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: