Fall Conference 2020: Allyship and Black Lives Matter—Racism, Bias, and Xenophobia in Our Communities

On September 26, 2020, as part of AABANY’s 11th Annual Fall Conference, the AABANY Real Estate Committee and Issues Committee hosted a plenary session on the ongoing racial reckoning following the death of George Floyd and the rise in xenophobia against Asian Americans since the beginning of the pandemic. The panel included:  

  • Margaret T. Ling, Development Director and Real Estate Committee Co-Chair at AABANY and Senior Counsel at Big Apple Abstract Corp. (Moderator)
  • Letitia James, 67th Attorney General for the State of New York
  • Rahul Agarwal, Executive Assistant United States Attorney at the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey
  • Paula T. Edgar, Attorney, CEO of PGE LLC, and Partner of Inclusion Strategy Solutions LLC
  • Chris Kwok, Co-Chair of the Issues Committee and Asia Practice Committee at AABANY and a mediator and arbitrator with JAMS
  • Carmelyn P. Malalis, Chair and Commissioner of the New York City Commission on Human Rights

The esteemed panel discussed their experience addressing the issues of racism, bias, and xenophobia in their different capacities as government officials, bar association leaders, and diversity and inclusion specialists, especially in the context of the ongoing pandemic. As the opening speaker, Paula Edgar provided an informative presentation on systemic racism, the varying responses of Corporate America, and the importance for companies and law firms to invest in resources for diversity training as part of an urgent call to incorporate actionable plans into their missions for equity and inclusion. More importantly, allyship transcends performative activism, or surface-level activism, on social media and demands a sustained and active approach to listen to the experiences of marginalized communities, educate oneself on race-related history and issues, and speak out against any injustice. 

In highlighting the importance of using our vote at this historical moment, New York State Attorney General Letitia James suggested that the participation of more people of color in law-enforcement can be one of the ways to sustain the BLM movement and push for substantive, lasting changes. Some of the projects at the Attorney General’s Office include a lawsuit against the US Postal Service for their attempt to delay the vote-by-mail ballots and an effort to advocate for immigrants to ensure that they are counted in the 2020 US Census. Attorney General James emphasized the need to stay hopeful and utilize our vote as citizens to protect our democracy. 

Rahul Agarwal focused on the recent rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and stressed the importance of active reporting on the part of community members to help law enforcement personnel investigate these crimes and open cases. Rahul explained that the law enforcement community takes reports on hate crimes very seriously because the perpetrators’ hatred often affects many individuals, and since the targeted population can become fearful, it is crucial for law enforcement to act quickly. 

Noting from a survey the significant increase in people’s perception and experience with racial inequality since 2016, Carmelyn Malalis described the active outreach by the New York City Commission on Human Rights to marginalized communities and its employment of staffers who speak a total of over 30 different languages at the Commission to increase community engagement. Echoing Attorney General James’ comment on the value of allyship, Commissioner Malalis added that allyship also means recognizing that the constructed narratives about marginalized groups are often inconsistent with the lived experiences of people in those communities. She emphasized the need to actively work on dismantling one’s biased preconceptions. 

Referring to the Stop AAPI Hate’s recent record of about 2,600 hate crimes and incidents against Asian Americans in the past six months, Chris Kwok suggested that the actual number is most likely a lot higher since there has been insufficient attention directed towards AAPI hate crimes and a general lack of active reporting in the AAPI community. Chris highlighted the importance for Asian Americans to support the BLM movement since we are all fighting to challenge white supremacy and ensure justice in the United States. He concludes by emphasizing the need to say “BLM”— since black lives had been defined as property for decades, we, as allies in the BLM movement, should acknowledge the hashtag’s reflection of that history and recognition of the equal rights that every person deserves.

Thank you to Margaret, Attorney General James, Commissioner Malalis, Rahul, Paula, and Chris, for this insightful panel discussion. Thanks also to the AABANY Real Estate Committee and Issues Committee for organizing this event. To view a recording of the plenary session, click here or on the image above.

Fall Conference 2020: COVID-19 and Global Financial Distress: Where do We Go From Here?

