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About: AALAM in the News / History

AALAM's History

In Celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Asian American Lawyers Association of Massachusetts (AALAM) 1984-2009*
by Heather Chang, Carolyn Chen, Ingrid Chiemi Schroffner, Jeffrey Hsi, Matthew Pang and Jennifer Wu**

Sections:

  • In the Beginning
  • The 1980s
  • The 1990s
  • Into the New Millennium
  • AALAM Today
  • Notes
  • The Asian American Lawyers Association of Massachusetts (AALAM) celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2009. This anniversary was even more special in that it was celebrated a few months before AALAM hosted the 2009 National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) Annual Conference in Boston. As part of the commemoration of this milestone, AALAM paused to take a look back at the organization through the eyes of its former presidents: to remember its humble beginnings, to marvel at its remarkable development over these past 25 years and to help chart an even bolder course into the future. We hope this history brings back fond memories and inspires the creation of new ones. We look forward to the continuing evolution of the organization and its mission, and to the future insights and recollections of the AALAM members of today and tomorrow.

    In the Beginning

    AALAM FoundersThe Asian American Lawyers Association of Massachusetts traces its modest beginnings to a small group of Asian-American attorneys literally "getting together" in downtown Boston in the early 1980s. At the time, there were very few Asian-American lawyers in Boston. This group included Francis Chin, Paul Lee, Marian Tse, Harry Yee and Diane Young-Spitzer, and soon thereafter Caroline Chang, Vivian Chen-Huang, Emmanuel Crespo and Deborah Lau Kee, among others. Their motivations were simple yet ambitious, including: addressing the feelings of being "lonely pioneers" in the Boston legal community; creating a "mutual support network" as well as a "social network"; sharing each other's experiences in the workplace; advocating for Asian Americans in governmental positions; and providing a forum for and cultivating "a voice" for Asian Americans on current events and in the local Asian-American community. At the time, there were increasingly more stories in the news about Asian Americans being beaten or otherwise mistreated, and these individuals needed lawyers who could truly relate to them. The group was also motivated by the fact that other affinity groups (e.g. African American and Hispanic American groups) were being formed, and many in the group did not want Asian Americans to be "left behind."

    Instrumental in creating this initial spark of interest in forming AALAM was Richard Soden, an African-American partner at Goodwin Procter who was a founder of the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association. Richard set an example for Goodwin attorneys Paul Lee and Marian Tse, and guided Paul and Marian in the mechanics of establishing AALAM. Marian worked on establishing the group's tax-exempt status, and Paul worked on the articles of organization. In the early years, Goodwin Procter provided the administrative support, for example, maintaining the mailing list, distributing all the mass mailings and hosting many meetings. To increase membership, AALAM actively searched for other Asian-American lawyers in the area. The group started looking through every directory they could get their hands on, calling people around Boston and even sending out a mass mailing where recipients were selected by a "rigorous" criterion . . . their last names. If someone's name looked "Asian," their name made the list! "Sometimes we got people who weren't Asian - for example, people with "'Lee' as their last name" stated one founding member with a chuckle. It was a pretty wide net that was cast.

    Paul Lee was the first president of AALAM. Paul was followed by: Diane Young-Spitzer (1986 partial term), Marian Tse (1986-1987), Deborah Lau Kee (1987-1988), Harry Yee (1988-1989), Jane Hong (1989-1990), Andrew Leong (1989-1994), Kenneth Luke (1993-1996), Rebecca Lee (1996-2000), Perry Wu (2000-2002), Theodore Chuang (2002-2003 partial term), Myong Joun (2003-2005), Jeffrey Hsi (2005-2006), Ingrid Chiemi Schroffner (2006-2008), Charlotte Kim (2008-2010), and Sarah Kim (2010-present).

