Formed in 1986 under the leadership of its first president Therese Yee, the Chinese American Bar Association of Greater Chicago (CABA) can boast that it was the first local bar association for attorneys of Asian descent in the Chicagoland area. It now has about 150 current members ranging from law students to lawyers with more than 30 years of legal experience. Ms. Yee, a partner at Cheng, Cho and Yee PC, who concentrates on immigration law, initially called upon a handful of attorneys. Together they combed the pages of Sullivan’s, a directory of practicing attorneys in Illinois, to recruit CABA’s first members. One of Ms. Yee’s CABA co-founders, Philip Wong, also was a founding member of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) in 1988 and served as its treasurer from 1990 - 1991. Mr. Wong continues to work in commercial real estate and remains active on CABA’s board.
Under the new presidency of Gary Zhao, a member of ISBA’s Standing Committee on Racial & Ethnic Minorities and the Law, CABA, now in its 26th year, proudly became a NAPABA affiliate in March 2012. According to Mr. Zhao who currently co-chairs NAPABA’s litigation committee, “CABA and NAPABA share such deep roots, CABA’s excited about NAPABA’s national reach and the potential of future opportunities for our affiliation.” Michael Chu, NAPABA president (2005 - 2006), and Sharon Hwang, a past president of the Asian American Bar Association of Chicago (AABA), have also joined CABA’s board as new members.
CABA primarily recruits new members at events such as potluck picnics, networking “mixers” and Chinese New Year receptions at DePaul, Loyola and John Marshall Law Schools. This year, CABA raised the bar on past events at an installation and awards reception in May at Chicago-Kent College of Law. The highlight of the reception, which was attended by some 80 guests, was honoring Judges Edmond Chang and Laura Liu, respectively the first Article III judge and the first Cook County Circuit Court judge of Chinese descent. CABA presented Judge Chang and Judge Liu with plaques in memory of the late Judge Sandra Otaka for their distinguished service. After brief remarks from both judges to celebrate this new milestone of Chinese Americans serving in the judiciary, they, in turn, honored CABA by swearing in the 2012 officers and board of directors.
The diversity of its membership is one of CABA’s strengths. A majority of CABA attorneys are of Chinese descent, but while some are second, third or even fourth generation Chinese Americans, other members are first generation immigrants. Members practice at firms of all sizes, at agencies of municipal, state and federal governments, at not-for-profit organizations and at corporations. Some members are lifelong members of the profession while others have come to the law as a second career with a wide range of educational and professional backgrounds in the areas of science, technology, health care, academia and communications, among others.
One thing that CABA’s leadership has in common with other NAPABA affiliates is a commitment not only to meet the professional networking and development needs of its members, but also to serve the public interest through legal clinics and other educational and public service programs. This is, in fact, CABA’s mission.
CABA works closely with the Asian American Institute (AAI) and with the Chinese American Service League (CASL) to advance common interests such as equal access to business opportunities and immigration reform. Current and former CABA board members were influential in community building efforts to reinstate Asian American businesses in the City of Chicago Minority Contracting program, an effort spearheaded by AAI. CABA has also supported local efforts for immigration reform in tandem with CASL, a social service agency based in Chicago’s Chinatown. CABA’s “Law Day” workshops have been held in Chicago’s western suburbs (at the Chinese Cultural Center in Westmont), in “old” Chinatown (at CASL) and in “Little Saigon” (at Chinese Mutual Aid on the city’s north side). And one year, just for fun, CABA mounted a team to compete in the City of Chicago’s annual “Dragon Boat Race for Literacy.”
CABA and CABA members have participated in judicial evaluations as well as endorsements in the Chicago legal community. CABA vice-president Ernie Ling has played a crucial role in recognizing qualified APA judicial candidates and advising CABA on how best to support them for positions in local and federal courts. CABA’s networking events and activities focus on business development, professional support and leadership skills which help our members take their careers to the next level due and leverage the diverse backgrounds and experiences of our members.
Mentoring law students is an on-going CABA activity as well as developing scholarships for students of Asian descent at Chicago area law schools. In February 1997, CABA launched the Asian American Law Student Scholarship at Chicago-Kent College of Law. Since then, the scholarship has been awarded to six Chicago-Kent students who have demonstrated their commitment to public service through volunteer work.
CABA will continue to be a forum and resource for networking and learning, to organize and sponsor events of interest to its members and to provide public services to the local Chinese community. CABA is gratified that Chicagoland now has the critical mass to support so many bar associations for APAs: the Asian American Bar Association, the Filipino American Bar Association, the Korean American Bar Association and the Indian-American Bar Association. CABA looks forward to continued partnerships with local agencies and organizations and through its “new” affiliation with NAPABA to advance common matters of concern to the Asian Pacific American community nationwide. ■