On September 26, 2020, as part of AABANY’s 11th Annual Fall Conference, the AABANY Commercial Bankruptcy and Restructuring Committee hosted a panel discussion entitled “COVID-19 and Global Financial Distress: Where do We Go From Here?” The panel included: 

  • Courina Yulisa, Bankruptcy and Restructuring Associate at Dorsey & Whitney LLP (Moderator)
  • William Hao, Counsel in Alston & Bird’s Financial Restructuring & Reorganization Group
  • Vijar Kohli, Co-founder of Golden Door Asset Management
  • Vincent Roldan, Partner at Mandelbaum Salsburg’s Bankruptcy and Creditors Rights, and Banking and Financial Services groups

The panelists observed a general increase in commercial bankruptcy filings accompanied by a decrease in individual Chapter 11 filings compared to last year. As the opening panelist, William Hao remarked that the phenomenon was partly due to court closures during the pandemic, which made it harder to complete filings. New York City in particular, as Vijar Kohli and Vincent Roldan explained, has been suffering from a significant reduction in traffic, negatively affecting traffic-dependent industries such as hotels and has led to a domino effect on retailers, landlords and suppliers. The absence of employees entering and leaving office buildings signaled the slow reopening of businesses. The panelists also discussed the increased accessibility of Subchapter 5 under the CARES Act to small businesses in addition to larger corporations to speed up the recovery process. And while there has been heightened pressure on landlords since the pandemic began, Vijar suggested that tenants pay attention to details such as rent payment deadlines in existing contracts and openly negotiate with landlords to lessen the COVID-imposed financial impact. 

Regarding corporate strategies to preserve and increase liquidity, Vijar noted that the most significant move has been to preserve cash by increasing sales or reducing expenses. Since the protracted business recovery has added more uncertainty to the long-term trajectory of their business profitability, the lack of capital is still unfortunately a difficult problem to resolve. Vincent described the recent changes in the restaurant industry, where establishments have been transitioning to providing delivery-only services to cut production costs. Despite these challenges, William mentioned that the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) can be helpful in getting capital temporarily, and again stressed that strategic negotiations with landlords can be particularly instrumental in preserving capital. 

The panelists foresaw a slow recovery timeline for small businesses and that real estate businesses, in particular, may take up to two to three years—also depending on the vaccine distribution timeline—to bounce back to a normal level of business operations. No major changes are likely in the next three months, since the next stimulus plans would not include much for businesses and thus it is up to businesses to ensure their own survival right now. Vincent stated that companies need to pay attention to signs of economic distress to plan their next moves and contact bankruptcy lawyers to know their rights. And unlike the 2008 financial crisis, Vijar explained that this year’s economic downturns have also been accompanied by high rates of unemployment and the replacement of local, small businesses with new technology companies. 

Thank you to Courina, William, Vijar, and Vincent, for this insightful panel discussion. And thank you to the AABANY Commercial Bankruptcy and Restructuring Committee, co-chaired by William and Vincent, for organizing this event. To view a recording of the panel, click here or on the image above.

General Counsel Roundtable at the 2020 Fall Conference: Promoting Unity and Strength Through Leadership

On Friday, September 25, AABANY kicked off the 2020 Fall Conference, held virtually this year due to COVID-19. The conference theme was “Stronger Together: Unity in Diversity” and commenced with the General Counsel Roundtable program, entitled “Promoting Unity and Strength Through Leadership.” The panelists included: 

Moderator: 

  • Michael Wu, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary, Madewell, Inc.

Speakers: 

  • Vanessa Allen Sutherland, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer, Norfolk Southern Corporation
  • Deborah P. Majoras, Chief Legal Officer & Secretary, The Procter & Gamble Company
  • Rena Reiss, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Marriott International, Inc.
  • Ann Munson Steines, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, Nordstrom, Inc.
  • Amy Weaver, President and Chief Legal Officer, Salesforce.com, Inc.
  • David Zapolsky, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, Amazon.com, Inc.

The program followed a Q&A format and explored a wide range of topics, from the COVID-19 pandemic to Black Lives Matter and anti-Asian violence. Michael Wu started by asking the panelists how the pandemic has impacted their company operations and their outlook as organization leaders. One major takeaway was that legal departments are shifting into more generalist than specialist roles in order to adapt to crisis operations under a “rescue, recover, and reimagine” mandate. All panelists agreed that while companies and communities are currently in the recovery stage, a re-imagined world will look different from before and rely heavily on virtual and digital channels. Amy Weaver succinctly summarized that “two things are the most relevant today” to companies navigating these complex times: first, be a quick study; second, be able to make decisions quickly. 

