I Went to Law School to Do Pro Bono Work

“Oh, you need to speak with an attorney about that.” After nearly twenty-five years trying to assist members of the local Asian American community facing various challenges, I was getting tired of hearing that common response. My efforts included but were not limited to securing social services and appealing mom-and-pop business matters with state or county agencies. In 2013, at the very young age of forty-seven, I decided to do something about it by going to law school!

I had not initially anticipated law school being part of my career path. I graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1990. I spent the next ten years at Boeing’s Commercial Airplane Group, working with international aircraft leasing companies and flying all over the world. By my rough calculation of total miles flown, I circled by globe almost three hundred times. In 1995, my sister and I had this crazy idea to open up a coffee and gift shop. We did, and the shop failed, but I learned some valuable lessons that are useful in my current practice advising mom-and-pop business owners. I earned an MBA from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business in 2001. I joined Microsoft, and for the next eleven years, I led efforts involving international marketing, product management, and enterprise business development. That period of my career included a two-year stint in Microsoft’s Asia Pacific regional office in Singapore working with global partners Samsung and LG. After losing my father to cancer, I contemplated long and hard about how I wished to live out the rest of my life. I wanted my legacy to be that of someone who lived an impactful and influential life assisting my community and concluded that could be accomplished by being a lawyer. I returned to Seattle from my assignment in Singapore and began preparing for the LSAT. I enrolled in the University of Washington School of Law and earned my JD and passed the bar in 2016.

As a child of immigrants, I remained very active with community involvement and assisting other immigrant families to “pay back” for all the help my parents and I received from others upon our arrival. In 1997, when residents decided to incorporate Shoreline, Washington, as its own city, I ran for a position on the founding City Council, where I served for two terms, incorporating the city and directing foundational policy for all of the infrastructure and services the city now provides. It was quite challenging and demanding to serve on the Shoreline City Council while working full time at Boeing, but it was an incredibly rewarding opportunity to serve my community. Today, I serve on the board of Shoreline Community College Foundation and Seattle City Symphony and am the board chair of Korean Community Service Center (“KCSC”), a nonprofit serving the Seattle metropolitan area that promotes the health and well-being of the Korean American community through a wide range of services. I am also the founding president of the Washington Chapter of the Korean American Coalition (KAC-WA), now a 4,500-member community empowerment and development organization. I advocated fiercely on behalf of my local community and still do.

Taking that advocacy into the realm of legal work has felt powerful and satisfying, as I’ve been able to use my expertise to support others in new ways. As soon as I was eligible to do pro bono work in law school, I jumped at every opportunity and loved it. I volunteered with intake efforts for the Moderate Means Program, which helps moderate income individuals obtain legal services in key areas. I assisted a U-Visa applicant and assisted DACA applicants under the supervision of a practicing lawyer. Upon passing the Washington State Bar, I quickly signed up to volunteer with one of the King County Neighborhood Legal Clinic programs, a pro bono legal clinic run by the Korean American Bar Association of Washington (“KABA”). I even served as president of KABA. During my presidency, I helped raise the most funds KABA has ever raised and more than doubled the amount of scholarships awarded to law students. After the conclusion of my presidency, I am continuing to serve as the chair of KABA’s pro bono clinic, directly delivering pro bono services as well as soliciting and managing volunteers. During the pandemic, I coordinated with KCSC, which hosts the pro bono clinic at its office, to fit the office with clear plastic shields. With these and other precautions in place, we opened the legal clinic for up to four hours each day to aid mom-and-pop business owners struggling with the challenges of the pandemic. The appreciation expressed by the clients made all of the time and effort, including risk during the pandemic, worth it.

My years of professional experiences prior to becoming an attorney provide great foundation and context as I assist clients in my current practice, which is focused on real estate transactions and advising small, family-owned businesses. The opportunity to deliver pro bono services alongside that practice is incredibly rewarding; it affirms that I made the right decision to go to law school and become a lawyer as my fourth career. Was it worth leaving my job as a marketer at Microsoft and leaving thousands of shares of unvested stock? Would I do it again? Probably not. Do I regret it? Definitely not, because I am able to help those who are in need of legal assistance but unable to afford it. No one can tell me that I “need to go talk with an attorney” when I am trying to help those in need.

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