MCCA is proud to present the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s (NAPABA) inaugural “Best Lawyers Under 40” list.
NAPABA, the over 40,000 member association, combed through its ranks of attorneys, judges, and law professors and came up with 25 of the brightest Asian Pacific American legal stars.
These young lawyers share at least two traits besides legal excellence: They’ve demonstrated leadership ability, and an unswerving commitment to the Asian Pacific community. Additionally, many have vaulted over barriers to diversity, like stereotypes and biases.
Jim Goh, chair of the “Best Lawyers Under 40” selection committee and a partner at Holland & Hart, says the idea followed a “realization that for too long Asian Pacific American lawyers have been toiling in anonymity.” Selection committee member Don Liu, general counsel of IKON Office Solutions, concurs, saying: These are “superb attorneys who have not been given the spotlight or the recognition that they deserve.”
“If you look deeply, you see that the best lawyer list reflects the expertise and maturity of Asian Pacific lawyers,”adds selection committee member Vivian Tseng, general counsel of Welch Foods, Inc. According to Tseng, highlighting the attorneys’ achievements also serves a broader purpose: “It reflects that we are becoming well entrenched in the legal profession in all aspects of the profession, public service, corporate practice, and private practice. We just wanted to build on that foundation,” continued Tseng.
For instance, consider Viet Dinh, one of the 25 recipients of the honor. As a child, he was forced to flee from South Vietnam on a raft. After arriving in the U.S., Dinh graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He later became a Georgetown University Law Center professor, and now serves as a senior policy advisor at the Justice Department.
“I have always thought that a law degree is one of the best ways new arrivals, including Asian Americans, can best serve their communities” says Dinh. “The profession is enhanced by having a legal work force that is reflective of America.”
Thomas H. Yang, another attorney who made the cut, says he is honored to be recognized for his legal achievements, and hopes to pass on this lesson. Yang, who is a partner in the Dallas office of Haynes and Boone LLP, says, “I have learned from people who forged ahead of me” and as younger attorneys join the profession “certainly I’d hope to do the same for them.”
While the sentiment is unanimous that attorneys like Dinh and Yang have climbed onto the highest legal rungs from the general counsel’s offices of the largest corporations, to partnerships at prestigious law firms, and high government posts and on the bench, it appears that the ideal-a profession that is free from stereotypes, prejudice and bias-remains elusive.
Tseng acknowledges the challenge: “The fact that there are barriers does not mean that they are insurmountable, and the fact that there are minority general counsel also doesn’t mean that there are no barriers,” she points out.
A glaring example of prejudice was encountered by NAPABA member Wilson Chu, a partner at Haynes and Boone LLP. In September, Chu received a shocking directive from a Taiwanese client: “[P]lease could you confirm that this demand letter will be signed by a white race attorney for our client.”
“People in this day and age still hold serious prejudices and stereotypes, and in this case it just shows that this person feels that an Asian lawyer is not adequate enough to do something in the U.S.,” says Chu, who decided to terminate the business relationship.
Another “Best Lawyer Under 40,” Judge Jeannie Hong, the first Asian-American judge in Maryland, agrees about biases within the Asian culture. “There is an unsaid norm to go along with the flow-especially for female Asians.” That is why the Korean-born Hong is honored to be on the list. “If people see my background and see me, they will immediately say ‘my goodness, that very easily could be myself,'” she says.
Even positive stereotypes about Asian-Pacific lawyers are damaging. The typical reputation of an Asian-American attorney may be that he or she is smart, works hard, and is “in effect a good solider,”says Liu. But, that creates a stereotype that Asian Pacific attorneys are not leaders, aggressive, or creative. “I think the recognition of these attorneys who have accomplished leadership roles is a good way to break those stereotypes,” says Liu.
Liu points out another benefit of being recognized as one of the “Best Lawyers Under 40”-future business relationships. “I am one of the general counsel who are constantly looking for talent, particularly from diverse attorneys. This recognition allows easier access to some of these individuals,” says Liu.
Members of NAPABA’s “Best Lawyers Under 40” selection committee were: Jim Goh, chair and partner at the Holland & Hart LLP; Don Liu, general counsel, IKON Office Solutions; Hon. Alvin Wong, State Court DeKalb County, Ga.; Vivian Tseng, general counsel, Welch Foods, Inc.; and Wilson Chu, partner, Haynes and Boone LLP.
Best Lawyers Under 40 List
National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) is proud to unveil its inaugural list of the “Best Lawyers Under 40.” From a slew of extremely worthy nominations, NAPABA has selected the following individuals to receive the honor of being one of NAPABA’s “Best Lawyers Under 40.”
