Bellevue by Way of China: A Young Lawyer Liaison’s Experience

A diverse group of smiling legal professionals

Carol Li’s legal career has involved many adventures into the unknown.

Growing up in China, her parents were both medical doctors, but urged Li to pursue a different path. So as an undergrad she majored in law at East China Normal University School of Law in Shanghai. It was there that an international law professor encouraged her to venture even farther and study abroad.

So Li found herself on a plane bound for an unknown place in an unknown country with a limited grasp of English. She earned a master of laws degree at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta. While many of her Chinese classmates returned to work for large firms in Shanghai and Beijing, Li headed to the opposite corner of the country in Bellevue to take a legal internship with a boutique foreclosure defense law firm. Even with years of education and experience in the legal profession, during which she became a licensed real estate agent, Li wasn’t a licensed attorney. After passing the bar, she relied on mentors to help learn the things that aren’t taught in law school.

In addition to volunteer roles with the Housing Justice Project, the Family Law Clinic at Snohomish Legal Services, the Unemployment Law Project, and the King County Bar Association Records Project, Li recently became the New and Young Lawyer Liaison for the WSBA Real Property, Probate and Trust (RPPT) Section.

How has your service as a liaison impacted your practice?

Through the first WSBA RPPT Section Executive Committee retreat, I got to connect with [another attorney] who decided to mentor and work with me to start my legal career practicing real property/landlord tenant law. I also connected with more experienced real property attorneys, for practice tips and resources. By participating in the section Continuing Legal Education (CLE) and events planning, it expanded my professional network and deepened my understanding of my areas of the practice.

What most surprised you about serving as a liaison?

There are a lot of opportunities (networking, learning, jobs) out there, but young lawyers are too shy or lack confidence to explore them. Most young lawyers are so busy focusing on looking for a job or looking for a better paid job instead of knowing what their real passions are and what they are good at practicing. Connecting with experienced practitioners and judges is crucial at the beginning of a young lawyer’s career, but once new lawyers land a job they stop networking. Connecting with peer young lawyers is important because exchanging resources and knowing their expertise will benefit the future [of the] practice.

Did you gain any special knowledge or skills from being a liaison that you wouldn’t have otherwise?

Yes, I definitely gained more confidence in public speaking, expressing my opinions, and connecting lawyers with resources they need. By joining the Executive Committee meetings every two months, I was finally able to speak out in the meeting during the “young lawyer report” part and give useful and helpful tips.

What activities and programs has your section developed for new and young lawyers?

Collaborating with the Washington Young Lawyers Committee (WYLC) to sponsor events for new and young lawyers. The RPPT Section CLE group is offering free mini-CLEs for new and young lawyers to learn more basic legal concepts, and possibly a CLE boot camp for new, young lawyers who want to begin practicing in the area. The RPPT Section is reaching out to [Washington law schools] for outreach events.

Did you have any concerns before becoming a liaison? Were those concerns assuaged after you began serving?

I didn’t have a permanent legal job while I was applying—what if they didn’t want anyone who is “jobless”? English is my second language—what if I can’t communicate it right in the future, etc.?

I realized that serving as a liaison requires a lot of determination and passion. As long as you have passion and are determined to serve young lawyers and the section, none of the concerns will stop you from being a good liaison.

What type of lawyer is best suited to being a liaison?

Anyone can be a good liaison as long as they put time and commitment in doing it. But being a liaison is very time consuming. In the past two years, I have been in numerous events hosted by WYLC, American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (YLD), KCBA YLD, and Asian Bar Association of Washington. Folks with more flexible schedules may be able to spend time attending events and connecting with people. Liaisons should be ready to respond to new lawyers’ questions. I received several … cold-call emails from law students [and] young lawyers … . I was able to get on the phone with them or meet in person to grab coffee to talk about joining the section, connect them with the right people or resources, [and] help them with their questions.

What would you most want to impart on future liaisons or people who are considering applying?

Keep an open mind. Find what type of the law you are interested in practicing. Reaching out to the current section liaisons to learn more about the job. Edit your résumé and apply.