Michael P. Chu
The goal of this column is to enlighten our readers about the private endeavors of attorneys who are part of the MCCA network. By examining lawyers and their work practices by day in contrast to the personal interests that they pursue outside of the office, it is our hope that this series of articles allows our readers to see the other side of lawyers who manage to pursue unique interests despite their demanding careers.
Michael P. Chu
Weekday mornings, Michael P. Chu is off to work at Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione’s downtown Chicago office, where he is a shareholder and intellectual property attorney specializing in patent, trademark, and copyright matters. Rather than drive or take the bus, some days he opts to run the six miles—this way he gets in some training for the Chicago Marathon that he runs each fall. Along the way, Chu often takes out his camera, which he carries wherever he goes, and shoots a few inspired pictures for his daily photo blog. (He likes to post a new image every day.) After a busy day of litigating, writing patent applications, policing knockoffs, and responding to clients, Chu typically makes time for yet another of his passions—music. Because the professional-quality saxophone quartet to which he belonged for several years is currently on hiatus, Chu is playing the sax or piano at home these days, solo or along with his three young children.
For Chu, making the effort to consistently incorporate the things he enjoys doing into his daily life is imperative. Even though his vocation and avocations are varied and require a high level of dedication and seriousness, he easily laughs off the “Renaissance man” tag, preferring to downplay his abilities. “I’m no more talented than the next guy,” he says with conviction. “It’s just that I take the time to nurture and create a platform for my interests. I like that they’re different and I like to do them often—it’s a great stress reducer, and it actually makes me more productive at work. Work/life balance is important, and I’ve found a way to manage that balance.”
Admittedly, the singular pursuit has never been Chu’s thing. As a freshman studying mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois, he attended a career fair where a recent alumnus described spending his first year as an engineer at a large manufacturing firm redesigning a leaky diaper. At the same event, a patent lawyer spoke. “He talked about having different things on his desk every day: projects relating to technical matters, some litigation, writing patent applications, and explaining things to clients and corporate governing bodies,” remembers Chu. “That variety sounded much more interesting to me. And when I began my job 16 years ago, that’s exactly how it was, and it’s still just as exciting today.”
|vo-ca-tion /vo-ke-shun/ [voh-key-shuhn] noun— a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling.|
After graduating from the College of William and Mary’s Marshall-Wythe School of Law in 1992, where he was one of two Asian students in a class of 170, Chu returned to his hometown of Chicago and started as an associate at Brinks Hofer, a nationally ranked patent law firm. While Chu, a former National Asian Pacific American Bar Association president, recalls experiencing harassment as a youth when his family moved to an all-white suburb, he describes his professional career as quite different and very satisfying. “I’ve been very fortunate,” he says. “I’ve found fantastic mentors at my firm and elsewhere who assisted my career development. At the same time, we can always do more, especially for attorneys of color. My firm has taken an imperative approach toward diversity, and my goal is to open up even more opportunities for those who come after me. I see it as my responsibility to set an example.” His firm has been thoroughly supportive of his activities with NAPABA and other bars of color, not to mention his other more “rightbrained” pursuits.
Rain or shine: Michael runs with his fellow Brinks Hofer lawyers along Lake Michigan on an eight-mile course. From left: Heidi Dare, Ben Findley, John Haugen, Vince Gnoffo, Michael Chu, Robert Summers, Mike Dreznes.
Photo by Audrey Cho Photograph
To prepare and prosecute patent applications, an attorney must be registered to practice before the Patent & Trademark Office, and that requires a scientific background—either a specifically approved scientific or engineering degree, or a certain number of hours of technical courses. “Patents are written with an eye toward someone skilled in the art—a person skilled in the art is someone with a skill level nearly equivalent to the inventor,” explains Chu. “For me it comes easier to work on mechanical matters, but I’ve also worked on chemical, electronics, and software patents. Sometimes it takes some advance research.”
As the name of his photoblog (www.MikesRightBrain.com) might suggest, Chu thoroughly enjoys the creative process. “My practice area requires a lot of analysis, but there are opportunities to be imaginative. When putting trial exhibits together, I try not to present the same PowerPoint slides that we’ve all seen a hundred times,” he explains. “I’ve been known to spend an inordinate amount of time ensuring that my exhibits not only show the pertinent information but are also visually appealing as well as memorable, and I like to think that this effort contributes to the success we’ve seen in litigation, negotiations, and even marketing.”
Long before Chu ever thought of practicing law, he was taking pictures. “My father was a pretty serious photographer, and from an early age I was using his cameras and developing photos for him in his darkroom,” remembers Chu. “It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, and today with the advent of digital photography, the time constraint has been removed, so it’s a very practical hobby as well.”
“Maintaining a photoblog has been a challenge,” he says. His online portfolio boasts many hundreds of colorful shots and portraits. “Coming up with consistently good photos isn’t easy, and you never want to post a lousy picture.” The daily pressure to have a photo and to have something somewhat meaningful to convey is a process in itself, says Chu. He calls it “forced creativity.” The deadline aspect ensures that Chu makes time for photography, and despite the sometimes hectic pace of his life, he says, it does not decrease the quality of the result or make the work less enjoyable. Chu feels that using his analytical and creative sides enhances his abilities as a lawyer while maintaining balance in his life.
“For me, photography is both documentation and expression,” says Chu, whose subjects range from nature to architecture to his family. Recently, he traveled with his mother to China and the Philippines to get acquainted with relatives he had never met before. The blog afforded Chu an opportunity to keep a visual journal throughout his trip, allowing his wife and children, along with Internet acquaintances from all over the world who frequently visit his blog, to share in the experience of his journey as it happened.
|av-o-ca-tion /ævo-ke-shun/ [av-uh-key-shuhn] noun — something a person does in addition to a principal occupation, esp. for pleasure; hobby.|
In the late 1990s, Chu was a member of the Chicago Bar Association’s Barristers Big Band, but he and three other sax-playing attorneys eventually left to form a foursome called Esquire Saxophone Quartet. “We played at legal association events, but mostly it was something we did for fun,” says Chu. “After a few years, one of our members left to become a law professor and another moved out of state, but there’s always the possibility that we’ll reunite. I don’t like to say we’re dead forever.”
Until a few years ago, Chu regularly raced in triathlons (including two Ironman races and a swim from Alcatraz Island) before an injury and an increasingly busy schedule restricted him to the only occasional marathon. To stay in shape, in addition to those morning runs to work, he does eight-mile evening runs with colleagues. “We have a great group of men and women who run together about three to four times a week, rain or shine,” says Chu. “While running, we’re able to chat about our work and what has transpired that day—it’s great for office morale and mentoring, and it’s a great bonding experience.”
Chu plans to continue pursuing his passions indefinitely. Because a good run takes no longer than a bus ride commute and photos can be snapped wherever he happens to be, because music is something he can enjoy with his family, and because patent law is forever changing and challenging, he sees no reason to stop doing what he is doing. Again, Chu says, “It’s all about making time for what’s important to you.” DB
Patrick Folliard is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, Md.
From the May/June 2008 issue of Diversity & The Bar®