Throughout his legal career—25 years so far—he had made it a point of maintaining a track record that reflects sharpened skills in every sector and practice—private, public, corporate; litigating, contracting dealing, managing. It was certainly worth his while. Today Ching is one of a small number of Asian Americans who hold the General Counsel title at a high-tech startup in Silicon Forest.
Considering the change in landscape he witnessed along the way, it has so far been quite a trip. And as one among a small handful of Chinese Americans entering the legal field in the early ‘70s, a part of his work included the constant debunking of societal preconceptions of Asian Americans. “In the early part of my career in the stone ages, being Chinese probably didn’t help that much. It might have been more of a hindrance since I was going across the grain,” Ching said from his office in Cama, Wash. “So I had to break the stereotypes.”
As an aggressive litigator with a successful track record early on, he was able to quickly circumvent the many barriers to entry for Asian Americans in the field. At time, the hiring non-whites in many firms was virtually unheard of. “There were firms that outright said we’re just not interviewing minorities period,” he said. Their reasons? “[Minorities] didn’t fit into the traditional candidate profile.”
But he managed to do it anyway. Along the way, he became the first Asian American to ever become a partner at the age old Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe in Los Angeles. Likewise, he was the first Asian American partner that McKenna and Cueno ever took on.
“I think it was less of an issue at McKenna than Orrick,” he said, noting that McKenna is a much younger firm. Orrick, which is a traditional firm that handles legal matters in the finance sector, has since beefed up their hiring of Asian Americans. “Their clients are changing,” he says. “So they need to adjust to their client base.”
These days, Ching’s executive position at WaferTech, which is an American foundry that is majority-owned by TSMC, or Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, in Taiwan, utilizes his language skills both here and abroad. The changed attitude toward minority lawyers has permeated across the board, he said. “But at the more established firms, there is still a pecking order,” said Ching. “There’s a preference in minority hiring: Black female first, then Black male, then Hispanic male and Hispanic female and then finally Asians.”
The bottom line though is that even at more traditional firms, there are ongoing shifts in hiring practices “It’s a different world out there,” notes Ching. “Young lawyers today are not dealing with the initial barrier to entry. These days, people are actually interviewing.”
Ching started his waltz with the law as a deputy district attorney in Martinez, California after receiving his JD from University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1975. He wanted to do trial work, he said. “And working for the government is the best opportunity to get trial work early on.” Between then and now, his resume reflects a number of years as partner at private practices and years spent at Litton Industries where he served as senior counsel and West coast counsel at Shell Oil Company.
Since 1997, Ching has been overseeing WaferTech’s legal affairs. “It’s funny,” he says of his position at the high-tech startup. While the experiences were many, in a way, his career has almost come full turn. It should be noted that prior to Ching’s entry into the legal field, he spent three years supporting his education at Fairchild Semiconductor where he supervised shift operations. Two years into his first legal foray, a friend of the district attorney was approached by the general counsel of Western Pacific Transportation in San Francisco. “He was starting to fill up the in-house litigation department. He asked for recommendations for a couple of hot shot lawyers,” recalled Ching.
“I was interviewed on a Monday and was offered a job that Tuesday,” he said.
He misses the courtroom dynamics at the government post. But from the first day outside the public sector, he had never looked back.
From the November 2000 issue of Diversity & The Bar®