    The 1980s

    AALAM started out rather informally, mainly hosting social events so that its members could get to know one another. At first the mailing list grew to about 35 people, which was considered quite impressive at the time. Meetings were held at lunchtime or in the evening. The evening timeframe was better for those who lived in the suburbs or worked in areas that made it more difficult to meet over lunch. Fond memories of early AALAM events include summer outings to Helen Chin-Schlicte's (Francis Chin's sister) Cape beach home, barbecues, Christmas parties at Marian Tse's home, meetings at Schroeder's restaurant (now Radius), apple picking and many get-togethers including everyone's children (with the children typically outnumbering the adults). Many of these children are adults now.

    Social events were not the only activities in the early years however. Early on, AALAM set aside funds from contributions by members and law firms to support a legal intern. Andrew Leong was the first intern and he worked for the indigent population in Boston's Chinatown. Andrew would later become the first Harry Dow Fellow (see below) and then President of AALAM from 1989 to 1994.

    As part of its mission to increase access for Asian Americans to the legal system, AALAM assisted in creating an affiliate organization for such endeavors. Vivian Chen-Huang played a significant role in this process. The Harry H. Dow Memorial Legal Assistance Fund was created in 1985 upon the passing of Harry H. Dow (1904-1985), the first Asian-American attorney admitted to the Massachusetts Bar (1929). Harry was a graduate of Suffolk University Law School and devoted his career to representing grassroots agencies and those in need, including in Boston's South End and Chinatown. Through the years, the Dow Fund's projects have included the Anti-Asian Violence Project, the Asian Battered Women Project, the Asian Immigrant Rights Initiative, the Cambodian Outreach Project and the Campaign to Protect Chinatown. The Dow Fund also sponsors a legal internship program to provide support and training for the next generation of advocates and lawyers for the Asian-American community. The close and synergistic affiliation between AALAM and the Dow Fund continues to this day. The annual Dow Fund dinner is a highlight event each year.

    As AALAM continued to grow in the 1980s, a natural result of this expansion was an increased activism in issues relating to the Asian-American community at large. As mentioned previously, anti-Asian violence was a prominent issue on both the national and local levels, as were affirmative action set-aside plans, disparity hearings and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's study on racial and ethnic bias in the courts. AALAM members participated in various ways. AALAM was also involved in one controversial case in 1986 where a Chinatown resident, Long Guang Huang, was brutally beaten by police and arrested for allegedly soliciting a prostitute. AALAM came out in strong numbers to ensure that he received fair treatment. They (and others) filled the courtroom with supporters and carried out protests outside the courtroom. It was recalled that the attorney defending the police was "racist and abusive," and AALAM filed a complaint. Virginia Lee took the case on a pro bono basis and was successful in defending the resident and securing an acquittal, which was a "very special moment" in the minds of many members.

    The 1990s

    In the early 1990s, AALAM became an affiliate of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), forging a relationship that has helped provide greater visibility for AALAM and its mission. In fact, Paul Lee served as President of NAPABA from 1995 to 1996. As part of that affiliation, AALAM hosts the NAPABA Northeast Regional Conference every five years. Highlights of past NAPABA events include: the 1995 NAPABA Annual Convention, in which the Honorable Lance Ito (fresh off his stint as the judge in the O.J. Simpson trial) served as a featured speaker and demonstrated his prowess in bowling with the attendees (and for which AALAM, as convention organizer and host, received much recognition from NAPABA); the 1997 NAPABA Partner's Forum -- Boston (co-sponsored by AALAM) hosting a reception and dinner for Asian-American partners and associates at Massachusetts law firms; the 2000 NAPABA Northeast Regional Conference, in which Yvonne Y. Lee of the U.S. Commission on Human Rights was keynote speaker, which was hosted by AALAM and held in conjunction with the AALAM 15th Anniversary Banquet where Justice Fernande Duffly was honored for her appointment to the Massachusetts Appeals Court and her stature as the highest-ranking Asian-American jurist in Massachusetts history; and the 2005 NAPABA Northeast Regional Conference, which was held in conjunction with the AALAM 20th Anniversary Banquet, where Paul Lee presented the inaugural Founders Award, which is presented to persons who have contributed to the advancement of Asians in the legal profession, to the Banquet Keynote Speaker Dale Minami for his involvement in the re-opening of Civil Rights Pioneer Fred Korematsu's case and Dale's championing of civil rights, and where AALAM also made a $2,500 donation to the Fred Korematsu Civil Rights Fund to honor Fred Korematsu's memory, to whom AALAM had planned to present the inaugural Founders Award, but, just three weeks before, he passed away.

