“My parents always emphasized the importance of being great contributors to society,” says Deborah Hong (JD ’97), a partner at Philadelphia-based Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young.
For the corporate lawyer and second-generation Korean American, many of her contributions take place away from her desk and closer to her community.
Hong first began thinking about a career in corporate law as a teenager, when she recognized that some of the core attributes of the practice of law, such as effective negotiation and advocacy, were some of her inherent traits. She landed an in-house legal stint at Chevron during law school and moved to Philadelphia after graduation to pursue corporate law private practice at Stradley Ronon.
In achieving career success, Hong did not forget the lessons her parents taught her and her three sisters growing up. She became an advocate and spokesperson for Asian American attorneys. “It is critical that we collaborate in efforts to find better and more effective means to advocate and support minority participation and retention in the legal profession,” she says.
In 2008 she was appointed to the board of trustees of the Center for Literacy in Philadelphia, where she collaborates in finding funding opportunities and providing strategic input. “Their English as a second language (ESL) program in the Asian community and the work they do is something that appealed to me,” she explains. “It is commendable that these individuals have had some adversity or just been victims of our system, and have taken the initiative to help themselves.”
Hong was also elected the 2010 president of the APABA-PA, the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania, a statewide chapter of a national organization dedicated to the advancement of Asian American attorneys admitted or practicing in the state. “Minorities in the legal field are still underrepresented,” she observes. Whatever the cause, Hong maintains, “there needs to be continued support of institutional and organizational efforts to support advancement of Asian lawyers in the field.”
She also dedicates time to the MoreBank Advisory Committee on Asian American Affairs, where she works to further close the gap on generational and ethnic divides among Asians.
Beyond raising awareness of local ethnic issues, Hong says her efforts have added value to her professional life and “given me many opportunities to listen and build consensus and collaborate with people to achieve a common goal.” Prior to her involvement, she admits, “You’re only advocating one position on behalf of your client. Learning to be a leader of an organization with diverse viewpoints is challenging, but working with the team was a tremendously rewarding experience for me.”
Though Hong credits good training in helping build her leadership skills, she also emphasizes taking initiative and being eager to explore and educate oneself. “What it takes to be a good lawyer is both the experience and opportunity to do the work that will help develop your expertise; to be able to provide practical problem solving that’s valuable and usable to the client.”
Speaking to current law students preparing to enter the legal field, Hong recommends taking an active stance in their careers and advises, “Don’t be afraid to speak up,” demonstrating the conviction that no doubt catapulted her from a School of Law classroom to the forefront of her community. “Don’t wait too long to realize you have a seat at the table.”