A new generation of Asian lawyers are eager to assume leadership roles, says David Namkung, newly elected president of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers B.C. branch, an organization that is quickly attracting Asian legal professionals to its ranks — up to 228 members in 2016 from last year's 83 members.
Namkung says he hopes to further guide FACL BC's continued growth and provide opportunities for young Asian lawyers to hone leadership skills and build community connections to aid in advancing their careers within law firms and the legal community.
“There is a big gap in leadership in law firms and organizations,” says Namkung, as earlier waves of Asian immigrant Canadians didn't see law as a favoured profession since it required strong language skills. As a result, there is not a large legacy base of Asian lawyers in leadership roles within law firms and associations today to provide that leadership and mentorship for young lawyers.
FACL, a national organization, is playing a strong role in providing that platform and connecting students with practising lawyers with judiciary and professional association members who have Asian roots. One of the founding members of FACL, Justice Maryka Omatsu, was on hand for the FACL BC annual general meeting in Vancouver where Namkung assumed leadership from retiring president Jennifer Lau. Omatsu said the organization now numbers 1,500 strong across Canada and continues to grow. Omatsu, semi-retired, was appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice in 1993 and was the first Asian woman appointed to a Canadian court. She has been honoured as a trail-blazer in the legal profession.
An early foundation of lawyers in Canada was hampered by exclusionary legislation, with Vancouver-born Kew Dock Yip, the son of a Chinatown merchant, becoming the first Chinese-Canadian lawyer despite being unable to enter law at the University of British Columbia. After three attempts at entering Toronto's Osgoode Hall Law School he finally gained admittance and a law degree in 1945. Yip went on to have the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 repealed by the Canadian government in 1947. It opened the doors for a second wave of Chinese immigration.
Namkung said it is the third wave of immigration from the 1980s that is on the front lines of challenging what has become known as the “bamboo ceiling.”
This third wave are children of wealthier immigrants whose families were left in B.C. to take advantage of the education system while the fathers flew between Canada and another country where they worked.
"We are now seeing more numbers in law schools," Namkung says, as these individuals consider a profession in law rather than traditional areas such as accounting, sciences, or medicine.
In his role as the new FACL BC president, Namkung, a partner in The Counsel Network, wants to ensure the organization continues attracting and supporting members in leadership development.
“We want to ensure that our growth is sustainable so we can invest in our administration,” he says.
FACL BC has hired its first staff member on a contract basis.
Another priority for Namkung is advocating for diversity in the judiciary and through professional organizations such as the Canadian Bar Association and Law Society of B.C. He also wants to see FACL BC take a higher profile and establish partnerships with other organizations both inside and outside the legal community to ensure “not just inward diversity but outward diversity.”
The new 2016-17 executive for FACL BC are: president Namkung; vice president Maria Kim, Population Data BC, University of B.C.; secretary-treasurer Louisa Winn, BC Ministry of Justice, Criminal Justice Branch; and retiring president Jennifer Lau, Allard School of Law at UBC, Career Services Office.
New board members are: Kristian Arciago, 2016 call; Sena Byun, Telus Corp.; Stephen Hsia, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP; Vania Kim, Lindsay LLP; Mark Leung, Broadband TV; Jessica Lo, Lindsay Kenney LLP; Roland Luo, sole practitioner; Christopher Yan, Lawson Lundell LLP; and Linda Yang, McMillan LLP.
Existing board members are: Samson Chan, Campbell Froh May & Rice LLP; Karla Mukai, Campbell Froh May & Rice LLP; Mary Salaysay, BC Ministry of Justice, Criminal Justice Branch; Will Tao, Larlee Rosenberg; and Pablo Tseng, Gowling WLG.
Law students serving as directors for the various B.C. universities are: Alyssa Leung, University of B.C.; David Fung, University of Victoria; and Oliver Leung Thompson Rivers University.