On July 28, 2020, the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) hosted an event addressing diversity, inclusion, and equity in the workplace and beyond. Moderated by Margaret Ling, Director of Business Development and Co-Chair of the Real Estate Committee at AABANY, the panel featured: William H. Ng, Shareholder at Littler Mendelson and former Co-Chair of the Labor & Employment Law Committee of AABANY; Donna Dozier Gordon, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at USTA; Asker A. Saeed, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant and Principal at Saeed Consulting; Sean Bacchus, CEO and Founder of the Executive Diversity and Inclusion Council; and Prof. Meredith R. Miller, President of the Network of Bar Leaders.
The program began with an acknowledgment of Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon who recently passed away. Margaret urged the participants to follow the Congressman’s famous words, to get in “good trouble,” as they work to make their communities more equitable and representative.
Will Ng opened by recounting his experience with diversity and inclusion while working in large law firms. He noted that law firms need to have support from management and leadership in order to succeed in creating a more diverse workplace. He also stressed that recruitment was not the issue, but rather, retaining diverse, younger talent.
Asker Saeed followed by outlining steps that may help large law firms advance their diversity and inclusion efforts. First, law firms should think about their reason for promoting diversity: not only is it the right thing to do, but it is also better for business. Firms should hire the best people, and the best attorneys are not only one gender, race, ethnicity, or sexuality. Second, firms should examine their systems and procedures, particularly in lateral hiring and promotions. For example, when partners are asked to recommend people to a position, they are likely going to recommend individuals who look like them or remind them of themselves, thus perpetuating the status quo that partners should be white, male, straight, etc.. Thirdly, firms should hire and pay someone to be in charge of diversity and inclusion for greater accountability, as well as create a specific budget for diversity and inclusion initiatives. Finally, law firms should create more opportunities for all people to prove their abilities and advance in the organization.
Meredith R. Miller added that, in 2016, the American Bar Association identified discrimination as professional misconduct. She emphasized that firms should not focus on not discriminating, but rather being anti-discrimination and anti-racist. She also urged bar associations to build pipelines for minority communities in the legal field.
Donna Gordon examined the connection between diversity and inclusion in the workplace and the Black Lives Matter movement. Due to the nation’s changing landscape, especially after the Black Lives Matter movement, the success of a firm will depend on its ability to hire and retain diverse talent. Black Lives Matter has reignited corporate interest in diversity and inclusion. However, despite the long history of these diversity initiatives, African Americans still do not experience as much advancement in the workplace. Donna urged participants to focus on addressing the gaps in the African American talent pipeline by tapping into wider networks.
Finally, Sean Bacchus stressed that organizations must be recognized for their progress and held accountable for the work they are not engaging in. Mentorship and sponsorship from senior leaders towards minorities are very important, especially given the prevalence of nepotism in large firms. Sean also urged firms to not only target Ivy League students during recruitment but also look at the CUNY system.
We thank Margaret Ling for organizing and moderating the successful event, and the panelists for offering their valuable insights. Attendees received 1.0 credits in the diversity, inclusion, and elimination of bias requirement, and 0.5 credits in the ethics requirement. To view a recording of the program, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yxb4uylxkMQ or click the image above.
On July 31, 2020, the Membership Committee hosted their weekly Zoom Membership Mixer, with 11 participants in attendance. We held a “Show & Tell” where members were able to share a cool item and tell the members a story behind it. Members showed off their quarantine plants, autographed books, old family photos, a sign used in a marriage proposal, a replica plane from engineering days, before law career.
For the Mixer afterparty, members watched a comedy show featuring Asian Americans.
The Membership Committee previously hosted Monthly Mixers at bars, ballparks, stadiums, operas, etc, but due to COVID, we have moved online to offer members a weekly outlet to share their feelings, see old friends, and make new connections. Mixers start at 6:30pm on Friday and the main event ends at 7:30pm but people have stayed on after 7:30pm for smaller breakout groups.
Membership Committee will continue to host weekly Zoom mixers until it is safe to gather together again in person.
We are giving away door prizes during some weeks. In order to win, you must be a member and must RSVP on the calendar entry on aabany.org to get a raffle number. Non-members can join the Zoom mixer but won’t be eligible to win a prize.
The COVID Rent Relief Program (“RRP”) held by Community Land Trust (“CLT”) and the Asian American Bar Association of New York (“AABANY”) concluded on July 26th, 2020 with an application drive in Chinatown. During the term of outreach, the program received over 125 voicemails and online form submissions. On the day of the drive, 25 volunteers aided over 100 walk-in applicants who had been screened for qualification.
