On Tuesday, July 22, The Korean American League for Civic Action (KALCA) held a Law Career Panel, as part of their Public Interest Panel Series, at Kobre & Kim, LLP, followed by a short networking session. Karen Kim, Esq. (Menaker & Herrmann, LLP), former Recording Secretary of AABANY, moderated the panel consisting of the Honorable Gilbert C. Hong (Judge, New York Criminal Court, Kings County), Jane C. Kim (Deputy Bureau Chief, Crime Strategies Unit at the King’s County DA’s Office), AABANY Labor and Employment Law Committee Co-Chair Christopher Kwok (NYC EEOC), AABANY In-House Counsel Committee Co-Chair Austin So (Associate General Counsel & Corporate Secretary, Heraeus), Jihee Suh (Assistant Attorney General, NYS Office of Attorney General), and Jimmy Yan (Chief Deputy General Counsel, Office of NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer). Panelists discussed why they got into the law, their interest in the public sector, a typical day at work, likes and dislikes of their job, and what they wish they knew before entering the profession.
The low pay of public interest lawyer versus a private sector lawyer became a major topic of interest: on the one hand, public interest lawyers are underpaid and as a result oftentimes feel undervalued. On the other, the public interest panel members also expressed relief over never worrying about the bottom line. For those that are successful in public interest law, the idea of serving the public good and working in the best interests of the people – whether as a judge, prosecutor, politician, or mediator – superseded the desire to take home a large paycheck. At some point, Austin So, representing the private sector, jokingly called himself the “dark side.” The panel stressed, however, that there was nothing inherently dark or immoral about working for profit, but that public interest law can be directly rewarding for those looking to make an impact.
Discussing the growth of Asian Americans in the profession, certain panelists discussed challenges due to race. Judge Hong stated that, whereas the bias may not be as explicit as in decades past, “the discrimination will happen when you’re not there – when you’re not invited out, when you’re not handed the major assignment, and when the partner wants to help out the guy that he has stuff in common with.” To this challenge, Judge Hong offered this advice: “Say yes. No matter what someone is asking you to do – grab a beer, go to a networking event, or join a bowling league. Get yourself out there and meet the people who are going to help you in ways you don’t even know yet.” Panelists echoed this need for those in the audience to expand their network, pursue risks, and challenge the convention that there is only one set method of success in the profession. The panelists shared that true success occurs when the individuals that achieve success helps others like them do the same.
Thank you to KALCA for running such an important and interesting panel series; Judy Kim, KALCA Board Member, NAPABA Northeast Regional Governor, and former AABANY Membership Secretary, for organizing this event; Kobre & Kim, LLP for hosting the event; the distinguished panelists; and all attendees.