The panelists were then asked what challenges in diversity and inclusion their companies are facing and how are they being addressed? Rena Reiss emphasized the need to carve out time and space to discuss racial issues that weren’t previously seen as polite workplace conversation. Vanessa Sutherland and Amy Weaver highlighted the snail’s pace at which financial industries and law firms operate with regard to diversity initiatives and stressed the need for immediate change. 

Michael Wu also asked about challenges Asian Americans face in corporate America, whether or not they are seen as minorities, and what advancement initiatives are in place. Panelists acknowledged the racial xenophobia and anti-Asian violence COVID-19 has wrought, and Ann Steines spoke to Black Lives Matter as an opportunity for allyship to advance the meaningful engagement of all diverse individuals in the workplace. 

At the conclusion of the program, Michael asked the panelists to give advice to diverse lawyers seeking career advancement. In response, Vanessa acknowledged the tendency of diverse attorneys to be risk-averse due to the disproportionate pressure placed on them. She encouraged lawyers of color to not be afraid to take risks, because leaders need to demonstrate that they are capable of making uncomfortable decisions.  

Ann recommended that minority lawyers consciously diversify expertise as their career progresses. “As lawyers we’re told to be experts in the areas we practice in. Then you get to a point in your career where you need to expand your horizons,” she stated. “People don’t always put their arm around the diverse candidate to tell them the advice that all the panelists have been giving today.” Ann thus highlighted the lack of formal and informal mentorship that places diverse attorneys at a disadvantage compared to their white counterparts. 

As the panel drew to a close, Michael asked the GCs to share with up-and-coming lawyers the most valuable advice they have received in their career. David Zapolsky offered the following three-part answer: First, to be business people first and lawyers second. Second, “being a lawyer is about preserving your personal credibility even if you have clients who can’t.” Finally, “if you touch it you own it.” 

The GC Roundtable is typically the highlight of the Fall Conference, and this year’s kept in line with prior GC Roundtables, offering impactful and pertinent viewpoints and guidance for all attendees. With this all-star panel the GC Roundtable kicked off another successful Fall Conference and set a high bar for the programs that followed on Saturday.

Thank you to all the panelists and our moderator, Michael Wu, for their invaluable insights on topical matters that are top-of-mind for in-house counsel and attorneys working in today’s challenging environment. To view a recording of the GC Roundtable, click here or click the image above.

AABANY Fall Conference: APA Women in the Legal Profession Panel

“Stronger Together: APA Women in the Legal Profession – Strategies to Support, Lead, and Advance” was one of the many panels presented at AABANY’s Fall Conference this year. Held on Saturday, September 26 from 10:45 am to 12:15 pm, the panelists consisted of:

Moderators:

  • Connie Montoya, Partner, Hinshaw & Culbertson
  • Sandra Yamate, CEO, Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession

Speakers:

  • Anna Mercado Clark, Partner, Phillips Lytle LLP
  • Judy Lam, Partner, Maynard Cooper & Gale
  • Honorable Grace E. Lee, Administrative Law Judge, State of New York
  • Sandra Leung, General Counsel, Bristol Myers Squibb
  • Sapna Palla, Partner, Wiggin and Dana

The panel was not recorded to create a safe environment for panelists as well as listeners so that there could be a candid conversation about race and the experiences APA women have had to face throughout their legal careers.

The panel started off with discussing the challenges and barriers of being an APA woman in the legal profession. Shared experiences among the panelists were that they were often overlooked in the courtroom, being perceived and mistaken as the court interpreter or court reporter rather than as the lawyer or judge. Even when they were correctly perceived as the lawyer, the panelists were still treated differently compared to their white male counterparts. In response to these challenges, the panelists discussed how it was okay to feel uncomfortable about these topics and it is important to focus on the microaggressions. If people are more vocal about the uncomfortable situations and share their experiences with the community, it creates a greater ability to mobilize and create change.

The panelists stressed the importance of seeing more APA women in higher positions and one way of achieving that is through having role models and mentors for rising APA lawyers. Current AABANY President, Sapna Palla, highlighted the AABANY Leadership Development Program which has been successful in teaching participants the skills to advance into executive positions, and she hopes to see more programs that do the same.

The panel ended with each panelist going over one action item they were willing to commit to within the next year that will help support and advance APA women in the legal profession. The general consensus among the panelists was to start a mentoring circle. Not only do the panelists want to be an available resource for people who come up to them and have questions, but also they want to be active in following up with mentees and seeking feedback from them.

