverse Reasons
As Americans, say honorees, diversity benefits all of us. "Diversity isn't about advancing one's self or one's own ethic group; it's about doing more to make our society live up to its potential," says Frank Wu, dean of Wayne State University. "Diversity is crucial to ensuring a fair and just society, where we all have equal rights and opportunities," agrees Jayashri Srikantiah.
However, although the benefits of diversity are traditionally couched in terms of providing opportunities for the underprivileged, there are benefits to everyone else as well. First, diversity can bring fresh perspectives to problems. The fact is, we already have a diverse nation, notes Bettina Yip, and to serve everyone, we ourselves need to be diverse. "Diversity of all kinds is vital to serving different facets of a community," she says. Nelson Lee agrees. "Although diversity is necessary in order to maintain balance, diversity also uses our different life experiences, backgrounds, cultures, and ideas to more effectively solve problems."
Second, because stereotypes can arise not out of malice but ignorance, diversity can also educate us all. "I still remember the time," says Young Kim, administrative judge of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "when I visited a friend while carrying a paper bag. The doorman called my friend on the phone and announced to him that his Chinese food delivery was here."
Grace Lee relates a similar incident: "On my flight to the NAPABA conference, the flight attendant told another passenger, 'I don't think she speaks English so just tell her you're first.' Before I could react, the other passenger nodded, gestured to her neck and said to me in a loud and slow voice, 'Nice. Necklace.' Taken aback, I replied in the same exaggerated manner: 'Thank. You.' And then with my two-year old son firmly in tow, I asked the attendant incredulously, 'Did you just say I couldn't speak English?' " Had the attendant encountered more Asian Americans, Lee concludes, she might have had a different view.
Finally, a diverse society casts off all sorts of rich hues, benefiting us all. "We do not live in a color-blind society," says Alice Wong, deputy district attorney for Sacramento, Calif., "and I say that in a positive light. Our experiences would certainly not be as rich without the uniqueness and gifts a diverse environment offers." "Diversity gives us something that is missing in ourselves sometimes," concludes Priya Sanger, senior counsel with Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.
Michael Chu practices business litigation with Haynes and Boone, LLP in Houston, Texas. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and is a former law clerk for the Hon. Kenneth M. Hoyt (S.D. Texas).
David Chiu is founder, senior vice president and general counsel of Grassroots Enterprise, a public affairs technology company. Chiu previously worked as a staff attorney at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, as a criminal prosecutor with the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, and as a law clerk to Judge Browning of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. He also worked in the U.S. Senate as Democratic Counsel to the Senate Constitution Subcommittee. Chiu is board president of the Youth Leadership Institute, secretary of the Bay Area's Asian American Bar Association, an elected member of the California Democratic Party's Central Committee, and on the boards of affordable housing and domestic violence nonprofits. He earned his bachelor's, master's, and law degrees from Harvard University.
Marisa Chun is a partner at Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass, LLP in San Francisco, where she practices complex commercial litigation and labor/employment law. Previously, she was a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, investigating and prosecuting employment discrimination cases. Chun is a mediator for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, chairperson of the State Bar of California's Committee on Federal Courts, a past president of the Korean American Bar Association of Northern California, and is active in community activities. Chun graduated from Yale University (summa cum laude) and Harvard Law School (cum laude), where she served on the Harvard Law Review. She was a law clerk to the Honorable Robert Boochever of the Ninth Circuit.
Christina Chung is a project director at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) in Los Angeles, where her work to end sweatshops and establish corporate accountability in the garment industry has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements to Asian and Latino immigrant workers and changes in corporate practices. Chung has spearheaded lawsuits challenging sweatshop abuses of major clothing companies. She recently authored a winning Ninth Circuit brief in a large case. Previously, under Chung's leadership, APALC led a landmark civil rights complaint against the county's welfare department, charging discrimination against limited-English proficient individuals-culminating in a large compensation in back benefits for low-income clients. Chung graduated from Stanford University and earned her juris doctorate at the University of Michigan Law School.