The application drive held on July 26th at the Florentine School was expeditiously put together in five days, to accommodate the quickly approaching application deadline of July 30th*, by AABANY’s Pro Bono and Community Service Committee and COVID Student Task Force. Most notably, attorneys May Wong, Angela Wu, William Lee, and law students Dianna Lam, Olympia Moy, Xinyi Shen, and Meng Zhang were the driving factors of the event’s success. To the volunteers, it was imperative to host an in-person event to help the community. “Many Chinatown residents cannot go on Zoom, some don’t even have online access, and, even with online access, some may not find the forms because of language difficulties,” noted Moy. The volunteers have spent tireless hours in organizing the logistics for the event, training for and then evaluating RRP applications of the community, and then following up with intakes for those who are eligible applicants. “One of the most memorable parts of our [RRP], despite all the hurdles we had to navigate through, was how much all the volunteers cared to help our community,” says Lam. Lam add: “All the volunteers patiently and calmly explained to the tenants all their options, any risks they might bear submitting their information, and sat through with each applicant until the application was either fully complete or until the tenants accepted that they did not qualify.”
AABANY again thanks all the volunteers mentioned above, as well as May Mok and Sherman Ngan of AM 1380 & AM 1480 and Jacky Wong, for advertising and covering the event; Samantha Sumilang who provided rent relief training to volunteers over Zoom the day before; Jonathan Hernandez for being on standby for any last minute needs; the APALSA COVID Student Task Force for reaching out to their members for volunteer recruiting; and all other attorney, CLT, and community volunteers who made the event possible.
The RRP was introduced on July 16th, 2020 and first administered by New York State Homes and Community Renewal. The purpose of the RRP is to distribute a $100 million fund amongst the low-income families of New York who have suffered income loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are struggling to keep their families in their homes. The $100 million fund was provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on March 27th, 2020. The RRP declares that a household is eligible for assistance as long as at least one member in the household has U.S. citizenship or eligible immigration status. All adult household members, regardless of their income earning position, are to be listed on the application form to be considered, including household members with ineligible immigration status. This is a potential grave risk to undocumented immigrants since the federal government could get their information through the RRP. As such, it should be noted that by applying for rent relief, applicants bear the risk of being or having undocumented family members deported.
“The drive’s success is a true testament of our selflessness, passion, and commitment to giving back as a community. We find comfort knowing that our locals are better positioned to receive rent relief,” said Lee.
For additional coverage in Chinese, please see the article written by World Journalhere.
*As of July 31st, 2020, the application deadline has been extended to August 6th, 2020.
On July 23, AABANY’s Real Estate Committee presented a CLE Program on real estate closings in the COVID-19 era. The panel focused on how the real estate market is adapting to COVID-19 through new rules and practices and detailed the current state of property transactions. Speakers included Jason Wang, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson at COMPASS, Wendy Yu, Counsel at Yu Law, and Jane Chen, Associate at Forchelli Deegan Terrana LLP. The program was moderated by Margaret Ling, co-chair of the committee and Senior Counsel at Big Apple Abstract Corporation.
Margaret Ling began the panel with an update on the current New York state real estate legal landscape. This included the 202 executive order mandate by Governor Andrew Cuomo, declaring a state of emergency to permit only essential businesses. As a result, most real estate showings are now virtual and transactions are digital. Open houses are permitted only if social distancing measures are maintained.
Jason Wang spoke on his experience as a real estate salesperson at the inception of the pandemic and shared market observations. Because of at-home quarantine, buyers have begun to realize what they want in a home property and so there is a continued demand for property. Additionally, residents who fled New York City during the pandemic on-set may return in the near future and strengthen the real estate market.
Wendy Yu then outlined client protection concerns during virtual transactions. This includes taking into account that many buyers are now making offers without ever seeing property in person, emphasizing the need to place buyer protection clauses in contracts. Other considerations involve death clauses, in case that one party is no longer capable of continuing the transaction, as well as maintaining a flexible approach, so that either seller or buyer may be granted extra transaction time in case of pandemic-related challenges.
Jane concluded the panel by providing insight into co-op property transactions. Specifically, co-op boards that typically meet on a regular basis are now meeting less frequently, making it difficult for potential buyers to be interviewed for acceptance. Furthermore, because co-op boards are responsible for serving the interests of all building residents, it is important for interested buyers to keep in mind the visitor restrictions that exist in these communities.
Thank you to speakers Jason Wang, Wendy Yu, and Jane Chen for their time and insight, and Margaret Ling for moderating. Those interested in learning more about AABANY’s Real Estate Committee can do so here.
Jane Jeong shares her reflections on the effects of COVID-19 on our day-to-day lives.
