Law Practice Today | February 2013 | Technology/ABA TECHSHOW
February 2013 | Technology/ABA TECHSHOW 2013
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Meet the Women Rainmakers!

Helen B. Kim

Interviewed by Jeanne R. Lee

Helen B. Kim

Firm Name:

Practice area:

Helen B. Kim,
Thompson Coburn LLP
2029 Century Park East, Suite 1900
Los Angeles CA 90067
Securities litigation, class action defense, defense of shareholder derivative suits and regulatory investigations

Most Successful/Favorite Rainmaking Tip:
People have to trust your judgment by the way you conduct yourself in all situations. I am out in the community and not a “hermit.” I am active in many organizations, not just for business development, but because I believe in the organizations, such as the Korean American Coalition, LA County Bar Association, and the Women Lawyers Association of LA. I serve as a co-editor of the ABA Litigation Section’s Securities Litigation Journal and attend securities conferences.

Biggest Influence on Career/Best Career Advice:
You have to love what you do. Being a litigator, I get to do all the things that I enjoy: solving problems, oral advocacy, brief writing, and as an attorney, I enjoy the intellectual challenges of the problems that I address. Moreover, my husband, who has practiced law 20 years more than I, is my number one cheerleader and supporter. He has never complained about my long work hours or travel, even though I travel to New York once or twice a month for work. He completely understands the highs and lows of my job. It helped that, because our careers arched at different times, there was no competition between us.

Percentage of Time Devoted to Marketing:
I don’t spend enough time on marketing. I spend about 10-15 hours a month on board activities and editing the ABA Securities Litigation journal. As a mom of three children, along with their extra-curricular activities, it is hard to find the time for marketing. I believe that the most successful rainmakers have successfully integrated their social and professional lives 100%.

Proudest Accomplishment:
I feel I have it all. I have a wonderful marriage of 21 years, three beautiful kids (including my niece, who is my ward), and a successful career. I have a happy family and I did not have to sacrifice one area of my life for another. I have accomplished what I wanted to. Maybe I could have built had a larger book of business or greater visibility, but I feel I have been successful because I have successfully balanced my career and family, while providing for the financial needs of my family.

Knowing What You Know Now, if You Were Starting Out as a Lawyer Today, What Would You Do Differently?
I am a native of California, and I wish I had moved back to California earlier in my career.  I started practicing law in New York City, because my husband was a native New Yorker and already a partner there when we married.  We didn’t move to California until 1999, after I had already made partner at a law firm.  Frankly, I think that waiting that long to make such a career move put greater pressure on me to build a book of business sooner than if I had moved to L.A. while I was still an associate.  In addition, if I was a new lawyer today, I think I would have turned earlier to public service.  In my case, I didn’t do so, because I graduated with a lot of student loans and I was the primary breadwinner for my family, but if I had to do it over again, I think I would’ve made choices that would’ve allowed me to enter public service as soon as possible. 

Tell Me About One Rainmaking Strategy or Tactic That You Initially Thought Would Work, But it Failed. Why Did it Fail?
If you do anything that is not authentic to you, it will not work.  I know there are some who swear by the golf course and the business deals and contacts made while golfing.  Although my siblings and parents are avid golfers, I am not. So, it would not be authentic for me to try and generate business on the golf course.

Tell Me About One Rainmaking Strategy or Tactic That You Initially Thought Would Fail, But it Was a Great Success. Why Was it Successful?
When I joined the board of directors of the Korean American Coalition, a community advocacy organization in Los Angeles, I did so simply because I wanted to give back to the community. I didn’t join KAC in order to develop business.  But, my involvement at KAC and visibility in the Korean-American community, including getting quoted in community newspapers, has generated new business.

What Has Been Your Greatest Frustration About Trying to Get New Business or New Clients?
Because of the nature of my work, which is primarily defending large securities class actions, I do not have a stable of permanent clients. So, I am always looking for new clients.

If You Were Mentoring a Young Woman Lawyer, What Advice Would You Give Her Regarding Rainmaking?
Start networking early with people you know and trust. If you wait until you make partner, that’s too late.  Reach back to your college and law school contacts, family friends and other members of your community. They may not need you now, but they may in the future. People who are the most successful rainmakers often have the widest network and terrific people skills. Don’t think you have to be the best lawyer before you begin building your network. Simply start, and your network will grow as you do and in the process you will have opportunities to develop and refine your people skills.

Would You Say You Ever Had a Mentor That Made a Genuine Difference in How Your Career Turned Out? If Yes, Please Describe.
I have had the benefit of many mentors throughout my career.  The advice over time differed. For example, as an associate, I remember being worried about imposing on a partner’s time when I went into his office for input on a brief. That partner said something to the effect, “You always walk in here and get right to the point. Helen, why not stop and say ‘Hello.’”  That advice was so simple, but very important.   He was telling me not to be so constrained by the work.  Relax and get to know the people you’re working with.  Also, most of my mentors have been white men.  So, I would advise young women not to limit themselves to female mentors, but to consider male mentors, as well.  The important question to ask is “Who is willing to spend time with you?” 

Think About When You Started Out as a Lawyer. Now Think About The New Female Lawyers Just Starting Out. What is Different Now Compared to When You Started?
When I started out in 1989 as an associate at Paul Weiss in New York City, there was only one female litigation partner at that firm, and I did not see any Asian female litigation partners in the entire city of New York.  I really wondered if I could succeed as a litigator.  Now, there are so many women in our profession who have successful careers. There are lots of role models.  But even though much progress has been made and nearly 50% of graduating law school classes are women, we have not reached parity in the legal profession.  Only about 18% of law firm partners are women and less than 2% of law firm partners are minority women.  So, there’s still a long way to go.   

List Words That Best Describe You:
Tenacious, thorough, and pro-active.

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