Just the facts. I oversee U.S., Latin America, and Asia-Pacific legal matters for Mitel Networks, which designs and manufactures IP-based voice communications solutions for companies. We have 1,400 employees around the globe with two lawyers and one government contracts manager in the U.S.
Kid stuff. My family emigrated from Korea in 1977 when I was six. The first thing I ate here was pizza. I’d never eaten cheese before. It was strange.
Early career eye-opener. I interviewed with the DOJ appellate division in 2001. One of my last interviews was with one of the senior attorneys. I could barely see him behind his piles of paper. We spoke for about 10 minutes and then he got a phone call. After he hung up, he resumed working and forgot that I was there. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to become like him. About that time, I got the opportunity at Mitel and joined as Associate General Counsel. I became General Counsel in 2004.
Dealing with Chinese lawyers easier than Western. Last year, I went to Shen Zhen to negotiate a contract with one of China’s largest companies. The contract was in English, but their lawyers were all Chinese educated with little English capabilities. I had drafted a contract that was very strict in terms of IP protection, but they were less concerned about the IP provisions and more focused on looking at every single word to check for nuances in the English language that they thought might contain important concepts. I think this came from the fact that common words in a lot of Asian languages can have very different meanings depending on the context. But even with the language barrier, we completed the contract in three days. Compare that to a round-the-clock negotiation we recently did with a major company in Australia. After five straight days we couldn’t finalize even the major points. There was more lost in translation doing business with English speakers in Australia than non-English speakers in China.
How I learn the business. The first year, I focused on contract law. The year after that, it was all about employment, handling EEOC claims and union negotiations. The year after that, somebody was using our name on a Web site in Singapore, so I cut my teeth on handling international trademark issues. In 2003-2004, Mitel was gearing up to go public, so my focus was on securities work. Since then, it’s been all about patent disputes. I dabble. It’s the only way a small law department can manage.
Evening routine. My job is literally 24 hours a day because our Asia Pacific operation begins when the sun goes down here. Sometimes I’m doing deals at 1 a.m. lasting several hours. I draw the line at 4 a.m.
Minority report. For me, being Asian-American can cut both ways. There are times when I face many of the same challenges here that other minority lawyers encounter in fitting into a Western legal culture. But on the same day, I might be dealing with a matter in Asia-Pacific where suddenly I’m in the majority class trying to help our Western management better assimilate to the Asian business culture. I don’t think that minority lawyers should necessarily be entitled to advantages or special treatment by virtue of their race or ethnicity. What’s important is that minorities in any environment be provided equal opportunity to achieve success based on qualifications and performance.
Hobbies. At one point I was U.S. champion of Tae Kwon Do in my weight class. Photography occupies my free time now. I like to photograph interesting walls in different places – my favorite so far has been Tuscany and towns along the Amalfi Coast. I recently went to China and took photos of the Great Wall. I think you can learn a lot about people from the walls they build.
We persuaded him to show us some examples:
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