The Korean American Bar Association of Southern California was formed in 1981 by a handful of first-generation Korean-American lawyers who saw a need to unite what was then a small but growing number of Korean attorneys. From those humble beginnings, KABA has grown, through the backbreaking work of its past leaders and members, to become a key voice for Korean-American lawyers and the largest Korean-American community outside of Korea. KABA counts among its members state and federal judges, influential legal and political activists who raised the profile of the Korean American community, solo practitioners who devoted their careers to giving Korean-Americans access to the courts and legal system, prosecutors and public defenders, and founders and partners of prominent law firms throughout Southern California.
KABA started small. In the early 1980s, a handful of Korean-American attorneys would met semi-periodically at Dragon Restaurant in Koreatown, to exchange war stories and share professional ideas. During the 1990s, however, more and more Korean-Americans swelled the ranks of attorneys in Los Angeles, both first- and second-generation. It became quickly evident that the hundreds (and soon thousands) of new Korean-American attorneys needed an organization to serve both as a networking fulcrum and as a voice for their concerns. At the same time, the rapidly growing Korean-American population, many of whom spoke little or no English, had nowhere to go in search of answers to a bewildering morass of concerns specific to the KA community in Los Angeles – landlord-tenant disputes, small business, how to file small claims, immigration, as well as such basic issues as how to access the legal system.
KABA filled that void by beginning regular pro bono clinics, staffed by KABA members.
A defining moment of KABA’s history was the Los Angeles riot of 1992. In the aftermath of the riot, KABA members collectively gave thousands of hours of their time to help Koreatown rebuild and provide answers to the many legal problems that arose in the riots’ aftermath. KABA board members also spoke out on behalf of Korean-Americans living in Los Angeles – bridging relationships with other ethnicities and ethnic organizations, participating in community meetings and town halls, and working with the Los Angeles government to address concerns about security and receipt of public services.
In the two decades since, the concerns of the Korean-American population in Los Angeles have become increasingly diverse, and KABA’s mission has grown and diversified as well. As the Korean-American community has become more legally and politically sophisticated, KABA has increasingly devoted its energies to maximizing the Korean-American voice in the public arena. KBA lobbies for the advancement of Korean-Americans in the judiciary, voices support for political and judicial candidates who support the Korean-American community, and signs onto key legislation and amici briefs. KABA also promotes networking among Korean-American attorneys and law students, sponsoring numerous events throughout the year.
At the same time, many of the fundamental legal issues that faced the larger Korean-American community two or three decades ago remain just as much a concern today, if not more. KABA continues to assist the Korean-American community through monthly pro bono legal clinics. It provides legal education for lawyers interested in helping the Korean-American community on issues such as small claims. KABA also co-sponsors a yearly “Law Day” with the Lion’s Club, where attorneys have met with and addressed the individual legal issues of hundreds of Korean-Americans. And finally, KABA continues to advocate for the many important legal issues facing the Korean-American community today – treatment of immigrants, equal rights for all ethnicities, ease of access to the courts,
Finally, one of KABA’s primary missions is to support Korean-American law students, the future leaders of the Korean-American legal community, as well as Los Angeles law students in general. KABA’s groundbreaking yearly job panel for Los Angeles-area law students connects dozens of attorneys from with law students of all ethnicities. KABA provides numerous scholarships to law students through its non-profit foundation, sponsors a continuing dialogue with local leaders of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association. KABA also provides networking events to connect law students to each other and to practicing attorneys.
With the help of KABA’s many trailblazing leaders and members, the influence of Korean-Americans in California’s political and legal arena continues to grow stronger with each passing year. In 2010, KABA celebrated the confirmation of the first Korean-American to serve on the United States District Court, and 2009 saw the Honorable Howard Halm’s appointment to the Los Angeles Superior Court. During these exciting but tumultuous times, KABA reaffirms its commitment to serving Korean-American lawyers and the Korean-American population in Los Angeles.