Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

Profile/ Michelle Pham: Natural Leader

Profile/ Michelle Pham: Natural Leader

September 2022 Bar Bulletin

The sun has long since set over the Olympics, having painted the sky with an incredible mix of red, orange, and yellow as it dipped below the horizon. Michelle Pham, a partner who practices at Helsell Fetterman, puts the finishing touches on a complex agreement that she brokered to resolve a long and contentious dispute. Having graduated with honors with degrees in Psychology and Art History from the University of Washington before earning her law degree from Seattle University School of Law, Michelle momentarily glances out the window and appreciates the stunning beauty that nature can create.

Michelle is a member of the firm’s litigation practice group, and she leads the intellectual property practice. Michelle’s clients range from individuals, to small business owners, to large corporations. Michelle guides her clients through all facets of their disputes, including serving as trial counsel. Also, having published and presented on the subject, Michelle also helps her clients develop and protect their intellectual property at the state, federal, and even international levels.

Among her many honors, Michelle has repeatedly been recognized as a SuperLawyers “Rising Star” and Best Lawyer “One to Watch” in Intellectual Property, Insurance Law, and Commercial Litigation, has been recognized as a “Top Woman Attorney,” and earned national recognition by the American Bar Association as one of the Top 40 young lawyers in the country. In the last year, she was named the first Asian American partner in Helsell Fetterman’s 135-year history.

Michelle has been the first in many things in her life, including the first person in her extended family to earn a law degree. But being the “first” is only a tiny fragment of what makes Michelle so special.

Throughout her life, Michelle has always been tremendously courageous, proved that she is a fighter, shown great resolve, and is incredibly adaptable and creative. Michelle graduated from Seattle University in 2011 at a time when there weren’t many job openings for newly-minted attorneys because the country was still recovering from the Great Recession. But rather than get discouraged, and true to her “silver linings” mentality and determination to make the best of any situation, Michelle took and passed both the Washington and Texas bar exams (she was born and raised in Houston), volunteered with the Seattle Art Museum’s Office of General Counsel and KCBA’s Family Law Mentor Program, worked as a legal secretary at a large firm in Seattle, and landed a Snohomish County Superior Court clerkship before starting her own solo practice after a job offer fell through. After building up a practice from scratch, Michelle eventually secured a position at a Seattle litigation firm before joining Helsell Fetterman as a senior associate in 2018, where she would eventually make history.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Michelle has always shown great strength and resolve throughout her professional life. It was likely inherited. Both of Michelle’s parents were refugees to the USA, having escaped Vietnam in the late 1970s after the war ended. Her mother, along with several other family members who escaped Vietnam by boat, survived multiple pirate attacks and weeks adrift at sea with little to no food or water. Michelle’s mother lost her brother-in-law, but maintained her strength and kept her other family members alive. Eventually, Michelle’s parents made their way to Houston, where many Vietnamese refugees settled. Despite the fact that neither of her parents spoke much English when they arrived in America, Michelle’s parents built a life together and a successful business, and passed along to Michelle and her younger brother not only the Vietnamese language but also the value of hard work and the hope for a brighter future for those willing to make the necessary sacrifices. Even though they continue to live in Houston, Michelle remains very close to her family, and they often call her for legal advice, which makes sense, as she continues to be licensed in Texas!

But far from simply enjoying the fruits of her own well-earned success, Michelle shares her long and difficult journey with the seemingly countless law students and junior attorneys she mentors. There is simply no question that Michelle’s kindness, empathy, and sensitivity has preserved many a blossoming career in the legal profession, and we all reap the benefits of Michelle’s hard work.

While Michelle’s work as an attorney and her mentorship of so many others is more than enough to make a full career, Michelle’s talent goes far beyond the direct practice of law. Michelle has not only served on numerous nonprofit and community-interest boards; she has wound up leading virtually every group of which she has ever been a part. Having formerly been the President of the Vietnamese American Bar Association of Washington, Co-Chair of the Joint Asian Judicial Evaluation Committee, and the Chair of the Vietnamese Friendship Association (now known as Kandelia), Michelle recently joined the King County Bar Association’s Board of Trustees. She also serves as the Vice Chair of Verity Credit Union’s Board and its Experience Committee Chair, leadership roles she was asked to take on just months after joining the board. She is also the Chair of the Rainier Club’s DEI Advisory Group, even though she joined the club less than a year ago. Those groups learned very quickly what those of us who know Michelle have known for years, she is a true leader that makes every group of which she is a part better.

Despite great success and many accolades, Michelle is not all business. When you meet her for the first time, you’ll find her approachable, welcoming, and kind (and quite fashionable!). She is a dedicated and loyal friend to many. She will take a friend’s call at any hour of the night, and she is always willing and able to do the one thing most attorneys are terrible at doing, empathetically listen to what they have to say. As she has done for many on a professional level, Michelle’s caring approach to friendship has helped those closest to her through many difficult times. It comes as no surprise that with her approach to friendship, she maintains several friend circles that are dedicated and loyal to her.

Michelle is lots of fun to be around. She enjoys exploring new and different restaurants. Her friends consider her to be a “foodie” and a wonderful cook, which is another skill that she inherited from her mother. Michelle enjoys traveling both around our country and the world, and her friends enjoy her laidback and flexible attitude when it comes to planning and executing excursions, particularly with finding the best haunts for delicious cuisine or fun and unique speakeasies. She usually must fit in at least one SCUBA dive on any trip where that’s an option, as that is one of her passions. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of KCBA’s future events includes SCUBA diving as an activity. Remember to pinch your nose and blow out to clear your ears, but most of all, follow Michelle’s lead. She will guide the way and keep you safe! 

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