The panelists also vow to use their positions as a platform to continue this dialogue. Advancing APA women in the legal profession is an ongoing conversation and hopefully, listeners of the panel are inspired to continue the dialogue with their friends, peers, and colleagues.

Thank you to the panelists, Anna Mercado Clark, Judy Lam, Honorable Grace E. Lee, Sandra Leung, and Sapna Palla, and moderators, Connie Montoya and Sandra Yamate for sharing their experiences and leading an important discussion about supporting APA women in the legal profession.

Fall Conference 2020: Enforcement in a Fragmented World

On September 26, 2020, as part of the second day of the 2020 Fall Conference, AABANY hosted Enforcement in a Fragmented World, a panel on unique challenges currently facing attorneys representing clients in white collar and enforcement matters. On the panel were:

  • Edward Y. Kim, Co-Founder of Krieger Kim & Lewin LLP (Moderator)
  • Charu Chandrasekhar, Assistant Regional Director of the Division of Enforcement of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
  • Una Dean, Partner at Fried Frank LLP
  • Joon H. Kim, Partner at Cleary Gottlieb (and former Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York)
  • Leo R. Tsao, Chief of the Bank Integrity Unit at the U.S. Department of Justice

The discussion started with the panelists talking about how their work has been affected by the pandemic. They discussed how a lot of the work they do — interviewing witnesses, talking and negotiating with the authorities, and gathering information — relied on in-person work. However, they agreed that justice delayed is justice denied, especially for the people and companies they are investigating. With statutes of limitations and fading memories, enforcement attorneys have been interviewing people over video and phone calls. Despite many successful interviews, they still have the obstacle of building relationships and rapport with potential cooperators over the phone. All in all, they agreed that enforcement has been very active recently and will continue to be for years to come.

Then, each of the attorneys discussed their personal experiences in enforcement. Although the attorneys each had different career paths, they agreed that they all loved their jobs because they are able to focus on doing justice, not winning cases. They discussed how their job is also an incredible honor and responsibility to be able to serve their community and country.

Next, the speakers talked about challenges they have encountered as Asian Pacific American (APA) practitioners. While dealing with drastic underrepresentation in their fields, as well as the ever persistent Model Minority Myth and the Perpetual Foreigner stereotype, the attorneys often faced overt and subtle racism in their work. However, they see a strong trend in many organizations towards actively diversifying the workplace to create a base of attorneys who actually reflect the communities they serve. Additionally, Chandrasekhar and Dean discussed the added challenges of being female APA practitioners. They discussed how government work can actually be a great equalizer. Although there are still many difficulties that come with many sacrifices and compromises, women in government service are taught to stand up and speak out in court about their cases, which builds confidence.

The panel concluded with some of the attorneys discussing the importance of separating the system from the service. They agreed that there are many serious injustices and inequities in the justice system, and the justice system must be reformed and improved by educating people within the justice system. The speakers acknowledged that many of the people working and handling individual cases within the system are genuinely passionate about upholding justice. And these attorneys will continue to do so proudly for the rest of their careers.

In these uncertain times, it is incredibly inspiring to hear from leading practitioners and enforcers in the field of white collar enforcement. Thank you to the panelists Charu Chandrasekhar, Una Dean, Joon H. Kim, and Leo R. Tsao and moderator Edward Y. Kim for sharing their experience and insights in the field of justice.

To view a recording of this program, please click on the video image at the top of this blog post.

2019 NAPABA Northeast Regional/AABANY Fall Conference

On Saturday, September 21, 2019, AABANY held its 10th annual Fall Conference together with NAPABA for the 2019 NAPABA Northeast Regional/AABANY Fall Conference, “United in Action and Vision: Towards 2020 Together.” For the third year in a row, the conference took place in Fordham University School of Law. This year marked our biggest yet, with about 450 attendees throughout the day. On Friday evening, September 20, we held a Welcome Reception at Supernova, a rooftop bar in the Novotel Hotel on West 52nd Street, to kick off the Conference, open to all attendees from New York and the Northeast region.

