David Tseng Citizen Lawyer: Fighting the Good Fight and Giving Back to the Community

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The son of a Chinese father and Ecuadorian-American mother, Tseng is dedicated to giving back to the community. He encourages new attorneys to do the same.

"Young lawyers are right there at the turnstile just about to get into the game," he said. "The world is open to them if they're willing to be open to the world."

Q: When you were in law school, what did you envision doing with your J.D.?

I wanted to be a labor lawyer. I wanted to help people in the workplace. Employee benefits is a hybrid specialty formed from labor and tax law. So I'm in the ballpark of where I wanted to be.

Q: As a law student, how did you prepare for the work you would later do? How did you spend your summers?

I was a law clerk at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a federal agency here in Washington, DC. I took the full complement of labor law courses at UCLA. I read every journal article that I could get my hands on. The challenge for young lawyers is to get an education and training that will help prepare them for the real world.

Q: What's your advice for those interested in civil rights, public service, and public policy work?

Participate in the community and civic organizations that interest you. That's how I got my start in L.A. I got involved in the Southern California Chinese Lawyers' Association. It was a wonderful way to meet other lawyers and to help my community. It's an organization that provides extraordinary experiences for young lawyers. Young lawyers often focus—rightfully so—on their craft. But the challenge is to multitask responsibly in order to create a three-dimensional practice.

Q: What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing careers beyond the partnership track?

Let your imagination be your only limit to your future. Part of the exploration of life is to accept that certain chapters of your life will be organic. Whether you're 25 or 55, in the practice of law, as you consider a new job prospect, you're not going to know what it's like until you're actually there. So, one shouldn't limit one's options.

Q: Any stumbling blocks new lawyers should avoid?

Never assume. Seek out mentors and guides. Try to give back for that which you have received. Certainly, in the legal community, there is a tradition that lawyers have a responsibility to our community. There are legions of lawyers who are eager to give or lend their experience and expertise to others. That is both an important and fulfilling component of my practice. And I think it makes me a better lawyer. All of us have a responsibility to provide some measure of our experiences for the good of others.

Often, in law firms, we find ourselves compartmentalized. I was a pension lawyer. Someone [else] might be an environmental attorney. In community organizations, we have a chance to touch other areas of the law and improve our skills. This was a way for me to participate and accept my responsibility as a citizen lawyer and to contribute through these organizations.

Q: Were there any attorneys who inspired you to go into law?

The very first was an immigration lawyer. His name was Frank Fong. My father and grandfather originally immigrated to the United States from China to DC. Frank Fong was the only Chinese-American lawyer that they knew. I always grew up knowing that name. The same goes for folks of my generation in L.A. In Chinatown, there were the Kwan brothers. They were really the first generation of Chinese-American lawyers. Frank was of that generation. Those individuals, they formed our Mount Rushmore as role models.

Q: What are the challenges for minorities in the industry?

Minority attorneys continue to face the challenge of more modestly developed networks in the profession. We are as talented and able and brilliant as our counterparts. We need to continue to develop and cultivate our relationships that will gain us expertise, provide business leads, and help create standing in our profession.

Q: What did you learn from your experiences at the White House and PFLAG?

Both experiences certainly reminded me of the importance of having a vision and a dream. I think that's why so many of us participate in public service and public policy. We aspire to be part of something larger than ourselves.

Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation


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Chinese Lawyer Association      Pension Policy Advisor      David Tseng      Labor Law Courses     

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