Just as important as representation is for minority populations in education, the media and positions of power is representation in the workforce. For Asian American students, professions in the legal field may not be one they considered pursuing, and is certainly not one that they see themselves as visibly represented in as other professions. According to the American Bar Association, only 2% of reporting active attorneys are Asian, in comparison to other racial minorities in the field, with people of African American and Hispanic descent being 5% each of the reporting population. Last night in the Student Union, in collaboration with the Asian-American Cultural Center (AsACC) and the Center for Career Development (CCD), students were able to hear from a panel of practicing attorneys of Asian descent that are part of the Connecticut Asian Pacific American Bar Association (CAPABA).
“Connecticut is not one of the more diverse states and I can potentially go a day without seeing another Asian,” Dan Brody, a UConn Law School alum and president of CAPABA, said. “One of the main issues is that there aren’t a ton of Asians that decide to be lawyers and one of those reasons might be that there’s family pressure to pursue other fields. Four of the five of us here started off in the sciences and I think stereotypically, that is fairly common among Asian families, especially first, second-generation ones.”
The panel was moderated by Carolyn Ikari, an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Connecticut District of the Department of Justice and Vice President of CAPABA. The group works to support and advocate Asian Pacific American lawyers and their legal interests.
“We want to get you thinking or curious about the possibility of pursuing a legal career,” Ikari said. Her upbringing as a second-generation Japanese American has influenced her desire to increase the representation of people of Asian descent in the legal field. She originally studied and worked in the field of computer science engineering, but decided to become a lawyer after three years.
The panelists represented a diverse array of cultural and academic backgrounds, offering insight into the different ways one can end up with a career in the legal field. Michelle Querijero works as a Senior Claims Analyst at Allied World, an insurance company, handling healthcare management claims relating to issues like liability. Although she originally dreamed of working for NASA and is educated in astrophysics and aerospace engineering, Querijero believes the legal field is one that has “lots of room for people who have a lot of different interests.”
“Making those connections and pursuing them [is important] because you get the opportunity to connect with people like you, who have had experiences like you,” Querijero said. With a Filipino father and American mother, she had a diverse upbringing. Her mother’s work as an attorney informed her eventual decision to become a lawyer herself. “What we all get out of CAPABA is a sense that there are people like us who know what it’s like to walk in our shoes. That amount of camaraderie makes going about your world as a lawyer or even engineer even better.”
Some of the panelists used their prior academic background in the sciences to inform the areas of law that they currently work in.
“When I started right away, I had no knowledge as a lawyer … but I had this fresh knowledge of the science and I could make contributions more with my science background,” Woo Sin “Sean” Park said about how his education in genetics has helped with his work as an associate at Day Pitney LLP. He works on litigation relating to patent, copyright, trademark and trade secret matters and has expressed how a science background may make an applicant seem more attractive to employers who need their expertise. As a Korean citizen living in the United States, he discussed how some legal positions require one to be a U.S. citizen, however, that was not necessarily a problem for him in his area.
Like Park, Ikari and Querijero, Shirley Ma’s decision on whether to pursue a further education in chemistry led her to realize that she wanted to attend law school, however, as an intellectual property counsel at the Pratt and Whitney Division of United Technologies, she is able to more aptly navigate the corporation’s patent matters.
“The one thing that I think being a scientist does help is that you know how to ask a question so that you can get additional information,” Ma, who was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Brooklyn, said. “The analytical skill set is highly transferable and allows you to ask the right questions.”
Brody works at Robinson and Cole focusing on white collar defense, government enforcement and internal investigation, and was the sole panelist who did not have a scientific background, instead graduating with an English degree. He also discussed his familial background of being adopted and raised in a white family in a white community, as well as being the only Asian in grade school, besides his adopted sister.
“In the legal field, you can go to a law firm of 500 people and you’re not going to have a representative sample of Asians among that group,” Brody said. “One of the reasons that we’re here today is to encourage people and students who may not have considered becoming lawyers to think about it … we’re here because we want to give you options and open your horizons to another career path.”
Students enjoyed hearing from a panel with diverse backgrounds to represent the Asian American community.
“I think that people with an Asian background sometimes might not be inclined to go into certain fields … and clearly there’s a lack of Asian representation in law,” Arman Chowdhury, a fourth-semester biological sciences major and copy editor for The Daily Campus, said. “I think that largely comes because it’s not something that we are inclined to consider for ourselves so it’s a cool opportunity to open people’s eyes to it, to be able to see themselves in these positions, see it as an option for them.”
Hollie Lao is a staff writer and the social media manager for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.