Immigration is a hot topic both in and outside of the legal realm, but for Thomas Kim it’s more than just a popular subject. His own negative experience with an immigration lawyer motivated him to become a passionate immigration rights activist. In this episode of the ABA Law Student Podcast, host Kareem Aref talks to Thomas Kim, the new chair of the ABA’s Law Student Division, about what motivates him, what his goals are for his term, and his latest resolution that claims immigration status shouldn’t keep a law student from taking the bar.
Thomas Kim is the 2017-2018 division chair of the ABA’s Law Student Division. He is also a rising 3L at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and formerly served as the secretary-treasurer of the ABA Law Student Division.
ABA Law Student Podcast
New ABA Law Student Division Chair Takes on Immigration
Intro: Welcome to the official ABA Law Student Podcast where we talk about issues that affect law students and recent grads. From finals and graduation to the Bar exam and finding a job, this show is your trusted resource for the next big step. You are listening to the Legal Talk Network.
Kareem Aref: Hello, and welcome to another edition of the ABA Law Student Podcast on Legal Talk Network. I am Kareem Aref, and I am the Chairman of the Law Student Division of the ABA. I hail from California, where I went to law school at the University of California, Davis.
On today’s show we will be interviewing Thomas Kim, the Chair Elect of the Law Student Division, or at least for a couple more days until he takes over.
Our show today is sponsored by the American Bar Association Law Student Division, and in this monthly podcast we will be talking to Thomas about his involvement with the ABA, his story and what he has planned for the Law Student Division in the next year.
Thomas, thanks so much for coming on, buddy.
Thomas E. Kim: Oh, my pleasure. Thanks for the invite.
Kareem Aref: So, Thomas, I want to give our listeners some insight into who you are, where are you from, buddy?
Thomas E. Kim: I am from — originally from Seoul, South Korea, but I consider Portland, Oregon my home.
Kareem Aref: And how did that come to happen?
Thomas E. Kim: I moved to the States, to be specific, Beaverton, Oregon, 12 years ago and I have been living in Beaverton, but Portland is such a beautiful city, so I considered Portland to be my home.
Kareem Aref: Now, I know a lot about that transition is sort of influencing the work that you are doing now, is that the case?
Thomas E. Kim: Yeah, that’s correct.
Kareem Aref: Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Thomas E. Kim: Yeah, absolutely. When I first moved to the States, 12 years ago, with my family, legally, because we were moving from South Korea, long story short, our family was cheated by our immigration attorney and ultimately lost our status. So we became undocumented and since then I wanted to become a lawyer, who first of all doesn’t cheat and who is able to help the indigent population just like my family, and that’s how I got involved with the legal profession and to be — about the ABA specifically and with the work that I’m doing right now, I am an undocumented law student and I am wanting to give back to the community, give back to this country, and with this legal education I have received I want to take the Bar and to be licensed.
Kareem Aref: Well, let’s slow you down there. Let’s slow you down because that’s fantastic. But, so we got — we have this experience where you are coming over and this attorney who cheated you.
Thomas E. Kim: Yeah.
Kareem Aref: Right, you have this new change for your family and then you end up going to college and now you’re at law school at Arizona, right?
Thomas E. Kim: Right.
Kareem Aref: Arizona State?
Thomas E. Kim: Arizona State.
Kareem Aref: And how did you get involved in the ABA?
Thomas E. Kim: I got involved with the ABA when I got that email from the ABA Law Student Division saying, “free membership with all these perks”. So, why not? So I joined, and then I saw another email regarding the election that’s coming up, the Law Student Division needed a new Secretary-Treasurer and I decided to run for it.
Kareem Aref: Okay. Did you know what you wanted to do with your position when you first submitted the application to run?
Thomas E. Kim: Yes and no. No, because I didn’t know what job-specific descriptions would be other than taking notes and taking care of the Treasury, but yes, because I wanted to make a statement. And I wanted to support the ABA’s commitment to diversity. No matter what role I was serving within the Law Student Division, I knew that I wanted to serve our commitment to diversity.
Kareem Aref: So now when you’re serving the commitment and you’re talking about coming from this undocumented background, tell me a little bit about the work you’re doing right now. You have the resolution that’s coming up, right?
Thomas E. Kim: That’s correct.
Kareem Aref: And so tell me about that. What’s going on with this resolution? What is it?
Thomas E. Kim: This resolution ultimately asks that the American Bar Association support the principle that Bar admission should not be denied based solely on immigration status. And the great example of this is me, myself. I am highly educated and I am not sure, I simply am not sure whether I will be able to get admitted to the Bar of my choice, which is the State of Oregon, because the State of Oregon simply do not have a precedent of allowing undocumented law school graduates like myself.
Kareem Aref: Well, could you seek some sort of insight so that they could tell you if you would be able to pass moral character or not based on your status, is that information available?