    In 1995, the Asian Pacific American Agenda Coalition (APAAC) was formed to formulate and move forward an agenda to address the mutual concerns of Asian Pacific American (APA) attorneys in Massachusetts, to promote the advancement of Asian Americans, and to ensure the full participation of Asian Americans in the social, economic and political issues in the community. AALAM has been a member organization of APAAC since APAAC's inception.

    Another result of AALAM's continued growth was its role in supporting and advocating for Asian-American attorneys in Massachusetts. In particular, the appointments of Richard J. Chin in 1989 to the Boston Municipal Court and then in 1993 to the Massachusetts Superior Court, of Fernande R.V. Duffly in 1992 to the Probate & Family Court and then in 2000 to the Massachusetts Appeals Court, of John T. "Jack" Lu in 2001 to the Boston Municipal Court, of Sabita Singh in 2006 to the District Court and of Eleanor Sinnott in 2006 to the Boston Municipal Court are crowning achievements and a testament to the efforts and support of AALAM. The appointment of William F. Lee in 2000 as managing partner of Hale and Dorr (now WilmerHale) was also a milestone event. The growing number of Asian-American attorneys, particularly at the partnership and senior levels, in law firms, companies, non-profits and government agencies here in Massachusetts, over the past 25 years underlines the importance of the efforts of AALAM. No doubt, there is still a long way to go. AALAM remains committed to promoting the rise of its members to more senior leadership positions in the legal community and to enhancing the recruitment, advancement and retention of Asian-American attorneys in Massachusetts generally.

    In the mid- to late- 1990s, AALAM further expanded its outreach to the local law school communities. In 1997, a formal mentoring program was introduced. The objective of the program was to provide law students with one-on-one interactions with attorneys to learn about the practice of law, law firms and other practice settings, various areas of law, career development advice and law school advice. The mentoring program continues to this day, and has been expanded to include mentoring for new attorneys as well. That same year, AALAM unveiled its Scholarship Award, to recognize an Asian-American student at a Massachusetts law school who demonstrates leadership potential, maturity and responsibility and a commitment to making a contribution to the Asian-American community. Glenn Magpantay (New England School of Law '98) was the recipient of the first annual Scholarship Award, which has since been awarded every year. It is noteworthy that Glenn, currently a staff attorney in New York with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) working on voting rights issues, wrote a letter of recommendation for an applicant for the 2004-2005 AALAM Scholarship Award, and in 2006 Glenn was one of the AALAM Community Service Award winners for his Voting Rights work in Boston. Additionally, in the later 1990s AALAM initiated designation of certain members as liaisons with each of the local law school Asian Pacific American Law Student Associations (APALSAs) to encourage and support participation and interaction between local law students and AALAM. In 2007, AALAM held its first "speed mentoring" event, which by popular demand has quickly become an annual cornerstone event of AALAM's mentoring activities. Today, the Professional Development and Law Student Outreach Committee of AALAM oversees these activities.

    Into the New Millennium

    AALAM Founders & PresidentsThe period from the late 1990s into the new millennium saw AALAM increase its involvement with Massachusetts' Asian-American communities generally at the grassroots level. The AALAM Community Service Committee was formed in 2000 and provided legal workshops on a variety of issues ranging from consumer's rights, tenant's rights, and small businesses to immigration and voting rights. Flora Chan was instrumental in creating and advancing these programs. In 2003, two such workshops were held in Chinatown. In 2004 and 2005, legal workshops in Lowell for the Cambodian community and in Dorchester to assist the Vietnamese community were also created with the goal of increasing legal access and assistance to those Asian-American communities.

