Congratulations to Joon Kim on Receiving the Hon. George Bundy Smith Pioneer Award

On Thursday, May 23, 2019, Joon Kim, Partner at Cleary Gottlieb and AABANY member, was presented with the Hon. George Bundy Smith Pioneer Award at the New York State Bar Association’s “Smooth Moves: Career Strategies for Attorneys of Color” program at Lincoln Center. The Hon. George Bundy Smith Pioneer Award recognizes lawyers who demonstrate commitment to legal excellence, community service and mentoring. The program was sponsored by the Commercial and Federal Litigation Section of the New York State Bar Association.

Joon Kim has led a distinguished career over two decades at high levels of government and in private practice at Cleary Gottlieb, personally trying over a dozen federal jury trials and actively participating in dozens more. He is also a regular speaker and panelist at leading industry conferences on criminal and regulatory matters.

Please join AABANY in congratulating Joon Kim for this well-deserved award and honor.

Photo courtesy of Cleary Gottlieb. Used with permission.

AABANY Co-sponsors: An Evening With Preet Bharara at Cleary Gottlieb

On April 30, AABANY and Cleary Gottlieb co-hosted An Evening with Preet Bharara, at which former Acting US Attorney and current Cleary Partner Joon Kim engaged Preet in conversation about his new book Doing Justice. The event took place at Cleary and the room was filled to capacity, with those attendees who were not able to find seats standing along the sides.

After welcome remarks from Cleary by Managing Partner Michael Gerstenzang, AABANY President Brian Song offered some introductory remarks on behalf of AABANY and kicked off Joon Kim’s conversation with Preet Bharara. Preet spoke about his departure from the US Attorney’s office and the befuddling manner in which the President-Elect initially asked him to stay on as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, followed a few months later by his perplexing request, as President, for Preet to resign. Preet was confused by this request because he had been asked to stay on shortly after the 2016 election. When Preet received confirmation from the White House that the President indeed wanted him to resign, Preet refused, which led to his firing.

Despite starting the talk with President Trump’s firing of Preet, Preet pointed out that his book was not about President Trump. Preet stated that, in fact, the name Joon Kim shows up far more often in the index than Donald Trump. Preet spoke about his reasons for writing the book. He stated that for many years, he had wanted to write a sort “how to” manual for prosecutors who were at the start of their careers. He quickly realized that such a book would not make the bestseller list. Preet broadened his horizons and wanted to write a book that tackled questions like “What is justice? What is fairness? What is truth?” He realized that issues of truth and bias occur everywhere and affect everyone, not just in the law, but in society as a whole. He thus came up with Doing Justice, which is subtitled A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law.

The conversation covered numerous subjects and stories from Preet’s storied career as US Attorney in the Southern District, one of the nation’s leading prosecutor’s offices. During the Q&A that followed, Preet was asked what his inspiration was for becoming a lawyer. Preet responded that when he was in high school, he entered a public speaking contest and had to memorize and present a speech by legendary lawyer Clarence Darrow. This speech was Darrow’s summation in the case of People v. Henry Sweet, in which Darrow defended a black man accused of murder during an attack by white neighbors who did not want black people living in their neighborhood. Preet committed the following passage from Darrow to memory:

After all, every human being’s life in this world is inevitably mixed with every other life and, no matter what laws we pass, no matter what precautions we take, unless people we meet are kindly and decent and human and liberty-loving, then there is no liberty. Freedom comes from human beings, rather than from laws and institutions.

Preet admits that he might not have fully appreciated the meaning of those words as a teenager but understood it better every day as US Attorney.

We thank everyone who came out for An Evening with Preet Bharara, and we especially thank Cleary for providing the space, food, refreshments, drinks and copies of Doing Justice. It was a wonderful event, filled with inspiring ideas and stories. For the many young lawyers and lawyers-to-be in the room, there was ample reason given to devote at least some part of their legal careers to serve the public interest, and we thank Preet and Joon for providing us that inspiration.

Fireside Chat with Joon Kim, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York

By:  Albert W. Suh, Esq.
Co-Chair, Young Lawyers Committee

Tucked away between the Beaux-Arts grandeur of the Manhattan Municipal Building and the imposing brutalist cube of One Police Plaza is a neat and unassuming gray office building. Yet within that building sit some of the brightest legal minds and one of the most powerful law enforcement offices in the United States – the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York – and at the top sits a man who, similarly, betrays little of his expansive influence and accomplishments behind his clean lines and unassuming demeanor. 

