Christopher J. Chan (J.D. ’98) is a member of the Intellectual Property Practice Group of Eversheds Sutherland. He serves on his firm’s Professional Development and Pro Bono & Public Service Committees, Georgia State’s Law Alumni Council and Intellectual Property Advisory Board, the Executive Board of the Center for Puppetry Arts and the Board of Directors for the Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association, among others.
You are involved in many organizations and are a mentor to many young lawyers. Why is that important to you?
I think all lawyers should strive to be involved in their communities. I am passionate about helping people, and being able to do so outside of the legal profession is refreshing. I’m often asked to provide my legal views for the activities I am involved in — there’s always a need for a lawyer’s experience in the business world, for profit or not.
When I was starting as a law student and lawyer, I didn’t have any older family members who had pursued a legal degree. Many Asian-American lawyers I have met are the first in their families to choose law as a career. I understand the feeling of not having anyone to ask questions about what the legal practice entails. Our profession can be difficult and stressful, but also very rewarding and fulfilling. I want to educate law students and young lawyers about the lessons I have learned and be someone they can turn to for advice.
You also serve on Georgia State Law’s alumni council and IP Advisory Board – why did you stay involved with the college?
I wanted to continue to be involved with organizations that have contributed to my professional success and help improve them so that they will continue to do so. When I affiliated myself with Georgia State Law’s alumni council and IP Advisory Board, they were just starting out. I felt the need to help with strategic direction and purpose since I knew both would become influential within the legal community. Through each, I can help build stronger ties among our alumni and hopefully, by encouraging others to give back to the college, continually improve the reputation of Georgia State Law.
How did your roles as president of the Moot Court Board and VP of the Asian American Law Students Association while a student shape you as a leader?
Both experiences made a significant impact on me. The Moot Court Board was a defining moment in my legal education, learning about the differences in managing lawyers and, at the time, lawyers-to-be.
I wanted to raise the profile and identity of Moot Court to be on par with that of our Law Review. In that regard, to help with our own self-awareness, I focused on making our relatively small office space an inviting place to be. During my tenure, each of our Moot Court members received an office mailbox (understand, this was before email became prevalent), and I also installed a prominent gold-plated “Moot Court” sign on our office door (as opposed to having no name plate).
To improve our external identity, we worked diligently to make sure all of our teams were suitably staffed and trained. I believe the improved camaraderie motivated our non-team members to help each of the teams as much as possible. I also helped originate the first Moot Court versus Law Review softball game. At the end, I was very proud of what the Moot Court Board had become.
My role in the Asian American Law Students Association (AALSA) was just as educational and fulfilling. At the time, there were probably fewer than 100 Asian lawyers in Atlanta, and through my leadership, I was introduced to many of them. When I later served as president of the Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association (GAPABA), many of those relationships helped me in that leadership role and still help me in my ongoing GAPABA fundraising activities. I attribute some of my success in GAPABA to my early days of leading the AALSA.
How can law students cultivate leadership skills?
Find an organization, committee or cause you are passionate about, and take a leadership role there. Don’t join something just to be a member and receive monthly emails. Being a leader will attract attention to your skills, your practice and your firm or organizational affiliation. Your efforts will be a reflection of the values and work of your firm or organization.
If you don’t feel comfortable leading yet, take a committee or lesser role, but work as hard as you would if you were leading that committee. Once you gain the experience of organizing the committee’s activities and have learned as much as you can from its leaders, you should be ready to lead the committee and, someday, the organization.
Legal work can be very team focused, and being able to lead and motivate a diverse team of lawyers, paralegals, and administrative professionals will ultimately help a young lawyer be successful in his/her career.
Were there any specific things you did to help develop qualities of a leader?
In my 20s and 30s, I read many books about leadership and management. In my 40s, I like to listen to online videos about leadership and management, I read articles on Forbes.com, and am a fan of the Harvard Business Review. I encourage everyone to read about current topics and think about how to implement leadership principles in one’s daily life, such as at home or with family, and then scaling it to one’s community work, and ultimately to the workplace practice. I believe that one can always continue to improve his/her leadership skills.
I am a big proponent of continuing education, and continuing to hone my own leadership skills never gets old. It’s extremely important as a leader to stay humble and not deceive yourself into thinking you know everything about anything. With respect to leadership and continuing to develop myself as a leader, I still think of myself as a student.