Eduardo A. Angeles
Mr. Angeles is soon to be General Counsel of LAX. Currently, he is the Chief Attorney of Public Protection for the City Attorney’s Office in the City and County of San Francisco. He supervises attorneys who provide legal advice to the various commissions and heads of departments for the Fire, Police and Sheriff Departments, District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Animal Care and Control, and Adult and Juvenile Probation Department, Emergency Communication Center for the City. He has served as President of the Asian Bar of California (1997-98) and President of the Filipino Bar Association for Northern California (1992-93) and an elected official of the Jefferson Union High School District in San Mateo County.
Mr. Chu is a partner with Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione, a Chicago-based intellectual property firm. Mr. Chu litigates patent, trademark and copyright disputes, negotiates license agreements and prosecutes patent applications relating to a wide array of technologies. Mr. Chu holds a J.D. from William and Mary, where he was Articles Editor for the William and Mary Law Review. He is currently VP Development of NAPABA and has served on its board since 2001. Mr. Chu also serves on the boards of the NLF and AABA-Chicago.
Ms. Chung is a Deputy District Attorney with Los Angeles County assigned to the Hardcore Gang division. She specializes in prosecuting Asian gang members and her caseload predominantly involves gang-related murders. Ms. Chung serves on the Board of Governors of the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association and has also served on the boards of the Los Angeles County Bar Barristers, the Asian Pacific Advisory Council for Big Sisters of Los Angeles, and the Asian Pacific Women’s Center, a transitional housing shelter for battered women.
Mr. Dinh is the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy. Prior to his entry into government service, Dinh was Professor of Law and Deputy Director of Asian Law and Policy Studies at the Georgetown University Law Center. Mr. Dinh graduated magna cum laude from both Harvard College and Harvard Law School, where he was a Class Marshal and an Olin Research Fellow in Law and Economics. He was a law clerk to Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. He served as Associate Special Counsel to the U.S. Senate Whitewater Committee, as Special Counsel to Senator Pete V. Domenici for the Impeachment Trial of the President, and as counsel to the Special Master in In re Austrian and German Bank Holocaust Litigation. Mr. Dinh came to America from Vietnam as a refugee in 1978.
With Governor Parris N. Glendening’s appointment of Ms. Hong as a Designate judge to the Baltimore City District Court in 2002, Ms. Hong became the first Asian American judge in the State of Maryland. Ms. Hong graduated from the University of Virginia and the Washington College of Law/American University. Ms. Hong has served as an Assistant State’s Attorney for the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, where she headed the auto theft unit. Ms. Hong has been very active in a wide variety of bar association and civic organization activities. Ms. Hong received Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s Women in Government Service Award of Excellence and she was a Maryland Delegate to the 2000 Democratic National Convention.
Ms. Kang co-founded Haynes and Boone, LLP’s Immigration Practice Group, which has become one of Southwest’s premier immigration practices. She was recently voted one of the top Dallas lawyers under 40 (D Magazine). Cindy has successfully advised Japanese and Korean E visa investors/traders on the structure of U.S. investment/trade; secured visas by developing an airline management program for Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States; and secured visas for foreign nationals from throughout the world. Cindy graduated from The University of Texas School of Law (J.D., 1995).
With her appointment to the Magistrate Court of Fulton County to serve on a pro hac basis, Ms. Kim became the first Asian American woman to serve on the bench in Fulton County, Georgia. Ms. Kim opened her own practice in Atlanta, Georgia in September 2002, to continue her exclusive practice in criminal defense. Ms. Kim has served as Secretary, Vice-President, and Director of the Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association. She is a member of the MultiBar Leadership Council. Ms. Kim has also served on the State Bar of Georgia council for post conviction capital representation committee since 1998. She is currently serving on the Georgia Supreme Court Commission on Interpreters.
Mr. Koh serves as the hiring partner of Perkins Coie, LLP, in Seattle, where he practices product liability, class action and civil fraud litigation. Mr. Koh is the national product liability class action counsel for a major wood products manufacturer and has defended many statewide and nationwide class actions. He also represents manufacturers in mass tort cases arising from airplane accidents, and has defended numerous civil fraud cases. Mr. Koh graduated from Yale Law School and clerked for Judge Patricia Wald of the D. C. Circuit.
Mr. Lieu is an attorney at Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles and a Councilman in the City of Torrance, which has 140,000 people. He clerked for the late Judge Thomas Tang on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He then served active duty as a JAG, where he prosecuted and defended courts-martial, and is currently an Air Force reserve officer. Mr. Lieu has authored Op-Ed pieces that appeared in several newspapers, including the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and International Herald Tribune.
