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Reaching Out and Reaching Up

Jonathan C. Li is the Regional Director of the Northeast for NAPALSA. He is also the current President of the New York Inter-APALSA Council.

Prior to law school, I had not taken any leadership roles in organizations such as the Asian student groups or professional organizations. However, that all changed when I got to law school.

Asians in the workforce today face what is called the "bamboo ceiling." This refers to the phenomenon in which Asians are well represented in the lower-echelon of professional jobs, but are much underrepresented in the executive and upper-management levels. There is a disproportionate ratio between those who start out at entry-level positions and those who manage to work their way up. This is especially prevalent in the legal field where there are a far smaller percentage of Asian partners and judges as compared to Asian attorneys. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that there are far fewer Asians in the legal field than in medicine or business. (I can personally attest to this as I have many relatives who have attended to med school or business school but not one went to law school.) However, a lot of it is due to stereotypes and misperceptions that Asians are hardworking and diligent but lack communication and people management skills. Asians are also viewed as passive. I have no doubt that some of my former coworkers prior to law school saw only me as the quiet Asian guy who comes in and does his work and leaves.

All of this has motivated me to get more involved in the Asian American legal community. I have served on the board of Hofstra's APALSA, and am the current President of the New York Inter-APALSA Council and Northeast Regional Director of NAPALSA. I have had many positive experiences as a result of my involvement in these organizations. I believe that change is possible but it must start at the roots. Asians are now in the position other minorities groups were once in. As law students we can start by collaborating and supporting each other's APALSA events, workshops, trainings, forums, and conferences. It is also important to network and build solidarity within the Asian community. Organizations such as NAPALSA are especially vital because they bring students together and represent them and give them a voice. It is only by helping each other can we help ourselves to prepare for successful future legal practice. To quote Chris Chan, "it would be great if there were more chopsticks in the offices."

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