Spotlight: Asian-Pacific American Law Student Association

Jessica Rennert ‘20
Guest Columnist

Nicole Park ‘20
Guest Columnist

The Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, or APALSA, is dedicated to promoting awareness of legal and cultural issues affecting Asian Pacific American law students. APALSA strives to achieve these aims through a variety of programs and panels, in addition to providing a forum for discussion. In a professional environment such as the legal field, where there is a clear dearth of Asian Pacific representation, a community that is able to supply both support and guidance to law students hoping to enter the field can be a helpful resource. Throughout the year, we hold events such as Career Networking Day and other academic panels targeted at assisting 1Ls with their transition into law school and the legal profession. Our main focus is oriented towards fostering a network that is helpful to both students and alumni alike. 

Nicole: In my own experience, I have always been surrounded by a prominent Asian Pacific support system––I am originally from the second most densely populated Korean municipality in all of the United States. Naturally, I was nervous about attending a law school with a significantly smaller percentage of Asian Pacific students. I had been working as a paralegal in New York for two years, and the lack of diversity in the legal industry was surprising and extremely noticeable. Being the only East Asian student in my section, a phenomenon I had never experienced in my academic career, I joined APALSA hoping to seek advice from upperclassmen who shared my cultural identity. I was immediately welcomed into the small but friendly community and paired with a supportive mentor, Gina Sato, who had already dealt with many of the same worries I was experiencing. Gina is one of several upperclassmen who have been incredibly welcoming and willing to lend advice on how best to navigate the legal industry as an Asian American. 

Jessica: I grew up in a biracial, interfaith household. From an early age, my parents taught my brothers and me to celebrate diversity and to view it as a catalyst for positive change. Similar to Nicole, I worked in a law firm for two years before attending law school. I, too, quickly noticed the lack of diverse attorneys in the industry, and I specifically noticed the shortage of Asian attorneys in the legal profession. I expected that I would face certain challenges as an Asian woman entering a field with relatively low Asian representation, so I wanted to join APALSA to be a part of a community that genuinely understands these challenges and offers guidance on how to navigate them. APALSA turned out to be that community, plus so much more. Though it is a smaller group than some of the other organizations at our law school, it is a community full of intelligent, compassionate, and accomplished people who are dedicated to supporting one another and developing relationships—both personal and professional—that will last long after graduation.  

This year, we are very excited to serve as co-presidents of APALSA. We both enjoyed serving on the board last year as 1L representatives, and we were eager to get more involved in APALSA this year to continue to help it grow and develop. We are also very lucky to serve on a board with an amazing group 1L and 2L students who share our dedication and appreciation for this organization.  

One of APALSA’s main priorities this year is to work with the Admissions Office to increase representation of Asian Pacific students in the Law School. We hope that with a larger student body, we will have more opportunities to promote a stronger network of both law students and alumni. Throughout the fall semester, we plan a mix of casual dinners, panels, and socials in order to give the 1Ls a chance to meet each other and the upperclassmen. Our main fall event is the annual mentorship dinner, during which mentors and mentees have an opportunity to officially meet if they have not already done so.  

Next spring, APALSA will collaborate with SALSA to host our annual Career Networking Day and provide our members a chance to connect with Asian Pacific and South Asian attorneys already in the field. Career Networking Day is our biggest event each year, as it is valuable to all of our participating members and gives 1Ls a chance to practice networking in a comfortable, and perhaps more familiar, setting. In the meantime, our top priority is to support the 1Ls as they continue to adjust to their first semester as law students. We hope to serve the UVA Law student body as an all-inclusive community. Whether you need a supportive community as a respite from your busy law school career, or you simply hope to learn more about cultural issues that touch the lives of Asian Pacific students, you are welcome to join APALSA.