Ms. Ling is a Staff Attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), where she manages the anti-Asian violence, racial profiling and 9-11 detention programs. She was born in Manhattan’s Chinatown, to immigrant parents who toiled in sweatshop factories and restaurants. She is the nation’s leading authority on anti-Asian violence and co-authors the Audit of Anti-Asian Violence. She has been quoted in the New York Times, Newsweek and other major journals. Since September 11, Ms. Ling has been at the forefront of providing direct representation to 9-11 South Asian, Arab, Filipino and Muslim immigrant detainees.
Ms. Liu is Director of Legal and Business Affairs at Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. in charge of litigation, third party licensing and anti-piracy. Previously, she was a litigation partner at Townsend and Townsend and Crew, an intellectual property law boutique. She was the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area’s Anti-Bias and Diversity Committee co-chair and Board member before serving as President in 2000. She serves today as its In-House Counsel Committee co-chair. From 1998 to 2000, she served as a NAPABA Regional Governor. Ms. Liu was recently nominated to the Board of KQED, the third largest national public broadcasting company.
Recently appointed to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen is the first Vietnamese American woman judge in the State of California. She previously served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where she prosecuted some of the Office’s most significant complex white-collar fraud cases. Judge Nguyen also served as the Deputy Chief in the General Crimes Section, responsible for the training of new prosecutors in the Office. The FBI, Customs, the Department of Justice, and numerous other agencies have honored Judge Nguyen. Judge Nguyen served as the President of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association in 2000. She has also served on the boards and committees a wide variety of civic organizations.
Ms. Nguyen is a partner in the Corporate Department of Holland & Knight, LLP, in Los Angeles. Ms. Nguyen has extensive experience in mergers and acquisitions, corporate financing, lending and general business law. As a business lawyer, Ms. Nguyen often acts as outside general counsel for her clients. In that capacity, Ms. Nguyen has supervised attorneys at Holland & Knight and other firms in a wide range of matters, including labor and employment, complex commercial litigation, patent prosecution and securities compliance. Ms. Nguyen received her BA from the University of Southern California in 1983 and her JD from Harvard Law School in 1986.
Mr. Payson is currently Vice President of the Asian Bar Association of Washington, and was formerly the NAPABA Regional Governor from the Pacific Northwest Region.
He is a senior associate at the law firm of Heller Erhman White & McAuliffe.
Mr. Payson’s practice focuses on defending individual and corporate clients in state and federal courts and in arbitration, with an emphasis on complex civil litigation.
He has significant experience defending class actions in product liability and consumer “unfair” business practices cases. He has also represented clients in licensing, contract, insurance coverage, securities, and intellectual property cases.
Mr. Payson is a former law clerk to the Honorable Barbara Durham, Chief Justice, Washington State Supreme Court. He graduated from California State University, Hayward (B.A., magna cum laude) in 1993, and from the University of California at Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law (J.D.) in 1996.
Mr. Pham is the managing partner of Karger Key Barnes & Springer, PC, the largest labor and employment firm in Texas. He represents publicly held companies as well as private businesses on labor and commercial disputes. He has been involved in the defense of several class-actions concerning employment and commercial controversies. Lu is active in his profession and community. He led the first American Bar Association delegation to Viet Nam in 1997, and spearheaded a training/exchange program for foreign judges. He has served as an adjunct law professor, a municipal judge, and legal counsel to the local Asian American Chamber.
Mr. Pontaoe is the Director and Trademark Counsel for GlaxoSmithKline in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, where he is the only non-Vice President on the Global Trademark Management Team. Mr. Pontaoe is very active in the International Trademark Association and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association. Working with GlaxoSmithKline’s Washington, DC political office, Mr. Pontaoe was responsible for the removal of a “leadership hold” in the United States Senate concerning the Madrid Protocol implementing legislation. Prior to GlaxoSmithKline, Mr. Pontaoe was associated with Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly and McAulay Nissen Goldberg Kiel & Hand in New York, where he managed each firm’s largest trademark portfolios and litigated patent, trademark, copyright and domain name cases.
Mr. Pu-Folkes founded the grass-roots organization called New Immigrant Community Empowerment (“NICE”) in 1999. After only three years of operation, NICE is recognized as a leading advocate for immigrants in New York City. Mr. Pu-Folkes also serves as the Director of the Private Bar Involvement Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), which enables community-based organizations serving low-income populations and communities of color to receive pro bono legal assistance from top New York City law firms. Mr. Pu-Folkes serves on the boards of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, Asian American Consulting Services and Lotus Music and Dance. Mr. Pu-Folkes graduated from CUNY Queens College and received his J.D. from the NYU School of Law. In October 2002, Mr. Pu-Folkes was appointed a Commissioner to the New York City Human Rights Commission.
