July 2015 Bar Bulletin
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July 2015 Bar Bulletin

Profile / Kim Tran

Committed to Diversity, Dedicated to Diligence

By Mike Bolasina

 

Although she does not recall the incident, Kim has been told that as a 10-month-old, she almost altered the fate of her entire family.

Kim was born in Vietnam toward the end of America's involvement in the war. Kim's father fought for the South Vietnamese; after he was wounded in battle, he worked in Saigon for the U.S. military, placing him and his family in harm's way if the North Vietnamese were to prevail.

As Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese, Kim's mother took Kim and her older brother to the airport to find her father and board a military transport airplane to safety. Kim's mother was sent home because Kim was crying. When they returned to the airport with a pacified Kim, they were stranded behind a locked gate with throngs of South Vietnamese seeking to be let through.

At the very last minute, an Army officer at the gate recognized Kim's mother and let her through, reuniting the family for an escape from Saigon and an eventual journey to the United States.

If it reminds you of the ending of "Argo," it is probably because Ben Affleck heard Kim's story and stole it (it is, after all, more exciting than the actual events at the end of the movie). If it were not for the officer recognizing Kim's mother, it is likely that Kim still would have served on the board of a Vietnamese bar association, but not the one located in King County.

After living the American Dream at a refugee camp in Arkansas, and then small towns in Minnesota and Iowa, the Trans relocated to Salem, Oregon, arriving just in time for the eruption of Mount St. Helens. It was in Salem that Kim attended elementary and high school, and it was in high school where she developed an interest in law.

Kim participated in a mock trial competition and her team went to nationals two years in a row. Her mock trial coach, Paul J. De Muniz - the first lawyer she ever met and her inspiration to become a lawyer - is now retired after serving as chief justice on the Oregon Supreme Court (and the first Hispanic American to be elected to statewide office).

Participation in these high school programs can and does change lives. Kim also developed an interest in juggling, not with balls, but with commitments to school government, athletics (as the shortest volleyball player to make the all-league team), academics and family. She had not yet developed an interest in diversity, as the Trans were essentially the only diverse family in the community at the time.

Kim attended Tufts as an undergraduate, in part because she was interested in a great liberal arts school, and in part because she wanted to experience life outside Salem. Curiously, she did not consider a return to Arkansas, Iowa or Minnesota.

It was in college that she first identified as an Asian American and developed an interest in diversity. She became president of the Asian Community at Tufts. She returned to Asia for the first time since infancy on a study abroad program to Thailand. With $21 in her pocket, she visited Vietnam and met her grandparents and other relatives who had not seen anyone in her immediate family since they had fled.

I met Kim in 1997, recruiting for the dearly departed Stafford Frey Cooper at the Northwest Minority Job Fair. Every hiring attorney has successes and failures, and I sensed a huge success as early as the screening interview. My instincts were correct.

At Stafford Frey, Kim developed an employment law practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants, and was made partner in 2007 - one of the first Vietnamese American women in Seattle to make partner. She also perfected the art of juggling, progressing from keeping three to five balls in the air.

She became hiring attorney as a senior associate, and transformed Stafford to one of the most diverse firms in Seattle in terms of gender, race and national origin. One of her proudest accomplishments at Stafford Frey was representing a plaintiff in a successful race discrimination lawsuit. Another was representing Northwest Center, a Seattle nonprofit that is devoted to improving the lives of people with disabilities.

Kim met fellow KCBA board member Mike Heath in 2005 and together they organized the first Statewide Diversity Conference, the purpose of which was to spotlight what diversity in law means, raise cultural competency in the legal profession, and facilitate camaraderie among diverse attorneys. What started as an idea between two colleagues continues today; Kim has been involved in organizing six more diversity conferences.

While studying for the bar exam, Kim became involved in three important organizations: the Asian Bar Association of Washington, the Asian Counseling & Referral Service (ACRS) and KCBA. She has devoted many years of simultaneous service to each, rising to the level of board president in each organization. While she served as president of ACRS, the agency completed a $19.1-million capital campaign to build its new home in Rainier Valley. Kim also served as a pro tem judge in District Court in Seattle.

One of Kim's most meaningful activities during this time was volunteering as a naturalization teacher to immigrants who were applying for U.S. citizenship and needed to pass a difficult civics exam. In her 10 years of service, she had a 100% success rate. Kim considers this experience to have been a privilege and one of the most rewarding experiences in her life.

Kim joined Seattle City Light in 2010 and joined Microsoft in 2012. She is one of Microsoft's employment law attorneys in its Global Employment Law Group, advising Microsoft's managers in its operations in Africa, the Middle East and India. Kim notes that her mother supported her family after they relocated to Oregon in the early 1980s by learning and using the BASIC programming language developed by Bill Gates.

Kim and her husband Angelo Locsin live in south Seattle. Angelo, born in the Philippines, came to the United States the same year that Kim's family arrived. With three small and very active boys (all under the age of 6 and including twins), one might expect that Kim would reduce the number of balls she is keeping in the air, but she hasn't.

Kim has remained committed to her career, her profession and her volunteer/pro bono work while serving as a judge, mediator, nurse, teacher, entertainer and all the other roles a parent holds. I have often asked Kim, in the voice of Robin Leach (remember him?), "How do you do it?" I have never received a satisfactory answer, because the only answer I will accept is "no sleep."

She is very much looking forward to her upcoming service to KCBA as its new president and the first woman of color to hold this title. To Kim, this is a unique opportunity to serve the profession she loves with a focus on pro bono work and a commitment to diversity in the profession that she has made her life's work. Just do not ask her to spell.

Mike Bolasina is a partner with Summit Law Group in Seattle.

 

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