Increasing representation of Asian American women in the field of law

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The panel was led by Carolyn Ikari, assistant U.S. attorney and vice president of CAPABA. Other panelists include Anjali Kumar, associate at Doherty Wallace Pillsbury & Murphy, P.C.; Shirley Ma, intellectual property counsel for Pratt & Whitney; Michlle Querijero, assistant vice president at Allied World Insurance Co. Photo courtesy of the author.

In the spirit of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, the University of Connecticut’s Pan Asian Council hosted a panel of female Asian American lawyers from the Connecticut Asian Pacific Bar Association. The seven women discussed their cultural and academic experiences, current professions and hopes for female and Asian American lawyers. 

“You can do a lot of good, you can do a lot of pro bono work, you can make an impact regardless of the area you are actually practicing in,” Anjali Kumar, an associate at Doherty Wallace Pillsbury & Murphy practicing employment law, said about the expansive field of law. She discussed her Indian heritage and how her pre-med track in college morphed into pre-law. “Doing internships and getting practical experience is a great way to figure out what you like and dislike. Do you like criminal law? Or do you prefer civil? Open up your mind to trying different things and I think that’s a great way to go about it, and then ask questions of people that you know, utilize your career services office and whatever other resources you have to kind of point you in the right direction.” 

The panel was led by Carolyn Ikari, assistant U.S. attorney and vice president of CAPABA. The group works to support and advocate Asian Pacific American lawyers and their legal interests. 

“Female attorneys have a big spectrum to work with … we have a lot of tools in our tool belt,” Ikari, a second-generation Japanese American, said about how increasing representation of women in the field of law has revealed their difference in approach. Regarding race, she touched upon the concept of being “forever foreign,” which has been exacerbated with the increased anti-Asian bias and crimes. “Because we’re Asian-presenting, certain assumptions are made about us.” 

In terms of other ways the pandemic has impacted their professions, the lawyers commented on how remote work has changed the typically formal office environment with long working hours. 

“Maybe you don’t have to be in the office all the time to be effective, to be productive,” Ikari said, referencing the importance of flexibility as a caregiver and those whose disabilities make traditional work and hours more difficult. “Persons with disabilities have been asking to work from home for forever and employers have been responding, ‘No, we don’t do that, that’s not available.’ But now, all of a sudden, we’re all working remotely.” 

The panel was led by Carolyn Ikari, assistant U.S. attorney and vice president of CAPABA. The group works to support and advocate Asian Pacific American lawyers and their legal interests. 

Shirley Ma, intellectual property counsel at Pratt and Whitney, discussed how the responsibilities of parenting have affected her career. 

“In the last two places that I’ve worked, everybody that I worked with had young children,” said Ma, who immigrated to New York from Hong Kong in her childhood. “We all had families and we were all very cognizant of the time. When you’re a parent, being able to control your schedule is really important.” 

Katherine Hagmann, of counsel for Wiggin and Dana, expanded on Ma’s discussion of familial and gender roles. 

“I think a lot of female lawyers, the mothers in particular, but also dads, will tell you that they are working a second shift,” said Hagmann, a Chinese American. “And if you’re a household where, by virtue of being female, you also have to do all the housework, then that’s really a third shift, right?” 

Katie Roh, managing counsel for Travelers Insurance, shared her experience as a Korean American immigrant and the opportunities the field of law provides. 

“I’m still stretching myself and learning new things about me, and it’s a continuous path of being open to learning,” Roh said. “I think at times, you may have to reinvent yourself. The profession of law is so big. When I went into law school, I actually did not know what kind of lawyer I wanted to be, I went with a very open mind. Some people have a very clear vision of what kind or where they want to be, but I say, keep yourself open.” 

With both a doctor and a lawyer as parents, Filipino American Michelle Querijero similarly has a STEM background that informs her work as assistant vice president of Allied World Insurance. 

“I think it’s important to try to be willing to be out of your comfort zone a little bit. I know that in my household, we were very quiet and very shy about stuff and in law, you have to kind of get past that a little bit. You have to be able to push yourself to try to meet people and speak out in class.”

Michelle Querijero

“Hard work is always important,” Michelle said. “I think it’s important to try to be willing to be out of your comfort zone a little bit. I know that in my household, we were very quiet and very shy about stuff and in law, you have to kind of get past that a little bit. You have to be able to push yourself to try to meet people and speak out in class.” 

Even as all Asian American women, the diversity of the panelists’ academic, personal and cultural backgrounds offered more insight into the broad field of law that Roh and others commented on. 

 “Don’t feel like you only need legal-related experience … I actually use a lot of my experience from that time [working in the fast food industry] in my current role when I do management and lead people,” Roh said, as she had spent time managing her family’s franchise of Charley’s Philly Steaks before heading to law school. “When you go to an in-house environment, the soft skills come into play a lot, so it’s really not your technical and your subject matter expertise in a legal profession that you’re thinking about. It’s actually about how you’re collaborating with people, how you’re talking to people, how we can be influential.” 

The event split into breakout rooms, with Tanya Bovée, managing partner at Jackson Lewis, and Marian Yun, staff counsel for Liberty Mutual Insurance, sharing their experiences as Korean Americans from different backgrounds with attendees. 

“One of my focuses for the firm is diversity and inclusion in my practice of employment law,” Bovée said. She provides advice and counsel on topics such as affirmative action and bias, and also litigates and does training.  

Last night’s panel was the second annual event collaboration between PAC and CAPABA. Last year’s panel about diversifying the law with Asian American lawyers featured a few of the panelists that spoke last night. 

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