    AALAM has been and will continue to be instrumental in shaping and addressing issues affecting Asian-American communities in the Commonwealth. In October 29, 2006, the Massachusetts Legislature established by statute the Massachusetts Asian American Commission. The Legislature created the Commission to recognize and highlight the vital contributions of Asian Americans to the social, cultural, economic and political life of the Commonwealth. In addition, the Legislature tasked the Commission to identify and address the needs and challenges facing Massachusetts residents of Asian ancestry. Three of the initial Commissioners were AALAM members: Paul Lee, Tina Matsuoka and Geoffrey Why. And to this day, AALAM supports and remains active in the Commission.

    About the same time, AALAM also launched an Advocacy Committee. Devoted to a variety of issues of the day, the Advocacy Committee spearheaded examination of positions on issues such as gay marriage, Governor Mitt Romney's affirmative action policies, voluntary school integration, creation of a reconfigured Asian American Commission in MA, reauthorization of parts of the Voting Rights Act, pay for bar advocates and election of judges, to name a few. In some instances, AALAM signed onto amicus briefs in support of certain positions on these issues.

    After the success of the 2000 AALAM Banquet, interest rose in making the event an annual one. This interest resulted in the 2003 AALAM Annual Banquet, held at Penang restaurant in Boston's Faneuil Hall. Ralph Martin, then head of the Massachusetts Judicial Nominating Committee, gave the keynote speech. At the 2004 AALAM Annual Banquet, held at the Boston Harbor Hotel, the keynote speaker was Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The first woman and first foreign-born Chief Justice in Massachusetts, Chief Justice Marshall had also gained national (if not worldwide) media prominence through her then recent opinion in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the historic 2003 case that provided for the legalization of same-sex marriage in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. What is most recalled, however, is the Chief Justice's graciousness in her conversations with attorneys, law students and non-lawyers alike, her ability to put all around her at ease and her inspiration for furtherance of a just and inclusive community.

    A highlight of the 2005 AALAM Annual Banquet was the presentation of the AALAM Founder's Award to Dale Minami, who led the legal team that represented Fred Korematsu in overturning his conviction 39 years earlier for defying military orders and resisting report to an internment camp during World War II. One AALAM president warmly recalls the opportunity to meet Fred Korematsu in 2001 at an AALAM-sponsored, special screening of the documentary film Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story. AALAM will always endeavor to continue both the teachings of Mr. Korematsu as reflected in his landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, and the inspiration for a just society that Mr. Korematsu provided by example to countless Asian Americans and Asian-American lawyers.

    The 2006 AALAM Annual Banquet attracted over 160 attendees to the Langham Hotel, including NAPABA President Amy Lin Meyerson and Boston City Councilor Sam Yoon (the first Asian American to run for elected office in Boston). The attendees honored the AALAM Community Service Award winners Glenn D. Magpantay, a Staff Attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (and a past AALAM Scholarship winner!), Andrew M. Troop, a Partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP and Cynthia Mark of Greater Boston Legal Services for their work on Voting Rights in Boston; and the AALAM Scholarship winner, Candice Chiu, a first-year law student at Harvard Law School. The AALAM Founders Award was presented to the Honorable Ronald Lew of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California for his distinguished career in public service and on the bench.

