The Hapa Mommy Trial Lawyer answers Bill's question

My dear friend Bill Bailey is now on staff as a professor at the U of W law school.  He asks me to participate in a writing project.  You can figure out his question by reading the answer.


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I’m Hapa.

That means I’m not Chinese enough to be considered Chinese.  And not German enough to be considered White.

A few years ago, a friend asked why I wasn’t more active in the Asian Bar Association.  Response – I haven’t even told my partners that I’m female yet.

I have been quite fierce in the quest not to become the best Eurasian female personal injury lawyer – but rather to become the best lawyer I can possibly be.   Early in my career, I shunned minority specialty bars because I was determined not to be categorized.  Or marginalized.

Many of my views on race were developed by watching people struggle to classify me.  What compelled them.  Why couldn’t they just relax and accept me without affixing a race label.  By age twenty, I had come up with a variety of answers that were used interchangeably depending on mood:  a)  a human being; b) what do you think I am; c) what are you; d) does it matter.

Disco ruled in the 70s and early 80s.  I loved dressing up and shaking my groove thing.  During law school, I still managed to go out two nights over the weekend and one or two nights during the week.  It was incredibly fun.   The club scene had a dark side.  I chose not to see it.  I didn’t drink or do drugs.  I was there to dance and hang out with friends.  The blinders let me enjoy the light side.

In our legal world, I am known as a fighter for diversity and justice for others.  But when it comes to defending myself, I don’t tend to punch back (at least not immediately).  I choose to wear the blinders.  But they don’t always work.

  • I speak around the country for the American Association for Justice and state trial lawyer associations.  Last year, a seminar chair asked me to speak. After I agreed, he said – it’s a good thing you are a minority.  I didn’t have one on the program and AAJ said they wouldn’t approve the agenda unless I got one.
  • I was nominated and elected to the executive committee of a specialized national injury group.  The lawyer who told me I’d been chosen, said in the same breath that they were trying to make a positive step towards diversity.
  • In Snohomish County five of us lawyers spent half an hour in judge’s chambers discussing protocol.  We returned to the courtroom.  As the jury was being ushered in to begin voir dire, the judge leaned over and said to me:  “are you a lawyer?”

I have never tallied the number of times I’ve been called honey, sweetie, or been mistaken for the court reporter.   A senior partner at a very large Seattle firm, once proclaimed (in front of the court reporter, witness and half a dozen attorneys)  it was no wonder my husband was divorcing me.

There is a mask that sits over my face.  Underneath I feel the hurt.  Outside I do not flinch.  Careless, boorish, prejudiced, ignorant comments fuel a relentless determination that burns within me.

For the past decade, I’ve been involved in female and minority lawyers groups.   I feel both the need to belong and unhappiness that it is necessary.

How has diversity made me a better lawyer?

So many trial lawyers emulate their heroes.  They pattern themselves after their icons.  Early in my career I tried on some of those personas and they universally failed to attach themselves to me.  Being diverse has helped me not only to embrace my unique and authentic attributes.  But to celebrate them.   I have the pure freedom to only be me.