Asian-American lawyers say minority status may help fuel careers

Quan Vu, left, Stephanie Chi ’08 and Cindy Lin share their perspectives as Asian-American attorneys and offered a few career tips during a panel discussion hosted by the Asian Law Student Association.

Quan Vu, left, Stephanie Chi ’08 and Cindy Lin share their perspectives as Asian-American attorneys and offered a few career tips during a panel discussion hosted by the Asian Law Student Association.

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A trio of Asian-American lawyers told Law Center students that ‘minority status’ in the legal marketplace is far from a hindrance – and may actually help distinguish a lawyer from their high-achieving peers. 

“The best advice I ever got in law school was, ‘You have to distinguish yourself,’ “ said Cindy Lin, a corporate law associate in the Houston office of the Curtis law firm. “Everybody is smart; everybody is competent; everybody is competitive.”  Lin encouraged her audience at a lunchtime gathering sponsored by the Asian Law Student Association to show initiative in their work, establish relationships with clients and co-workers, reach out to the community, and get to know people. 

“Be memorable!”chimed in Stephanie Chi ’08, an associate in the Intellectual Property firm of Fletcher Yoder in Houston. The two women said they never felt any discrimination because of their Asian descent and, in fact, both noted how their heritage may have proved a plus because it made them stand out.  And fluency in Mandarin can’t hurt, since bilingual capability is seen as a valuable skill in the corporate and IP worlds they inhabit. 

 Quan Vu, a partner in banking and finance with the Gardere law firm in Houston, said he has run into some stereotypes over the years – such as “all Asians are smart, hardworking and industrious” – but that these perceptions can actually limit the upward mobility of Asian-American lawyers.  The very attributes that would seem to assure success, he said, can skew colleagues’ perceptions and stifle the opportunities for leadership. “You may be really good at something, but it may not be enough,” he said. “You have to get out there” by thinking about the “big picture” rather than just your piece of a project; volunteering for assignments; networking to establish contacts; and developing relationships.  Vu offered a simple summation: “People like working with people they like.”

The three lawyers offered practical tips to those seeking summer clerkships as well as those who will soon be looking for full-time jobs:

  • Networking is key – “Look around the room and keep in touch with these people,” said Vu. “You may hire them or they may hire you, or have work for you.  And networking is not only for work. I even met my wife through the Asian American Bar Association,” he said, drawing a laugh.
  • “Join organizations and take advantage of law school,” said Lin. “People are willing to help law students,” she noted – but that willingness may wane after graduation.
  • Every work product is important. Don’t dash off memos, even if a partner says he or she isn’t expecting anything polished at a particular point. Check spelling and grammar.  Everything goes into your file to be reviewed when it comes time for job offers. Ask questions to make sure you understand a project, and confirm your understanding as you go along. Ask for extensions rather than rush a project or miss a deadline. Quality matters more than quantity.
  • And lest anyone become too focused on their career, Lin offered a simple piece of advice: “Work-life balance is very important!”
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