    At the 2007 AALAM Annual Banquet held at the Omni Parker House, keynote speaker Wayne Budd of Goodwin Procter LLP spoke to a crowd of over 200 about moving forward and not being afraid of taking risks. A highlight of the 2007 AALAM Annual Banquet was the presentation by past AALAM President Rebecca Lee, of the AALAM Founders Award to Attorney Caroline Chang, AALAM founder, Policy Advisor to Boston City Councilor Sam Yoon, Managing Director of the Chinese Historical Society of New England and Board President of the Asian Community Development Corporation. Also honored were AALAM Directors Geoffrey Why and Tina Matsuoka and AALAM founder Paul Lee, who had been recently sworn in as Commissioners of the newly formed Asian American Commission in a ceremony attended by Governor Deval Patrick, Secretary of State William F. Galvin, Attorney General Martha Coakley, Treasurer Tim Cahill and Auditor Joseph DeNucci. Lucy Cheung, a law student at New England School of Law, received the AALAM Scholarship Award.

    In 2008, AALAM held its well-attended 23rd Annual Banquet at the Boston Harbor Hotel with the incomparable Massachusetts Attorney General, Martha Coakley, as the keynote speaker. Also at the Banquet, Superior Court Justice Richard Chin, long-time member and a role model to many, as well as the first Asian Pacific American jurist to be appointed (in 1989) in the history of the Commonwealth, was presented with the AALAM Founders Award. Drawing on his personal experience, Judge Chin's acceptance speech was both moving and inspirational. AALAM also presented Harvard Law School student Ming Zhu with the AALAM Scholarship Award.

    Past AALAM Legal Line Television shows were run during the receptions for the 2007 and 2008 annual banquets. This monthly call-in television program at the Boston Neighborhood Network (BNN) was hosted by AALAM Directors Stephen Y. Chow, Tina Matsuoka and Ingrid Chiemi Schroffner. The hosts interviewed experts on various fields of interest to the Asian-American community and others, including family law, cultural considerations, real estate, intellectual property and immigration. AALAM Legal Line had three seasons, from 2005-2008, receiving television (aired live on Comcast Channel 9 or RCN Channel 15 in Boston) and internet distribution (from the BNN website). Shows are currently streamed online at the AALAM website [link], where a full listing may also be found.

    AALAM Today

    The profile of AALAM and scope of AALAM's activities continue to grow today. AALAM is proud to have a representative seat in the House of Delegates of the Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) and to sit on the recently created Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the Boston Bar Association (BBA). Several AALAM members are active in the MBA and BBA's committees, sections and leadership. AALAM has also recently become more active with affinity bar organizations, such as the Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys (MAHA), the Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys (MBWA), the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association (MBLA), the Massachusetts Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Association (MLGBA), the South Asian Bar Association of Greater Boston (SABA GB) and the Women's Bar Association (WBA), liaising with each other to further our shared interests and common goals. To that end, AALAM has co-sponsored numerous networking and career development events with the affinity bar associations over the years. We continue to welcome opportunities to work together with other affinity bar associations to promote shared goals in the future.

    *  *  *

    As highlighted by the foregoing narrative, AALAM has made great strides in its mission to support and promote local Asian Americans in the legal profession and their work in the communities throughout Massachusetts for 25 years. From a small group of pioneers in the mid-1980s to today and beyond, AALAM continues to expand its reach and to serve as a forum for the voice of Asian-American attorneys and Asian Americans generally. We leave it to the current and future members of AALAM to create the next wave of achievements and memories, and to write the next chapters of AALAM history. Best wishes in blazing the new trails!

    Notes:
    * This history was created for, and first published at, AALAM's 25th Anniversary Banquet on May 21, 2009. Except for minor edits and updates and the addition of section headings, this is the same version that appeared in the Banquet Program.

    ** The authors wish to acknowledge AALAM past Presidents Ingrid Chiemi Schroffner, Theodore Chuang, Jane Hong, Jeffrey Hsi, Myong Joun, Paul Lee, Andrew Leong, Diane Young-Spitzer, Marian Tse and Perry Wu for sharing their insights and recollections on which this history is based.

    AALAM wishes to thank the law firm of Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge LLP for its contribution of in-kind services to the publication of this history.


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