I had a really, really good feeling about 2020. On New Year’s Eve 2019, after billing my final hours of the year (I had gotten roped into a Christmas-Grinch corporate merger that finally signed that morning), my boyfriend and I wrapped up the old decade grabbing a cozy dinner with friends in Chelsea, dancing until seven AM at a rave in Brooklyn, refueling at a 24-hour Subway on the way home, and then sleeping the day away like two blissful college freshmen without a care in the world. We woke up only to grab dinner in the West Village, where the quiet streets marked a sobering contrast to all the festivities the night before.
During that dinner, like the two optimistic overachievers we are, we shared several New Year’s resolutions we each had on deck for 2020. My personal list was ambitious: I wanted to find a new job, exercise more regularly, publish my writing, meditate every night, and send my parents on a cruise to celebrate their recent retirement. I hoped to hike Machu Picchu and go to Burning Man for the first time. I already had five weddings, two conferences, two law school recruiting trips, four weekend getaways, and one bachelorette party penciled in my calendar ahead. I had a really, really good feeling about this year, I told him—it was a fresh start of a new decade, and it brimmed with nothing but hope and exciting possibility.
… Well, I guess there is always next year.
There is no way we could have predicted how stunningly our day-to-day lives were about to change just weeks after that dinner. Even among the most fortunate or optimistic of us, there is no denying the emotional toll it has taken to face the stupendous degree and speed by which we parted with our pre-COVID lives. We have all been grieving some kind of loss lately:A loved one, a daily routine, a sense of normalcy or security or freedom, a job, a friendship or relationship, a sense of human connection, vacation plans, wedding deposits, graduation celebrations, our physical health, our mental health… and everything else in between.
My own COVID grief feels like a full-time job sometimes. In my thirty-one years, I have never been more keenly aware of the fragility of life—of just how little control and security we ever had to begin with (despite all the stories we tell to assure ourselves otherwise). There are the big, soul-shattering losses I mourn—like the thousands of lives we have lost and the countless families who are forever changed. I mourn for those of us who suffered alone in quarantined hospital beds during their final hours. I mourn for all the carefree memories and quality time we otherwise would have shared with those we love this year.
And then, of course, there are the smaller losses I miss—the little everyday freedoms I had once taken for granted—like those dinner parties filled with laughter and dates at cute West Village restaurants and sweaty Brooklyn raves and everything else that had all been so ordinary to me just seven months ago. I miss hugging people wherever I go. I miss wearing real pants. I miss old New York—the one brimming with pedestrians, 24-hour subways, rooftop parties, workout classes, bars, restaurants, yoga studios, coffeeshops, comedy shows… and every weird thing we could possibly imagine and then some. I miss the endless plans we used to make, things we used to do, strangers we used to meet.
Depending on the hour or day, I process our losses with varying degrees of grace.Sometimes, I relish the new normal: I appreciate the pockets of time we have gotten back in our days—all those dead minutes we used to pass idling in traffic or blow-drying our hair in the mornings—that now allow me to squeeze in some extra sleep and exercise and Netflix binges. I am grateful for the unexpected opportunity to work side-by-side with my new COVID officemate (and boyfriend, co-chef, roommate, breakfast-lunch-dinner-buddy, haircutter, lover, workout partner, quarantine buddy… all in no particular order). I appreciate how much easier it is now to eat healthier (since we cook most of our meals these days), to save money (it turns out doing nothing is pretty cheap!), and to find pleasure in the utterly mundane things (like rearranging our Tupperware cabinet).
Many days, though, I can’t help but feel like I am trapped in some kind of torturous Westworld loop, in which time is rendered meaningless and every day seems like an exact replica of the one before. July feels exactly like May and May felt exactly like March. I can’t help but dwell on all that we lost—both big and not big—that made the day-to-day once seem more exciting and brimming with promise. I often feel bored, isolated, trapped, lonely, frustrated, and desperate for normalcy again. I feel like I am stuck living at work instead of working from home. I genuinely can’t help but wonder if my youth is passing me by—with my days and weeks and months all bleeding together—all the while as I am stuck at home with nowhere to go.
But maybe… that is exactly the point. Perhaps there was nowhere to go in the first place.
This thought struck me on yet another nondescript Saturday night however many weeks ago (again, who’s counting anymore?), when I was curling up with my journal and realizing just how eerily still my life had become. Maybe this was a natural result of sheltering in place for the better part of this year. Or maybe all those attempts to meditate are actually working. Still, this new quiet is particularly weird for me, because “still” has never been the soundtrack to my life. My pre-COVID self was constantly on the move—always working, always going, always doing. My calendar was jam-packed with brunches and work and workouts and coffee dates and birthday celebrations and dinner parties (sometimes all of the above, all in one day). Even at work, I had my own workstation set up in my best friend’s office so I could avoid sitting alone in mine all day. For any pockets of downtime I had to sit with myself, I filled the quiet with FaceTimes, group chats, podcasts, yoga videos, books, errands, TED Talks—anything to avoid my own solitude. I was rarely, if ever, still.
