Chinatown Lawyer To Head N.Y. State Bar

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:13

Glenn Lau-Kee was elected the 117th president of the state bar association last month

Glenn Lau-Kee, a partner at the downtown law firm Kee & Lau-Kee, assumed the office of president of the New York State Bar Association, making him the group's 117th, and first Asian-American, president.

Lau-Kee's father, Norman Lau Kee, who founded the firm in 1956, is a long-established Chinatown lawyer, and his son has made quite a name for himself over the years. Lau-Kee has been a member of the State Bar Association for 15 years, serving and chairing several committees, and was the president of the Asian American Bar Association of New York from 1997-1999.

Lau-Kee will serve a one-year term as State Bar president.

In an interview at his office on Broome Street, Lau-Kee talked about his career and his hopes for the future of his profession.

When did you first begin practicing law?

Well, I was first admitted to the bar in 1975 and I went over to Coudert Brothers. I was an associate in Hong Kong for a year and then, when I came back in 1977, I joined my father at his firm and I've been here ever since.

What made you decide to become an attorney? Did it have anything to do with your father or was it of your own volition?

My father never urged me to become an attorney. The story actually goes that a group of us just decided to take the LSATs. It was never something I wanted to do from early on. I graduated from Yale in 1971 and actually got a letter asking me to go Vietnam. I could have gone, but I was exempted and went to law school instead.

And what has been your history with the bar?

For many years I served in the House of Delegates and then some years later, the State Bar had an Executive Committee with a plan to increase diversity by adding two diversity seats. It was a 10-year program that I was a part of and I stepped down after two years. I had a lot of people ask me, "Why would you do that?" And it's because I wanted the seat to keep rotating. This was all about increasing diversity and giving people a chance to serve on the committee.

So I came back after a year and I ran for an at-large seat, and eventually I ran for president and was elected.

Was there any criticism or controversy following your win?

There wasn't any criticism or controversy that I was aware of. I take it as an indication that things are beginning to open up.

You have said in the past that you would like more Asian Americans in the legal community to join the NYSBA. Do you feel that there is a lack of Asian-American representation?

I do think there is some of lack of representation. Hopefully, they will see the bar as an open path to them. But, even more so, I think a lot of new attorneys are just not aware of the value that the NYSBA has for them.

Do you believe that becoming the first Asian American president will help younger Asian American lawyers realize their available opportunities?

Yeah, I think so. Hopefully it well help all younger minorities realize the opportunities available to them, to be involved in NYSBA events and all the tremendous things that it offers. Even after being on the bar for so many years, I'm still learning.

Now that you are the president of the NYSBA, can you tell us of any goals that you hope to accomplish during your term as president?

Well the goal, or the central question, is: how do we engage these younger lawyers?

The law profession is changing. With economic pressure, students graduating with debt and having difficulty getting jobs presents a terrible problem for us. So, going back, to the question: how do we engage these younger lawyers; how do we change the association but reserve core principles on which the profession is founded? Long ago, following law school, you went to a firm and joined the bar but now that's changing and it's too bad. I really hope to maybe connect the generations; younger attorneys and more experienced attorneys could learn a lot from each other.

There's a lot to take care of and change the way we do things and it will probably be a challenge.

What is the best advice you have to offer to young lawyers just starting out in their profession?

I would definitely say to get involved in bar association work. It's like law school after law school; you just learn so much. Beyond that I would say to get broad experience, to participate in a lot of things and get out of their comfort zone. For example, I'm on the Greater New York YMCA board and I chaired the finance committee, the audit committee and I gained a great deal a perspective from being on those committees. I see lawyers as leaders of the community and part of being a lawyer is about helping to build a community. There are many different ways for lawyers to contribute to society without just being concentrated on law.