The past few days I have been at the annual National Asian Pacific American Bar Association convention in Los Angeles, an event with over 1600 lawyers, law students, and members of the bench. The theme of the event was "Inspire" and it did just that for me. The convention was filled with informative panels, networking time, and plenary sessions. This year, the convention had its first Public Interest Summit to kick things off and that signified a strong emphasis in the APA community towards giving back and using our skills to help those who are less empowered to do so. The organizers expected only 20-30 people to come, but there was a much larger showing, which I found to be encouraging as I want to go into the public sector. The International Committee also had its own summit and I attended a panel entitled "Asian Litigants in the U.S. Courts," which offered practical tips on working with clients, juries, and judges in a way that preconceived biases of APA witnesses and attorneys would not get in the way of justice.
The other two days of the conference, I attended panels entitled, "Let Me Break It Down For You" and "Trial Practice and Litigation Skills," both very practical discussions about making complicated legal issues more accessible to laypersons and about being effective in the courtroom. It was great to hear experienced litigators, judges, and even jury consultants speak about what works best and how APA lawyers can develop their own lawyering styles that enable them to reach their audience in the most effective ways. I, for one, know that as a very petite Asian American woman, I worry about how to put my best foot forward and seeing that others have come before and paved the way, I know that I can be a strong advocate as well.
During the conference, I had the opportunity to learn about some interesting cases involving Asian defendants, including the senseless murder of Vincent Chin, the treason trial against Iva Toguri D'Aquino (who was nicknamed "Tokyo Rose"), and the question of citizenship for Wong Kim Ark. These cases really reflected that Asians have not always been treated fairly especially in difficult economic or war-ridden times. The take-home message was that, as APA lawyers, we need to fight for the rights of our community by putting our talents and degrees to good use. I think the first way we can do this is by making ourselves aware of the injustices that have occurred and finding out what problems our communities face that we can help with through pro bono work or even just teaching others by example, defying prejudicial stereotypes that may exist.
Through the multi-day conference, there was plenty of time to network with other individuals, which was great because the attendees came from all across the nation and worked in many different fields, from private practice to public sector and public interest to in-house. Most of the people I talked to were very willing to offer advice, tell me their story, and be a resource to the law students who were in attendance. The amount of judges at the conference was also astounding: from Judge Chin of the Second Circuit, to numerous District Court judges, to State Court judges from the Superior Court to Supreme Court levels. It was so inspiring to see and hear about how far so many of our APA lawyers and judges have come. They have been named leaders in the field and have promoted diversity in their respective firms and organizations, essentially helping to break the glass ceiling.
The gala dinner on Saturday brought everything together, from the people to the message that the APA legal community knows no bounds. One of our alumni, Christian Na, was even awarded a "Best Under 40" honor for his great contributions. Personally, I have seen his great work to the APA community through his generosity in getting to know and mentor BU law students and help us with our APA Alumni conference. Tammy Duckworth, the Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs in the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, was the keynote speaker of the evening. She was a military service member who was badly injured in combat while deployed in Iraq, losing both her legs. Despite her injuries, she has come so far and has become an inspirational APA community member, reminding us that it is important to use our skills to defend the nation and what we believe in. She gave a great analogy that as lawyers, we need to defend and guard the perimeter of what we are fighting for to the fullest; when others try to break down the rights that we seek to uphold, we need to stand strong.
All in all, the convention was everything I hoped it would be. It was a great opportunity to learn about what works well for successful attorneys, meet many wonderful role models, hear about the struggles Asians have gone through in the legal realm, and eat lots of food. I am very thankful that BU Law graciously funded the registration costs for students to attend this event and that several of us were able to gain so much from the experience. Attending these events in turn inspires me to become a strong advocate for the community and hopefully a good mentor to future attorneys as well.