Asian Pacific American Bar Association celebrates growth

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Five years ago, the organization now known as the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Indiana was just an idea in the minds of 11 Asian-Pacific American attorneys in the Indianapolis area. The group gathered one August evening in 2013 to meet one another for the first time and discuss the possibility of creating an affiliate chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

Together, the APA attorneys formed APABA-IN on July 21, 2014, with a total of 12 members. But today, the group has grown to an organization of 50 members and has earned the support of the roughly 150 attorneys who attended APABA-IN’s second annual dinner Thursday.

Nick Huang, an attorney at Harrison & Moberly and the current APABA-IN president, joyfully celebrated the organization’s steady growth over the past five years, noting its board now consists of 16 attorneys and two law students. Speaking to a crowd at the downtown Indianapolis Skyline Club after being presented with the bar’s Spirit of Excellence Award, Huang said the bar group has used its growing voice to endorse APA judicial candidates, provide official opinions on federal policy and host diversity-centered CLE and social events.

Next year the group will welcome other APABA chapters to Indianapolis for the 2019 Central Regional Conference, then will open the doors of the Circle City for the “Super Bowl” of APA events — the 2023 NAPABA Conference. That event will draw several thousand members of the APA legal community to the Indianapolis area, creating more networking opportunities for local attorneys and the growing bar association.

“… With the continued efforts of the APABA board and the vision of the APABA board, along with all the help of our membership, APABA will continue to grow at remarkable rates,” Huang said. “The results have been positive, and I’m excited to be part of this bridge to diversity.”

That “bridge to diversity” was the theme of the 2018 annual dinner, underscoring APABA-IN’s commitment to celebrating diversity both in the legal profession and across the state. To that end, the organization invited Indianapolis journalist Aishah Hasnie of Fox59 News to share her experience as a Pakistani-born woman building a career in Indianapolis.

In a recorded video message, Hasnie said her family had hoped that she would become a doctor and did not approve of her decision to switch her major to journalism while in college. However, as her career blossomed and Hasnie found ways to use her work to improve the lives of her neighbors, she said her family and friends in the APA community began to support her decision to pursue her own path.

Pursuing that path, Hasnie said, also helped give her “a seat at the table,” a phrase she used repeatedly to encourage APABA-IN members to share their perspectives with decisionmakers at their firms and in their communities. She urged the attorneys to be bold in sharing their unique experiences, rather than waiting to be invited to the table.

Also speaking to the bar association was retired Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard, who was honored with APABA-IN’s Trailblazer Award. Mike Witte, an APABA board member and executive director of the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, presented the award to Shepard and celebrated the former chief justice for his diversity efforts, including the creation of the Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunity and his support of the Commission on Race and Gender Fairness. 

“He’s a beacon for all of us,” Witte, last year’s Trailblazer Award winner, said of Shepard.

Closing the event as the annual dinner’s keynote speaker, Shepard said the CLEO program was one of the greatest initiatives he had the opportunity to be part of during his tenure on the court, and he thanked APABA for asking all CLEO alumni in attendance to stand so that he could see how the organization has grown. When asked for advice on how to give back to other minority lawyers, Shepard said he tells CLEO alumni to be the best lawyers they can be and to make time for younger lawyers and law students in need of mentorship.

Shepard then cited recent statistics showing that APA law students graduate from law school with lower average debt than any other ethnic group, including white students. He also noted that Asian students make up the largest portion of minorities in America’s law schools.

“That’s a remarkable, remarkable fact,” Shepard said. “I say, ‘Hallelujah.’”

He also pointed to research showing that, when asked after law school what resources would help them succeed in their careers, APA lawyers most frequently pointed to mentors/professional contacts and formal opportunities for leadership development and training.

“That’s a lot of what this chapter is about,” Shepard said of APABA-IN.

To that end, Shepard encouraged the APA attorneys to continue on their path of using the organization to have a say in important issues, such as the vetting and appointment of judicial officers. And he encouraged members to continue volunteering their time to help APABA continue on its path of growth.

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