On Saturday, April 23 2016 Asia Trend and Youth Enrichment and Senior Services collaborated with the Greater Orlando Asian American Bar Association (GOAAB) and hosted “Pathways in the Legal Profession”, an event targeted for high school students and anyone aspiring to work in the legal field. A panel of Asian-American attorneys including Michelle Ku, Christine Berk, Vanessa Braga, Lisa Gong Guerrero, Shane T. Herbert, and Annie Kwong took the time to come out and speak about their professions as lawyers. The discussion commenced with individual introductions, followed by a Q&A session and finally culminating with giveaways and a networking opportunity.
This event was informative, enriching and engaging for ambitious students interested in pursuing law. Since Asian-Americans are seemingly more prevalent in fields such as medicine and tech, the bleak presence in the legal field breeds a lack of guidance for many students. This magnified the importance of the occasion; younger generations were able to tune in with Asian-American lawyers who shared the inspiration behind their pursuit of the legal profession and the necessary steps to get there. By educating the youth, these attorneys were able to help advise those who are considering law but remain hesitant.
For one, the ability to succeed may be daunting as being a great lawyer is no small feat; one must exude confidence and be able to speak up, advocate, and defend others with vigor and zeal. These are qualities that may intimidate many Asian-Americans who were taught to assume more passive roles. Being able to see first-hand Asian-American lawyers who followed their dreams despite these stereotypes may have alleviated some of the pressure from students and eased their doubts.
What’s more is also the time and financial investment to consider. First off, many students are unaware of the flexibility in the application process with law school. Unlike with medical school or other graduate programs, there are no prerequisites; a student can major in anything and still apply as long as he or she has taken the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) and received a bachelor’s degree. Further, the high cost of law school may deter many aspiring lawyers from applying. Not wanting to add to undergraduate loans, many seek cheaper, alternative career paths. However, with a competitive GPA, LSAT score, and strong “soft” factors (i.e. extra curriculars), a solid scholarship is not out of reach.
It was reassuring to have attorneys who have been through the process – whether traditionally (straight out of college into law school) or non-traditionally (having gained some practical experience in the real world before deciding on law school) – to be able to provide some insight on how to solidify one’s decision.
“I graduated in three years from Florida State, and I was still figuring out at that time what I wanted to do. There was a one-year Master’s Degree in Applied American Politics and Policy program (MAAPP) at Florida State, so I enrolled. That’s where my experience with campaigns came from. I think having that additional year helped with my transition between my undergraduate studies and law school.” -Vanessa Braga
“Law was not my first career choice and was not even on the radar when I started my undergraduate education in 2000. Upon graduation from Indiana University in 2005, I went into the private workforce for 2 years. I worked for a non-profit agency as a crisis counselor…After two years of this work, I decided that I wanted to go back to school and law school seemed to be the right choice at the time. I’ve always worked with families and children in some capacity and I knew going into law school that family law was the area in which I wanted to concentrate. So I went to law school to obtain my Juris Doctor.” -Shane Herbert
“If you are interested in the law, you should intern at a law firm or the legal aid before you go to law school. Law is such a broad subject that you are able to practice in any area of law. You choose what to specialize in whether it is patent, business, appeal, criminal, or workers’ compensation. There is something for everyone. If you write really well, like to debate and aren’t good at math, law is the way to go.” -Annie Kwong
As with any challenging career, the thought of being a lawyer can be disconcerting. However, the rewarding aspects of the profession are what make it worthwhile. Since Asian-Americans are usually depicted as more docile, witnessing Asian-American lawyers who embody qualities that defy those stereotypes was uplifting and motivational for the youth. These attorneys were prime examples that we should not relegate ourselves to anything less than what we deserve and desire to achieve merely because of perceived limitations. After all, at the end of the day, it’s the work we do for others and the effects we have on the community that count.
“The most rewarding part of my job is assisting people obtain closure during some of the most emotional times of their lives and helping them move on with their lives. Often times during a divorce there are children involved. The parents may be divorcing, but they will always still have a relationship because of their children. I try to help them realize that they can both move on while being effective and cooperative co-parents to their children. They still have their families, but the dynamics are changing.” -Shane Herbert
“I am able to encounter many different cases every day and learn more about the law and the changes in legislation.” -Annie Kwong
“I really enjoy being able to help others. I’m able to have a direct impact on someone’s life.” -Vanessa Braga