Jay Chung is a founding partner of Lee Anav Chung LLP, where he specializes in complex commercial litigation, servicing banks, financial institutions, and other business clients. Chung participated in several successful trials, including a jury trial resulting in a verdict in excess of $2 million. Chung was a mediator at the Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. He served as president of the Korean American Bar Association of Southern California in 2002, during which he established the Community Legal Clinic to provide legal assistance to those in the underserved community. Chung is the incoming Los Angeles governor for NAPABA and the U.S. West regional governor for the International Association of Korean Lawyers.
Anurag (Ani) Gulati
Ani Gulati serves as assistant general counsel at General Mills, where his responsibilities include managing the company's litigation, supporting marketing divisions, reviewing premiums, and overseeing bankruptcy. While at General Mills, Gulati has significantly increased spending with minority-owned firms and with minority partners at majority-owned firms. Gulati also serves as a mentor in General Mills' minority mentoring program and on the advisory board of World Voices, a choral group performing international music. He was in private practice in Chicago until 1997, when he joined General Mills as senior attorney. He was promoted to counsel in 1999 and assistant general counsel in 2001. Gulati received his undergraduate degree from Colgate University, cum laude, in 1987 and received his J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law in 1991.
Mark Lee Keam
Mark Lee Keam is chief counsel to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Keam and his team of attorneys work on committee hearings and legislation that address a variety of issues, including antitrust, bankruptcy, civil liberties/rights, criminal justice, homeland security, immigration, intellectual property, and constitutional amendments. Keam also works on the Senate confirmation process for the President's nominees to the Justice Department and to the federal bench. Before coming to Capitol Hill in 2001, Keam served an appointment in the Clinton administration and held a number of positions in private, public, and political organizations. Keam graduated from the University of California, Irvine, and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, where he served on the Hastings Law Journal.
Christie Shih Kennett
Christie Shih Kennett is director of government affairs for State Farm Insurance Companies. Previously, Kennett was a securities counsel for State Farm and a tax attorney for Husch & Eppenberger, LLC. Kennett serves on the Bloomington Zoning Board of Appeals, and is active in politics at all levels. She is president of OCA-Central Illinois Chapter. Kennett also serves on the boards of the local YWCA, the ParkLands Foundation, Habitat for Humanity's Women Build, the League of Women Voters, and AsiaNET. Goldsea Asian American Business named Kennett as a 2004 "Top Asian American Corporate Executive Under 45." Kennett graduated with high distinction honors from the University of Illinois and St. Louis University School of Law.
Administrative Judge Young Kim was born in South Korea and moved with his family to Chicago when he was 11 years old. Kim began his legal career as an assistant Cook County public defender. After two years as a public defender, Kim accepted a federal judicial clerkship with Judge Charles Norgle of the Northern District of Illinois. After his clerkship, he joined the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, where he worked in both the civil and criminal divisions. In July 2001, Kim accepted an appointment as an administrative judge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where he presides over federal sector employment discrimination cases. He is Illinois' first Korean American judge.
Victor I. King
Victor I. King is university counsel for California State University, Los Angeles, a campus with over 20,000 students. He also is president of the Board of Trustees of the Glendale Community College District (in Glendale/La Crescenta, California), a board to which he was elected in 1997 and re-elected in 2001. King serves as a director of the Center for Asian Americans United for Self Empowerment and editor-in-chief of its political journal, Cause & Effects. Previously, he was a partner specializing in professional liability and business litigation at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, a 400-attorney firm. King attended the University of Chicago (B.A./M.A.) and University of Michigan Law School (J.D.), where he was articles editor of the Michigan Journal of International Law.