A part of this is rather natural; I am an extreme extrovert and social butterfly by nature. But I would be lying if I didn’t now wonder whether there had been something more to this. Because for most of my teens and twenties, I never felt quite at home in my own skin. My mind was simply not the kindest place for me to live—and how could it be, when I was the only one in this world who knew all of my flaws and insecurities and mistakes? I was so exacting in all the ways I thought I fell short—all the ways I had wished I were someone “better” than the person I actually was. So was there a part of me that was constantly on the go—over-scheduled, over-stimulated—because I was unknowingly trying to avoid my own self (and all the criticism and anxiety that came with her)? Was I truly seeking joy, or was I unconsciously avoiding pain? And, if the latter, how many disappointments and heartbreaks and mistakes could I have then avoided, had I learned to embrace my own company much earlier in my life? How many Saturday nights in my past did I unknowingly choose to distract myself—with mindless activities and the wrong people—simply because the alternative of sitting alone was too uncomfortable to bear?
I do not suspect I will fully resolve these questions anytime soon; the truth is likely complex and layered somewhere in between. However, at the very least, I am beginning to see that there may be a different, perhaps more productive, way for me to start reframing this never-ending Westworld-loop of 2020. It might not make sense, and it might be scary and isolating and lonely as hell at times, but I am being pulled to my core in ways I never could have expected. I am not sure why it took more than three decades and a global pandemic for me to learn how to nest within for the first time, but regardless of how I got here, I can try to embrace it now—boredom, anxiety, and isolation and all—and see where this path leads me.Because when will I ever again get the gift to spend this much time to be still? After more than three decades of spending my time, money, energy, mind and body on external distractions, it is about time I look within. It is about time I learn there was never anywhere else to go in the first place.
In this way, I suspect my post-COVID life will look very different from the one I had just a few months ago. With some time and distance away from what was once normal, I find myself re-evaluating everything and stripping my life down to the very basics. I am learning I do just fine without all that makeup or pedicures or professional-grade haircuts or six-dollar lattes. I am outgrowing certain friendships and deepening others. I am exploring new recipes (like the perfect avocado toast) and hobbies (like acrylic painting) and DIY haircut tricks (my boyfriend is a good guinea pig). I am slowly mastering the art of doing nothing (and not feeling guilty about it). I am reading more and talking less. I am learning to trust in the disarray, even when I do not understand it.
I am growing and toughening up as we speak—and, if I may presume, I am not the only one. There are little, gentle reminders all around us of our boundless resilience throughout this weird and lonely time. There is my friend Meg, whose marriage crumbled in the early stages of quarantine and is now learning to live alone for the first time in thirteen years—all the while juggling a full-time job and a two-year-old daughter. And then there is Erin, who—after rebounding from a scary bout of COVID and is now seeking to reinvent her second chance at life—decided once and for all to trade in her fancy lawyer job and fancier Brooklyn apartment for the rustic charms of New Hampshire. There is also Dan, who lost both his job and girlfriend in March and—after nursing a badly bruised heart for the last couple of months—is now embracing this opportunity to finally launch that consulting business he had dreamed about since college. In this way, all our grief and fears notwithstanding, there have been unexpected opportunities this year for many of us to dive deep within ourselves and shed what was not meant to be—a relationship going nowhere, a toxic friendship, an unfulfilling job—and write the next chapter for ourselves ahead. We are learning to Marie-Kondo our lives from old attachments—to things, friendships, relationships, habits, jobs, cities, apartments, hopes and dreams—that no longer serve us.
I may no longer boast about that really, really good feeling I had about this year… but, at the end of the day, I still choose hope. And this is not to say that the storms won’t continue to rage on—we are in week who-knows-what of COVID, and there is no telling how much further we have left to go or even how much worse this may get. Our losses may continue to compound for a painfully long time. However, if I may try to find any silver lining here, perhaps it is this: Despite all the pain and senseless loss,we are still surviving. We are still evolving. Wherever we are, whoever we are, we are pulling ourselves through something we do not understand—and maybe that is precisely the test here. What we do with this opportunity, then, depends entirely on us.
Jane Jeong is an attorney at Cooley, writer, yogi, dog-lover, and former Wall Street analyst and fitness instructor. She is a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School. She lives in Manhattan.