When small-business owners need expert repair, whether it’s plumbing or electrical work, if they’re skilled, they DIY, or they call in the experts — the plumber or electrician. Likewise, when small-business owners are overwhelmed with understanding the maze of rules and laws imposed by the state and all the risks and insurance requirements, they typically rely on the expert — an experienced attorney. Not John Laney.
After his first year at the Seattle University School of Law, Laney was in the top 6 percent of his class of 357 students. Laney made the dean’s list, was the associate editor of the school’s law review, and graduated magna cum laude. Stoel Rives, LLP, the sixth largest law firm in Seattle, recruited Laney (who was admitted to the bar in 2009) out of law school. People who know the rigors of law school understand Laney’s achievements put him in an elite class of attorneys.
Laney is also the only Filipino American attorney at his law firm practicing with Fortune 500 clients in the area of mergers, acquisitions, and debt financing. “You won’t find other Filipino Americans doing high-end corporate work. It’s just me.”
The legal community has recognized Laney’s achievements numerous times. Washington Super Lawyers has named Laney a “Rising Star” for the past three years. Lawyers of Color included him on its “Hot List” in 2013. But being honored by the Northwest Asian Weekly is “quite a bit more monumental to me than being honored by a legal publication.” Laney explained legal magazines appeal to a closed community — attorneys, whereas the Northwest Asian Weekly’s audience is much broader.
Laney said he is “incredibly humbled.” “This paper is always in our house. It’s one of those things we always pick up when we go to the Asian market. I want our kids to realize that if your mother worked in a cafeteria and your father worked in a shipyard, you can still do anything you want to do.”
Laney’s interest in kids is understandable. He and his wife have seven daughters and a son. He rattled off their ages — 16, 15, 14, 12, 10, 8 (Laney’s son), 6, and 4. His kids go to Catholic school, where the joke is he has the most kids at the school. Laney was 20 when his first child was born, while he was attending the University of Washington and later graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in political science.
He had a child to care for, while attending college and co-owned and operated an adult care home. He had no time for extracurricular activities and wasn’t able to experience a “college lifestyle.” Laney laughed about how he saw students sleeping in and participating in activities outside of school — luxuries he couldn’t afford.
When Laney decided to go to law school, he sold the care home he co-owned and went to school at night, while continuing to work in the adult home-care industry during the day. Laney also took advantage of every opportunity to get involved in externships and internships and landed a three-month stint at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. He worked in the criminal division, felony unit, prosecuting elder abuse and sex crimes.
All the awful facts he pored over all day long, particularly the ones involving crimes against children, stuck with him and he wasn’t able to go home and “turn that off.” At the time, Laney was the father of six girls, all under 10 years old. He was grateful that the cases that needed to, went to trial, and a lot of times he got to see justice happen right before his eyes. But ultimately, Laney chose not to pursue criminal law.
Laney was born in Washington and went to Redmond Junior High and Lake Washington High School. His mother is from the Philippines and his father from Washington. They were one of the few Filipino families living on the eastside.
Filipino Americans are typically small-business owners and do not have the resources to support Laney’s fee structure, so he doesn’t work with many Filipino American companies. He does, however, take a serious role in mentoring. He’s a board member of the Asian Bar Association of Washington Student Scholarship Foundation.
Laney recalled a recent $10,000 scholarship awarded to a woman from India who was unable to qualify for any federal grants because she was undocumented and had no idea of her status until she applied for college. As a result, she struggled to pay the enormous cost of higher education. Awarding the (Takuji) Yamashita Scholarship to this woman was particularly meaningful to Laney.
Takuji Yamashita immigrated to the United States from Japan and graduated from the University of Washington School of Law in 1902. Despite passing the bar exam, the Washington Supreme Court held Yamashita was ineligible to become an American citizen because of his Asian ancestry and was not allowed to practice law. Ninety-nine years later, in 2001, the decision was effectively vacated, and the Washington Supreme Court admitted Yamashita to the bar posthumously (Yamashita died in 1959).1
As part of mentoring, Laney now has three Asian American attorneys working with him at Stoel Rives. Ten years ago, when Laney started, no Asian Americans were practicing in his area of law, so he’s pleased he’s played a role in helping to diversify the firm.
...login to read the rest of this article.