Viet Le is an associate general counsel at Avnet, Inc., a Fortune 500 corporation, where she is responsible for managing global litigation and compliance and for counseling management on a variety of employment issues. A former "boat person," Le has been involved in helping Vietnamese refugees adapt to a new life in the U.S. She also has been active in various professional and community service organizations, including the Arizona Asian American Bar Association, City of Phoenix Judicial Selection Advisory Board, State Bar of Arizona Appointments Committee, Maricopa County Colleges-Asian Pacific Islander Community Advisory Committee, and the Phoenix Symphony board of directors.
Grace H. Lee
Grace H. Lee currently serves as deputy treasurer and general counsel for Massachusetts State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill. Prior to joining the treasurer's senior staff, Lee was an associate at Morgan, Brown & Joy, concentrating in employment discrimination, labor law, and commercial litigation. In the public sector, Lee was an attorney for the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights and an assistant district attorney and chief of the civil rights division for the Norfolk County District Attorney's Office. Lee was featured in an article in The Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly titled, "A Day in the Life of an Assistant D.A." Lee received the Timothy J. Spillane Jr. Award for Outstanding District Court Prosecution and the New England School of Law 1999 Minority Student Association Distinguished Alumni Award.
Nelson K.H. Lee
Nelson K.H. Lee is the immediate past president of the Asian Bar Association of Washington. A senior deputy in the Most Dangerous Offender Project, King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Seattle, Washington, Lee handles some of the county's most serious and high profile homicide cases, including State of Washington v. Charles Champion (murder of a police officer), currently Washington's only death penalty case. In March 2004, Lee was invited to Tokyo by the Japanese Ministry of Justice to train prosecutors and high-ranking officials on trial advocacy and criminal procedure. Lee regularly volunteers at the International District Legal Clinic. He also volunteers as coach and advisor to moot court and trial advocacy contestants, including those that participate in the Thomas Tang Moot Court Competition.
Yabo Lin is a partner with Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin LLP and co-chairs the firm's International Practice Group. In 2002, he became the first Asian American partner in the firm's 90-year history. He has counseled clients on domestic and international M & A, asset divestiture, and other transactions exceeding $2.5 billion in value. He also coordinates the relationship between the firm and a major multi-state and international utility company. Lin serves as chair of the advisory board on Chinese legal programs at Washington University School of Law, director of the Edgar Snow Memorial Fund, and on the editorial board of the NAPABA Lawyer. He attended Washington University (J.D.), McGeorge School of Law (LL.M.), Zhongshan University (LL.M.), and Fudan University (B.A.).
Glenn D. Magpantay
Glenn D. Magpantay is a state attorney with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, where he coordinates voting rights programs. He is a recognized authority on Asian Americans and enforcement of the federal Voting Rights Act. Magpantay serves on the New York City Voter Assistance Commission, the agency responsible for voter registration in the nation's largest municipality. He also serves as co-chair of the Gay Asian & Pacific Islander Men of New York, a social, political, peer support, and education group for gay Asians. In 1998, Magpantay was selected as a National Association for Public Interest Law Equal Justice Fellow. He attended the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and graduated cum laude from New England School of Law.
Anoma Phanthourath arrived in the United States as a Laotian refugee with only a few dollars in her pocket. At age 32, she has become an active civic leader in Phoenix, Arizona. Phanthourath is a commercial litigator at Shughart Thomson & Kilroy and handles complex cases for Fortune 500 and high-profile clients. She was selected by The Business Journal as one of Phoenix's "Forty Under 40," by bizAZ Magazine as one of 15 "Up and Coming Attorneys" in Arizona, and is often on Phoenix radio and television discussing civic issues. A graduate of the University of Texas and the University of Arizona College of Law, Phanthourath serves on numerous philanthropic boards, was appointed a city commissioner, and is active in Arizona's political circles, including the Arizona Women in the Senate and House.
Ekwan Rhow is a litigation partner at Bird Marella in Los Angeles, California. A 1991 graduate of Stanford University and a 1994 graduate of Harvard Law School, he specializes in litigating business disputes, including those involving securities, employment, and intellectual property issues. His clients include South Korean conglomerates, U.S. and California companies, Silicon Valley venture capital funds, and individuals in the entertainment industry. Ekwan is actively involved in the community and the firm's pro bono efforts. He co-counseled with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in cutting-edge litigation that resulted in a $4 million-plus settlement on behalf of El Monte, California garment workers. He also currently serves on the board of directors of the Korean American Coalition and is the incoming president-elect of the Korean American Bar Association.
