A Q&A with Korean American Bar Association Immediate Past-President Ron Park
Q. How and when did your MBA get started?
The Korean American Bar Association of Washington (KABA) was formed in 1993 by a small group of Korean American attorneys in and around the Seattle area. That year, KABA started with about 18 attorneys. Sam Chung (now a judge on the King County Superior Court) was KABA’s first president.
Q. What are some of the core goals and/or purposes of your MBA?
When KABA was first founded, a big part of its goal and purpose was simply to connect Korean American attorneys with one another. There were fewer at the time, and they were essentially the first generation of Korean American attorneys—period. Another goal and purpose was community service. In fact, the first iteration of KABA’s pro bono legal clinic predates KABA itself. In June 1992, six of the original KABA attorneys started a pro bono legal clinic in partnership with the Korean Community Counseling Center (KCCC). From the very beginning, KABA sought to give back to the Korean American community as well as connect and cooperate with the greater legal community in Washington.
Q. What need does your MBA fill that is unmet elsewhere?
Many, if not most, Korean Americans in Washington (and the United States generally) are first- or second-generation immigrants. As a result, the Korean American community is in many ways still trying to find its place in this country. As a bar association particularly focused on Korean Americans (as opposed to Asians or people of color generally), KABA tries to remain responsive to the particular needs and concerns of Korean Americans. KABA tries to represent the interests of, and provide a communal space for, the Korean American legal community and provide a line of communication and cooperation between the legal community and the broader Korean American community in Washington.
Q. What are a few of the opportunities or benefits that your members receive?
KABA consistently works to provide networking and mentorship opportunities to its members. These can be simple happy hour events or more organized panel discussions and CLE programs. In particular, KABA hopes its focus on the Korean American community can allow for lawyers (and law students) with similar experiences to connect with one another and share their knowledge on how to navigate their professions and careers. In addition, KABA members receive complimentary membership in NAPABA (National Asian Pacific American Bar Association), and law students have multiple scholarships they can apply for each year.
Q. Does your MBA offer any mentorship or scholarship opportunities? If so, please describe.
KABA offers scholarships each year to at least two or three students who demonstrate a commitment to community service and promoting diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. Given our membership, those students are often from the Korean American community, but KABA has consistently awarded scholarships to students of different backgrounds as well. KABA also offers other scholarships from time to time in partnership with other organizations or businesses.
KABA also offers mentorship opportunities. Recently, KABA has been implementing its “KIMBAP” mentorship program, which seeks to foster mentorship in the group context (rather than one-on-one). The idea behind forming mentorship groups is to allow law students and attorneys to form relationships with multiple people, each of whom may be able to bring something different to the table, and to relieve the burden on two people for making things work. While the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the full implementation of the program, KABA hopes to rejuvenate it in the next year.
Q. What is a recent MBA accomplishment, current project, or event that you are excited about?
Before the pandemic, KABA’s pro bono legal clinic served clients from a physical location in Edmonds on the second and fourth Saturday of each month. Needless to say, those limitations created barriers preventing certain clients from receiving aid. With the pandemic, KABA started doing remote consultations, which has allowed our volunteers to reach clients at any time of the day, any day of the week, wherever they may be located. It’s a change that is probably long overdue, and KABA intends to continue providing aid in this manner even as in-person consultations become feasible again.
Q. How can WSBA members support the work of your MBA?
The simplest thing is to attend our events. And if you like our events, become a member. Many attorneys seem to think that to join an MBA you have to be a part of whichever minority group the MBA represents, but that is not true. Nor do you have to be a part of the relevant minority group to enjoy the benefits of membership. Part of KABA’s mission is to connect the Korean American community with the broader legal community. That only happens if that broader legal community is there to make that connection. KABA believes that everyone stands to benefit by learning more about one another and finding common ground and common goals.
Q. Is there anything else you would like WSBA members to know about your MBA?
Even after 30 years, KABA is still an all-volunteer organization. Everything that KABA organizes has been organized by full-time lawyers and law students who have decided to volunteer what time they have (and sometimes time they don’t have) to furthering KABA’s mission. There are pros and cons that come with that, but we think ultimately it helps keep KABA grounded in listening to the current needs of the community.
LEARN MORE > For more information about KABA, visit www.kaba-washington.org.