This year, many programs throughout the morning and afternoon offered CLE credits to attending attorneys. Twenty CLE programs were available, covering many different topics ranging from Asian American Voter Protection to Pro Bono Clinics. Also available were non-CLE programs such as the In-House Counsel Forum and “Asian American Women Corporate Counsel in Television.” In addition to all the programs offered at the Fall Conference, we had Pitch Sessions, Trial Advocacy Program (TAP), Professional Development Coaching sessions, and a Diversity Career Fair and Expo. Numerous employers from all over New York City and State set up informational tables at the Diversity Career Fair to speak with prospective candidates. This was a great way for law students, recent graduates, and practicing attorneys to learn more about the employers and their different areas of practice. Some of the employers set up onsite interviews to speak with Fall Conference attendees who submitted resumes in advance.

In one of our morning programs, the Pro Bono Committee hosted “The Art and Science of Interviewing Pro Bono Clients.” The program addressed how to communicate with and educate the clients, collect information, and manage clients’ frustrations. This included a necessary discussion regarding proper translation issues that would arise as well as establishing a reliable relationship with an interpreter. Beatrice Leong and Jonathan D. Hernandez simulated an effective and ineffective client intake meeting to demonstrate the important takeaways of this program.

Another program that took place was “State and Federal Clerkships: A Primer on Seeking, Landing, and Succeeding in the Right Clerkship for You,” organized by AABANY’s Judiciary Committee, which discussed the benefits of a clerkship, steps to landing a clerkship, and some tips on how to be successful at a clerkship. The panelists highlighted how a clerkship can help with professional development, legal writing and research skills, and building a network. The panelists were also able to give some insight into the differences between state and federal court clerkships, the application process, and how to approach interviews.

The Plenary Lunch Session featured a Special Screening of the award-winning documentary “And Then They Came for Us.” This documentary reflects on the story of Executive Order 9066 and the internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II. It also highlighted the landmark Korematsu v. United States case and its relation to the civil rights issues people of color and under-represented communities face today. The screening was followed by a discussion with NAPABA Trailblazer Dale Minami, who was Fred Korematsu’s lawyer, and the filmmaker, Abby Ginzberg.

More programs continued in the afternoon including the Connecticut Asian Pacific Bar Association’s “Opioids and the Courts” program. This program discussed the national opioid epidemic created by certain pharmaceutical companies and how states and individuals are bringing lawsuits against those companies. We heard directly from William Tong, Attorney General of the State of Connecticut, and his approach to the multi-district litigation in Ohio that is scheduled for trial in October 2019.

Our afternoon included additional insightful programs such as “Cybersecurity: 20/20 Hindsight Not Good Enough in 2020,” organized by AABANY’s Commercial Restructuring and Bankruptcy Committee, which discussed the cybersecurity industry today, and how lawyers can help prevent data breaches and safeguard against bad actors. The panelists gave advice on how attorneys can stay ahead of data breaches and protect their clients – mainly through diligent pre-breach planning, training staff on signs of a breach, and preparing a response plan in case of a breach. The panelists also offered some advice on the ethical concerns that arise when a breach occurs, and how to best handle them. 

After the programs concluded, a Cocktail Reception was held in the Bateman Room and the terrace outside the Soden Lounge. Attorneys and participants connected and reconnected with peers, friends and colleagues from AABANY and NAPABA. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong offered opening remarks to all in attendance, followed by President Brian Song presenting AABANY’s Norman Lau Kee Trailblazer Award to Parkin Lee, Chief Legal Officer of the Rockefeller Group. Parkin Lee is a pillar of the Asian American legal community who has paved the way for generations of Asian American attorneys in New York and across the country.

The night didn’t stop there as we continued the festivities in the heart of New York City at the Ascent Lounge to enjoy a Post-Conference Dinner. Located in Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, the lounge was the celebratory finale to the Conference, and participants got to mix and mingle over a dinner buffet, drinks and dessert, with views of Central Park at night.

Many thanks to all the participants including the speakers, moderators, program coordinators, and volunteers. Thanks to our sponsors for their support which made this successful Conference possible. We also thank Fordham Law School for hosting us at their exquisite facility.

For some photos from the Conference visit AABANY’s Facebook page. The albums are organized according to the volunteers who took them: Laura Tsang, Guanlan Shen, Katherine Shen and Ziqi Guan.

Thanks to Justin Chan, Tiffany Cheung, Dasheng Lin, Wai Wong, and Lia Kim, our law student volunteers from Cardozo Law School, for their help in drafting this blog post.


AABANY Fall Conference: Program Submission Form

AABANY Fall Conference: Program Submission Form