Priya Sanger is senior counsel at Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. in San Francisco, specializing in technology and regulatory law. A graduate of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts (B.A. in Classics), and the University of Utah College of Law in 1990 where she was a Utah Law Review member, Sanger was elected president of the Barristers Club of San Francisco, serves on the board of the Bar Association of San Francisco, and is president-elect of the San Francisco Bank Attorneys Association. She was appointed to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission Disadvantaged Business Committee. A former litigator, Sanger is admitted to the state bars of New York, California, and Utah, and to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court bars.
Jayashri Srikantiah is associate professor and director of the Immigrants' Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School. Before coming to Stanford, Srikantiah was associate legal director of the America Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, where she focused on a multi-disciplinary effort to protect civil rights in the post-9/11 environment. Srikantiah has also worked on numerous immigrants' rights cases, including the Supreme Court case of a Korean immigrant placed in mandatory detention because of minor convictions; challenges to the INS' indefinite detention of non-deportable immigrants from Southeast Asia; challenges to prohibitions on judicial review enacted by the 1996 immigration laws in the federal courts and the Supreme Court; and representing South Asian women trafficked into this country. Srikantiah received her J.D. and graduated magna cum laude from New York University Law School.
Hoang “Quan” Vu
Hoang "Quan" Vu is a newly named partner at Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP. He is a graduate of Harvard College (A.B. 1992, magna cum laude) and Harvard Law School (J.D. 1995). A banking/finance attorney, Vu's practice includes project finance, structured finance, general secured/unsecured lending, workouts, leasing, and corporate work. He recently represented the senior debt on the 2003 financing of the new St. Louis Cardinals baseball stadium and on a $500 million U.S./Canadian global credit facility for a public oil and gas company. Vu is a 2004 Texas Superlawyer Rising Star. He is also the 2005 president for the Asian American Bar Association of Houston and was recently appointed to the board of directors of the Harvard University Club of Houston.
Alice Wong received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley and her law degree from Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. Wong works as a deputy district attorney in the Homicide Unit of the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office in California. She authored and received a $150,000 federal grant to bridge the gap between the various ethnic communities and the criminal justice system. Wong is the former board president of My Sister's House, the first Asian-Pacific Islander battered women's shelter in Sacramento. She currently serves as the public safety liaison officer for the Council of Asian Pacific Islanders Together for Advocacy and Leadership (CAPITAL), working to build partnerships with the API communities and the public safety agencies in Sacramento.
Frank H. Wu
In 2004, Frank H. Wu became the dean of Wayne State University Law School in his hometown of Detroit. From 1995 to 2004, he taught at Howard University. Wu is the author of Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White and co-author of Race, Rights and Reparation: Law and the Japanese American Internment. Wu serves as a trustee of Gallaudet University and on the board of the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights Educational Fund. He has served on the DC Board of Professional Responsibility and as chair of the DC Human Rights Commission. Wu is an elected member of the American Law Institute, a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and a member of the Committee of 100.
Bettina Yip joined Cingular Wireless in March 2003 as counsel-labor & human resources. She graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College in 1996, and received her J.D. from Columbia University School of Law in 1999, where she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar. Yip is a past president of the Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association and was also a past NAPABA Southeast Regional Governor. She co-founded NAPABA's Labor and Employment Committee, and is on the Mentor Program sub-committee of NAPABA's In-House Committee and the Rapid Response Media Team. In 2000, she founded the People's Law School for the Asian Community. Yip is currently the only Asian-Pacific American on the State Bar of Georgia Board of Governors, and also serves on the boards of a number of local organizations.
From the January/February 2005 issue of Diversity & The Bar®