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President’s Message

Monday, March 2, 2015
posted by admin


R.  Lai

Last month I had the privilege of attending the annual Lunar Banquet which is organized every year by the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association at Rutgers School of Law in Camden (by way of disclaimer, at the time of this writing, I had not yet attended the banquet).  I note this because it caused me to reflect on my own community involvement, or lack thereof.  Since graduating from law school (Rutgers-Camden), I have probably received an invitation to this banquet every year.  It shames me to say that my attendance this year was prompted by two things.  First, the law students asked me to speak at the event.  Second, as President of the Burlington County Bar Association, I felt I have a duty to publicly represent our organization at events such as this one.

In speaking with Elizabeth Chung, the 1L that was organizing this event, she asked me several times for input into the program.  In trying to draw on my past experiences, I realized that the last time I attended this event was when I was still a law student.   Even worse, I realized that as a law student, I had no involvement in organizing or running this type of event.  Instead, I had merely shown up for dinner at the request of a friend who had been involved and active with the group.  Beyond speaking at a few career services events, to this point my involvement with Rutgers has been fairly minimal.

A few years ago, I was at a bar association conference in Connecticut.  The keynote speaker was Don Liu.  Mr. Liu is a well-accomplished lawyer, who happens to be Asian-American.  He currently serves as General Counsel for Xerox Corporation.  Mr. Liu spoke about the benefits of the mentor/mentee relationship.  He made it a point to try and take younger lawyers under his wing and provide the benefit of his experience and advice.   These relationships eventually evolved from the mentor/mentee (master/padawan) into truly equal friendships.

Over the years, I’ve had the benefit of having several people who have provided sound advice and been available to discuss the profession.  In the past, our Association has made efforts to institute a formal program to offer mentors to younger members.  Those efforts have never been particularly successful.  On the other hand, at our events I’ve met many people with different experiences and knowledge of many areas of law.  Most of our members have always been willing to lend an ear to listen or offer some friendly advice.  I’ve found it easiest to simply ask.  I’ve always believed that our Association is one of the friendliest that I’ve been involved with.  The diversity of our membership is one of its great strengths and I’m grateful to have received the benefits of collective wisdom.

One thing I realized in preparing to speak at the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association’s Lunar Banquet, none of the people that I’ve considered a mentor could be said to have walked in my shoes.  What I mean is that I can’t think of too many local lawyers of Asian descent who are significantly older than I am.  However, I’ve still had the benefit of advice and guidance from many others.

I’ve sometimes wondered whether my career would have benefited from perhaps having mentor who had been of Asian descent.  I suppose that I’ll never know.  However, the upcoming law students at Rutgers should not have to ask the same question that I did.  Thus, I am putting in writing that I am going to make every effort to give back and offer whatever help I can to our young and future lawyers.  I encourage all of you to remember those who have helped you get to where you are.   Please return the favor by giving to others the benefit of what you’ve already received.

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