Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month Employee Spotlight | Jessica HewBlog Post
In honor of Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and as part of BMD’s ongoing diversity and inclusion efforts, we are featuring BMD Senior Counsel Member Jessica Hew in an employee spotlight.
Q: How would you describe your experience working in the legal industry?
Jessica: I have been fortunate to be in metropolitan Orlando, Florida, as the legal community in the area is welcoming and the geographic population has grown considerably since the start of my career. We have a very active local voluntary bar association, which integrates the other local voluntary minority bar associations, making a pleasant and inclusive legal community. The geographic population growth expansion has also brought world class business, education, sports, entertainment, and start-up businesses, which all result in more engaging and interesting legal work.
Q: What has been a highlight of your career or life experiences?
Jessica: In 2008, Florida’s Constitution still contained an Alien Land Law, a racially biased and economically discriminatory act originally focused against those of Chinese descent. I embarked on co-chairing a project, working with other like-minded attorneys and community leaders, to repeal the Alien Land Law. We were finally able to get Amendment 11 on the Florida ballot in 2018, where voters finally repealed the Alien Land Law. This victory was personally significant, as my paternal great- great-grandfather, Chin Lin Sou, who worked on the Transcontinental Railroad at the time these Alien Land Laws were enacted, endured discrimination and the indignities of second class citizenry, including discrimination based on the country of origin, which were upheld by both federal and state laws and the Courts that interpreted such laws when challenged, if access to courts was actually first granted.
Q: What influenced you to pursue your practice areas of focus?
Jessica: I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of problem solving - piecing together the puzzle of facts gathered from witnesses and documents within the confines of the procedural rules and substantive jurisprudence to help clients reach their goals.
Q: Have there been any significant barriers you had to overcome to thrive in the legal industry? If so, how did you overcome them?
Jessica: When I first started practicing law, I was constantly showing up for Court with a black brief bag to have the opposing counsel and/or presiding judges presume I was the Court Reporter and telling where I could set up the stenographic equipment. I became involved with the bar associations for camaraderie with other counsel and judges in town, and, as I was the only female Asian attorney in the area, eventually the presumptions stopped as they recognized who I was. Also, during my early career, senior male attorneys would often try and speak over me during depositions. I would usually loudly object, let them continue, then note the misbehavior on the record with the appropriate admonishment of the supporting authority. This usually corrected the errant behavior without a subsequent repetition.
Q: Have you seen the legal industry change in relation to minorities?
Jessica: When I began practicing law here in Orlando, there were literally less than five AAPI attorneys, including myself and fellow Orlando BMD attorneys, Robert Lee and Stephen Chong. We each had to individually join the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association as we did not have enough people in the area to create a local affiliate. In 2009, we finally had 10 attorneys (with the help of some non-Asian lawyer spouses as members) to create an affiliate. Since that time, we now have grown to a membership of approximately 65 members with 5 judicial members - and lawyer spouse members are now optional!
Q: Tell us something interesting about you that most people don’t know.
Jessica: I am a voracious reader, and often will read a good book through the night into the next day because I can’t stop reading.
Q: What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you?
Jessica: As an Asian American, I appreciate the celebration of the contributions of Asian American and Pacific Islanders to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States to combat the “Silent Minority” narrative.
Q: Who has been an inspiration to you?
Jessica: My Godfather, the late Sheriff Harry Lee of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana in metropolitan New Orleans, was and remains an inspiration. A former US Magistrate and Chief Parish Attorney turned politician who was literally born in the back of a Chinese laundry on Carondelet Street to Chinese immigrants, he won his first election in 1979 with local political pundits claiming he “didn’t have a Chinaman’s chance[,]” eventually serving seven terms and dying in office while seeking his eighth term in 2007. He was a true embodiment of the “American Dream” and lifelong public servant.
Q: What piece of advice would you give to aspiring AAPI attorneys?
Jessica: Include an AAPI attorney as one of your mentors; it is invaluable. I was fortunate to have two AAPI family members to call upon, and I did. Often.