Thomas E. Kim: That was my first thought too. So I checked out their website and I ended up talking to someone from the Oregon State Bar, essentially asked and about this particular situation, asked what I should be doing and they said, it’s case by case. They said, I would not be able to find out until I actually apply which by the time I actually get to apply it would be too late.
So I am hoping that this resolution would be adopted by the American Bar Association, that it would become the policy of our Bar Association, and that ultimately all 50 states and territories would begin to allow undocumented law school graduates to be able to sit for the Bar and to begin contributing to our country in a very meaningful manner; whether it’s pro bono, whether it’s getting involved with nonprofits or whatever it is.
Kareem Aref: That’s fantastic, Thomas, and as I understand it there really isn’t any opposition within the ABA to pushing this forward thus far, isn’t that true?
Thomas E. Kim: That is true. Actually I am just coming back from the Rules and Calendar Committees meeting, and I just checked and there is no salmon slip against this resolution, rather there are a few salmon slips in support of the resolution. So it’s exciting times and it’s more exciting because earlier today at reception I ran into a Paulette Brown, who was a past Chair of the ABA, who showed great support for this resolution and who was more than willing to support and speak on behalf of this resolution except she said, she didn’t see — foresee any opposition, therefore she would only speak if her statement is needed. So that was a great encouragement from her.
Kareem Aref: So it sounds like she said she thinks this is going to go no problem without a hitch. It’s not even going to require the speakers in favor, is that right?
Thomas E. Kim: Yes absolutely, and that’s exciting. That’s exciting time for the American Bar Association and the future of our legal industry.
Kareem Aref: So you are telling me you are about to kick off your year as Chairman of the American Bar Association’s Law Student Division with essentially an uncontested resolution that would revolutionize the legal profession and bring back equity and fairness to our careers?
Thomas E. Kim: I guess so, yes, that is correct.
Kareem Aref: You don’t like to start very hard, do you? Like low levels, right, low bars? That’s fantastic. No, that is fantastic. So tell me then, starting at this high level what’s next, what do you have planned for this year?
Thomas E. Kim: I want to take advantage of the hard work that has been put in by the current board and the current chair, Kareem, and by predecessor SBA presidents as well as ABA reps, and I want to do so, I want to take advantage of that — all of that hard work by making sure that ABA Law Student Division actually becomes a policy drafting organization, that it is supposed to be. My goal —
Kareem Aref: They are going to do that.
Thomas E. Kim: Yes, my goal is to triple the number of resolution that is going before the House of Delegates next annual 2018 and I want to make sure that Law Student Division is actually serving the law students in a tangible and substantive manner.
Kareem Aref: So you want to triple it, is it just the matter of numbers or do you have policy ideas for what you want to put forward with these resolutions?
Thomas E. Kim: It’s absolutely not just about the numbers, but numbers do show us our commitment for our law students. I do have a couple ideas as this week has been an amazing networking as well as connecting with the new delegates as well as all of the assembly members.
One of the ideas is for law students to be able to sit for the Bar six months prior to the actual date, the regular law students would be able to sit for the Bar.
Kareem Aref: So they take the Bar exam in February, is what you are saying?
Thomas E. Kim: That’s correct, six months earlier than the usual.
Kareem Aref: And then they would spend the rest of the time working for nonprofits and the like?
Thomas E. Kim: That’s right, that’s our great commitment for pro bono, because we know that pro bono work for the indigent population as well as worthy ideas and worthy causes is very important to us, not just Law Student Division, but for the ABA as a whole.
Kareem Aref: What else you are thinking about? So that’s one policy area, what other ideas do you have coming down the pipes?
Thomas E. Kim: I won’t be able to tell a whole lot about this, but we do have an education package that’s coming down the pipeline that would ultimately better the legal education for all law students in the US, and that’s all I will tell you today, but do check with me again in six months about the resolutions.
Kareem Aref: I cannot wait to see what comes out of your amazing group and what you put to work especially given the amazing start that you are off to my friend.
Thomas E. Kim: Oh, thank you, Kareem.
Kareem Aref: It has been an absolute pleasure for our listeners I have been able to work with Thomas for the last couple months and I cannot wait to see what you put together.
Now if people want to get involved or contact you, is there a way they can do that?
Thomas E. Kim: Oh absolutely. I do prefer emails. My email is HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]” [email protected].
Kareem Aref: Easy as 1-2-3?
Thomas E. Kim: Yup.
Kareem Aref: Fantastic. All right, Thomas, thank you so much for joining us on this podcast.
To our listeners we hope you have enjoyed another episode of our Law Student Podcast. We would like to encourage you to subscribe to the ABA Law Student Podcast on iTunes and take a moment to rate and review us as well.
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Signing off, I am Kareem Aref, and we thank you for listening to the ABA Law Student Podcast.
Stay tuned, expect more, dare to dream, and until next time podcast it.
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