by Fei Chen, ’20 LL.M.
Why You Should Join CLS’s Asian Pacific American Law Student Association (APALSA)
It wasn’t a hard decision for me to join APALSA as an LL.M. representative at the outset of my LL.M. year. One of my goals for the LL.M. experience was to get involved in a student organization at CLS that could meet my cultural, informative, networking, and of course, fun interests. APALSA thus became a perfect choice for me, and my involvement turned out to be an incredibly rewarding and educational experience.
The Fun Part – Social Events
Throughout the year, APALSA organized a variety of fun social activities for both J.D. and LL.M. students, such as a retreat, karaoke night, Korean BBQ, and a Halloween party. These were terrific opportunities for us to meet with new friends, develop some undiscovered interests, and simply have a good time.
The most memorable experience for me was the APALSA retreat in the 2019 fall semester—one of the most popular annual events among APALSA members. I attended the retreat as one of the LL.M. reps and enjoyed a wonderful weekend getaway with almost 40 fellow APALSA members at the Hilltop Mansion in the beautiful Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania. The organization rented the entire mansion for our exclusive use, including access to an amazing outdoor pool, a home theater that could host around 30 people, BBQ grill, jacuzzi, pool table, and other amenities. Through the various bonding activities at the retreat, I got to know a few J.D.s with whom I later became good friends. In addition, I have to mention that I hadn’t slept in a bunk bed for years until this retreat. But for those who have already worked for a few years, how could you miss such an opportunity as part of your return-to-school experience?
The Serious Part – Professional Development Events
APALSA is among the few CLS student affinity groups that have a large number of law firm sponsors. Leveraging its close relationships with top law firms, APALSA is well-positioned to provide numerous opportunities for its members in terms of professional development and networking, and to foster a deep sense of community through its mentorship program and alumni network.
For example, as an LL.M. rep on the APALSA board and a member of the board’s Professional Development Committee, I had the opportunity to directly reach out to APALSA’s sponsoring law firms for our career-related events. In the 2020 spring semester, I helped plan and organize our Asian Law panel. We successfully put together a panel of attorneys from the New York offices of four international law firms to share their first-hand experience and insights about cross-border practices between Asia and the U.S. and how an international background ties in with legal practices in this field. The panel discussion was tremendously helpful for students who wished to learn more about opportunities in Asian law as well as the diversity of work available in the Asia market.
A highlight of the year’s professional development events was the APALSA Annual Conference. Each year Columbia APALSA holds this event so law students can learn about Asian perspectives in the legal profession from experienced Asian lawyers. The 2020 APALSA Conference was titled “The Path Less Traveled: Success Beyond the Law Firm,” which featured speakers from diverse backgrounds and work experiences, ranging from the country’s most prominent law firms, the tech startup sphere, education, and politics. It was certainly an eye-opening experience for me, hearing from speakers who shared various possibilities in achieving professional and personal success outside traditional legal practices.
To sum up, APALSA has been an integral part of my CLS experience. While the 2019-2020 academic year was severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am grateful for this welcoming community which has provided me a source of joy and friendship, and a place to grow and thrive.