Robert S. Chang
Bar Number: 44083
Robert S. Chang is a Seattle University School of Law professor and the founder and executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality.
What is the most interesting case you have handled in your career so far and why?
I was privileged to represent high school students in Arizona who successfully challenged a state law that was used to terminate the Mexican American Studies Program at the Tucson Unified School District. After a bench trial in 2017, the judge found that the law was enacted and enforced in violation of the students’ rights under the First and 14th Amendments. González v. Douglas, 269 F. Supp. 3d 948 (D. Ariz. 2017). This case was especially meaningful because I was horrified that Mexican American school children were told that their histories and stories did not belong in the classroom. In addition, this case is especially important because of the many laws passed or proposed in other states restricting the way race and history are taught.
If you could change one thing about the legal system, what would you change?
I’d change the role the legal system has played in enabling mass incarceration by making it very difficult for courts to address racism in the criminal legal system, including the gross race disproportionality that exists in policing, prosecution, and punishment. I’m pleased, though, that Washington courts have been making meaningful changes to address racism and access to the courts.
How is being a lawyer different from the way you thought it would be?
I didn’t know any lawyers growing up, so I had no idea what lawyers really did. I thought lawyers did what you see in movies or on TV or read about in books. And even though I began law teaching in 1992, I didn’t sit for my first bar exam until summer 2011. With assistance from experienced lawyers, we were able to launch a civil rights clinic in 2012. I quickly learned that the day-to-day of lawyering is not always as glamorous or as exciting as depicted in media, but practicing law is glorious and it’s fulfilling to serve clients who are seeking justice.
One thing that is as depicted is making an objection. I remember making my first objection during a trial. This was in 2017, and it’s like what you see in the movies and on TV. I jumped out of my chair to object. The judge looked at me and said, “On what grounds?” In my head, I was wondering why I needed a reason. It was objectionable. But the judge wanted grounds for the objection. So I looked at my Post-it® note that listed common objections and blurted, “Asked and answered.” The judge thought about it and then sustained my objection. My next objection was another common one, “badgering.”
How did you become interested in your practice area?
I became interested in civil rights work because of the racism I encountered as a child. This included an episode when I was in sixth grade when my classmates, for a month, called me epithets associated with my identity as Asian American. Nothing happened, the school did nothing, until I was called the N-word. Though I don’t know what it is like to be Black in America, I do know what it is like to be an other. This has motivated much of my work.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
I had what I eat almost every morning: Cheerios, Heritage Flakes, blueberries, sliced banana, walnuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds. When I really want to mix things up, I sub strawberries for the banana.
What is one thing your colleagues may not know about you?
I failed my freshman year swim test. It’s possible that I shouldn’t have earned my college degree. Please don’t tell anyone.
What is your favorite word?
Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. In the Ohio state spelling bee, I failed to advance because I misspelled “karst.” But if I’d been asked this other word, I would have advanced.
What is your favorite podcast?
What is the best fictional representation (TV, movie, book) of a lawyer?
Extraordinary Attorney Woo. This Korean series features an early career lawyer on the autism spectrum who struggles to succeed and thrive.