Angelina Tsu,’02, has outlined an ambitious set of goals for her term as president of the Utah State Bar. To start, she wants to “create great programs that benefit the community and serve members better.
In the interview below, Tsu shares her thoughts on how the Bar can harness technology to bring together attorneys and clients, explains why she believes this is an exciting time in the legal profession, reflects on the many benefits of her education at the College of Law, and offers words of plain-spoken advice: “We might not be able to change the world—but we can change the world we live in,” she insists.
Congratulations on your election as bar president. What inspired you to become involved in public service and seek a position as a bar officer?
I joined the Bar Commission as an ex-officio member (Young Lawyers’ Division President) in 2010. At the time three of the 13 voting commissioners were women and only three women in the Bar’s 80-year history had served as president. Most Commissioners worked at large firms and there were no criminal defense lawyers on the board. I was impressed with the commitment and dedication of the Commissioners. They worked hard and made so many important decisions. The lack of diversity also left an impression on me. At the time, lawyers under the age of 40 made up 40 percent of the bar (I suspect it is even higher now). There was not a single voting commissioner under the age of 40 and I felt that was reflected in the decisions the Commission was making—so I decided to run.
It was not easy in the beginning. I was pulled aside by one former officer and accused of being “divisive” because I nominated a woman for Lawyer of the Year. He told me that I needed to start nominating people for awards who were not women, minorities or young lawyers because I was there to represent the entire bar—not just the people who elected me. Silly me. I mistakenly thought that women lawyers, minority lawyers and young lawyers were a part of the bar and to consider the bar as a whole their interests needed to be represented too. The comment was hurtful and untrue as the woman I nominated won the award—not because she is a woman, but because she truly was the best candidate (even the former officer, who was so critical at first, admitted that).
For the first time in the history of the Commission, women make up a majority of the voting commissioners. I am still the only attorney of color, but five additional commissioners have joined me to make up the Young Lawyer Division contingent. You can see their influence in the technology we have implemented and the rule changes we have championed. We also have two criminal defense lawyers and (in what I have been told is a historical first) we presented the Lawyer of the Year Award to a criminal defense attorney, Ron Yengich. I am proud of the new commission and the diversity it reflects. I love that we have the perspective of criminal and civil attorneys; of women and men; of millennials and boomers. I think we make better decisions because we consider more perspectives. I hope this will result in more participation from all segments of the bar.
I believe we can all make a difference. We may not be able to change the world—but we can change the world we live in. And if you don’t believe me, just look at the changes we’ve seen in the commission in just five short years.
What are you goals as president?
I would love to see a bar that is more inclusive and more focused on the needs of its members. In preparing for my presidency, I reviewed the past bar member surveys. It was a fascinating project. The theme that was consistent throughout was a feeling of many lawyers that Bar was not representing them. I want to change that. I think we can create great programs that benefit the community and serve our members better.
Like many lawyers, I am concerned with access to justice. But consistent with my goal of meeting the needs of members, I think the approach is to figure out a way that lawyers can make a living while serving currently underrepresented populations—which includes the middle class. To that end, I created and co-chair the Affordable Lawyers for All Task Force where we are creating an online lawyer directory (for the purpose of matching paying clients with lawyers). Of course, I would love for it to be an app, but baby steps. We are also launching a community lawyering project—similar to Tuesday Night Bar — that works on sliding fee scale so people who can afford an attorney but cannot pay big firm rates will have a place to obtain excellent legal services at a price they can afford and that allows lawyers to make a decent living. It is a win-win.
During a time of great change in the legal industry, what can the bar do to help the community and help lawyers?
It is an exciting time to be a lawyer—it is also a very difficult one. The profession is changing. And we are working hard to change with it. I think all of the items mentioned above are part of this answer. We have also scheduled some Tech CLEs focused on using technology to better serve your clients and make running a firm more efficient (and profitable). I think the legal portal will play a large role in helping the community as a whole as well as our lawyer community. If we can use technology to match paying clients with lawyers and shift the perception that only certain people can afford lawyers, I think we will have done a lot to help the community and lawyers.
Which of your classes or other experiences at the College of Law are proving particularly relevant or useful in your new elected position?
I am fortunate. I received great leadership training through my involvement in the Minority Law Caucus, Women’s Law Caucus and the Student Bar Association. I learned a lot about building bridges, building consensus and making a plan and executing on it. I was also fortunate to have one of the best classes ever. My classmates have been instrumental my success from helping me to land my first job to rallying votes for my state bar president election, they are my lawyer family and I will always be grateful to the College of Law for bringing us together.
Why should lawyers volunteer their time, whether with the bar, or with pro bono representation or other community service?
We are fortunate to be members of such an important and influential profession, from the signers of the Declaration of Independence to the people who made equality a possibility in this country—these are our people. There are a million reasons to volunteer. For me, it reminds me of the incredible power lawyers have to change lives in positive ways—which is the reason I went to law school (to help people). I hope we will all use our (lawyer) powers for good.