He may be one of the most powerful attorneys in America, leading an office of more than 200 federal prosecutors, but Joon Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York doesn’t let that faze him. With humility, grace, and candor, Joon continues the outstanding work and tradition of the federal prosecution office of the Southern District of New York.

Joon Kim has served in various capacities at the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York for roughly a decade. He began his legal journey at Harvard Law where he first took interest in the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices during a Federal Criminal Prosecution class. From there, he went on to clerk for the Honorable Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum in the Southern District of New York. It was there, as a law clerk, that Joon solidified his decision to become an Assistant U.S. Attorney (“AUSA”), after observing the high levels of skill and excellence that the AUSAs demonstrated.  As an AUSA, Joon rose through the ranks for six years to become a prosecutor in the Organized Crime and Terrorism Unit, successfully working on prosecutions against numerous violent criminal organizations and leaders, such as John Gotti and Sui Min “Frank” Ma.

Joon left the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2006 to pursue a career at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP as a partner in white-collar criminal defense and regulatory enforcement. When asked about the transition from prosecution to defense and back, Joon says easily that there was no difficulty for him in transitioning because of his firm belief in the justice system and a central tenet of that system is, in his words, a “good, fair, robust, and vigilant defense.” However, even while at Cleary Gottlieb, Joon longed to return to public service, his lifelong passion.

Joon is driven and inspired by the example of his father, who served as a diplomat for the Republic of Korea. Joon always knew that he wanted to emulate his father in dedicating his life to serving his nation—South Korea, for the father, and the United States for the son. Joon’s young life overseas, with years spent in Korea, Jordan, and the UK as he followed his father’s diplomatic missions, also provided him with a greater sense of perspective, he says. In engaging such varying cultures, Joon learned to embrace perspectives not his own. As a prosecutor, he says that this has helped him pursue justice more effectively by allowing him to place himself in the shoes of witnesses, jurors, and even defendants. It’s an approach that has won him not just his cases but also the admiration and respect of colleagues, victims, and even adversaries.

In 2013 Joon returned to the SDNY at the behest of then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. In announcing Joon’s return to the office, Mr. Bharara said in an email to his staff: “For those of you who don’t know Joon, you will find him to be smart, thoughtful, and funny, in addition to being an exacting lawyer with unerring judgment.” It’s a sentiment that has held firm over the years. As Mr. Bharara left the office and later at his first public appearance, at the Cooper Union, he reiterated that he felt that the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York was in good hands with Joon.

From his position as Chief Counsel, Joon went on to become the Chief of the Criminal Division, then the Deputy U.S. Attorney, and finally to the position of Acting U.S. Attorney. Yet through it all, when asked about his greatest achievements, Joon humbly hearkens back to his days as a line-prosecutor in the Organized Crime Unit. For Joon, taking down violent gangs was a fulfillment of his promise to serve the public – to hold accountable those who preyed upon the innocent, those who hurt people with impunity and without remorse. Of course, he is also very proud of the more recent directions that both he and the office have taken, in aggressively and successfully pursuing white-collar criminals, terrorism, and public corruption.

When asked about the future of the office, Joon expressed his faith in the 227 year-old institution of the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York in fiercely and independently seeking justice. He fully intends to continue that tradition, applying the width and breadth of his experience to making sure that the office continues its proud tradition of “doing the right thing,” as they say.

As for himself, Joon simply says that he’ll see what happens next. In the meantime, Joon hopes to see and to inspire more vibrant Asian American participation in public life, whether through public service and public interest work or through more engagement in public discourse. In his dedication to justice and his excellence in service to the public, Joon Kim continues to set the example – and the bar – for Asian American attorneys throughout New York and beyond.


This article was originally published in the 2017 Spring edition of The AABANY Advocate, which can be found on our website here.

Press Release: Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer and AABANY to Host Panel Discussion with Acting US Attorney Joon Kim, Judge Denny Chin, and Congresswoman Grace Meng

Press Release: Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer and AABANY to Host Panel Discussion with Acting US Attorney Joon Kim, Judge Denny Chin, and Congresswoman Grace Meng

Bharara’s Deputy Wall Street Cop Brings CV Pairing Citi, Gotti

Bharara’s Deputy Wall Street Cop Brings CV Pairing Citi, Gotti