As Chair of Administrative Law at the Philadelphia Law Department, Ms. Tsai is responsible for managing the attorneys who handle the work of the City’s social services agencies, including the Department of Human Services and the Department of Public Health. Ms. Tsai is First Vice-President of the University of Pennsylvania Law School Board of Managers of the Alumni Society, an Executive Committee member of the Asian Bar Association of the Delaware Valley, a Board member of Philadelphia Legal Assistance and on the Advisory Board of the Partners Program. She served as President of Philadelphia VIP, a pro-bono referral agency, in 1999.
Mr. Tu is in-house patent counsel and Director of Intellectual Property for Physiome Sciences, a biotechnology company. Mr. Tu is responsible for managing Physiome’s patent portfolio and for counseling management on a wide variety of intellectual property and other strategic issues. Mr. Tu attended MIT (double-majoring in chemical engineering and biology), earned an MBA in Finance, and attended law school on a full-tuition, merit-based scholarship (graduating magna cum laude). After law school, Tu clerked for NJ Supreme Court Justice Stewart Pollock and Third Circuit Judge Leonard Garth before working as a patent-litigation associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges. Mr. Tu is very active in many bar association and professional and community organization activities. He is currently an Adjunct Professor at Rutgers Law School Newark, teaching a course on patent law.
Mr. Woo is a newly elected partner at the Atlanta office of King & Spalding, where he practices tort litigation with a focus on product liability defense for the pharmaceutical industry. Mr. Woo is a graduate of Harvard College (A.B. ’89) and Harvard Law School (J.D. ’94), where he served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Mr. Woo clerked for the Hon. Stanley F. Birch, Jr. of the Eleventh Circuit. Along with many other noteworthy achievements, Mr. Woo has had the distinct honor of serving as co-President, along with his wife, Angie, of the Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association.
Mr. Yang is a partner at Wiley Rein & Fielding LLP. He has published numerous articles and has lectured extensively on tort and insurance law issues. His accomplishments include: President-Elect & Southeast Regional Governor, NAPABA; Treasurer/Board of Directors, NAPALC; General Counsel, OCA; Former President, APABA-DC; CoFounder, Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center. Other activities include: Former General Counsel & Secretary, District of Columbia Bar; Citizens Advisory Council, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department; Editorial Advisory Board, Environmental Claims Journal.
Mr. Yang is a partner at Haynes and Boone, LLP, where he focuses on public offerings of equity and debt securities, mergers and acquisitions of both public and privately held companies, venture capital debt and equity financings, and representation of emerging companies and investment funds. Mr. Yang is a co-founder and former board member and President of PA2, an organization for young Asian American professionals of Dallas. D Magazine recently ranked Mr. Yang as 8th Best Lawyer Under 40 in Dallas. He received his B.A. and J.D. from Columbia University, where he was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar.
Mr. Yeh is a partner in the Litigation & Advocacy Unit of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, in Los Angeles where he specializes in unfair competition, government litigation, land use, intellectual property, and competitive business disputes. Identified by the Los Angeles Daily Journal as an “Up & Comer” 1 of 10 promising young California litigators Mr. Yeh has substantial lead counsel experience in trials and appeals in federal and state courts. Mr. Yeh serves on the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association’s Board of Governors and is currently the Chair of its Judicial and Political Appointments Committee.
Professor Yoo is a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he works on foreign affairs, national security, and separation of powers issues. Professor Yoo is on leave from the University of California at Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall), where he has taught law since 1993. He received his B.A., summa cum laude, in American history from Harvard. Professor Yoo was an articles editor of the Yale Law Journal, and after graduating from Yale Law School, he clerked for Judge Silberman of the D.C. Circuit. He joined the Boalt faculty in 1993, then clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He has also served as General Counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Professor Yoo has published articles on foreign affairs, national security, and constitutional law in a number of the nation’s leading law journals.
Ms. Yuan practices municipal, land use, and education law at Preston Gates & Ellis, where she chairs the School District Practice Group. Grace has developed a coalition model that allows school districts to solve various problems in a strategic and cost-effective manner. She has worked to secure numerous changes to statutes and ordinances at the State, county, and city levels for her clients. Past and ongoing community involvement include serving as Chair of the Board of Trustees for Western Washington University; Vice President and Board member for the Asian Bar Association of Washington; and Director of National Outreach for the Locke for Governor Campaign.
Elisabeth Frater is an attorney and freelance journalist and is based in Washington, D.C
From the December 2002 issue of Diversity & The Bar®