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July 11, 2018 Asked and Answered

Lived and Learned: Present as your true self, says Mia Yamamoto

By Stephanie Francis Ward

What do you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of your career? It’s a question that ABA Journal podcast host Stephanie Francis Ward loves to ask, one that can prompt incredible stories. It’s the question that inspired her to create a special series of her Asked and Answered podcast, titled Asked and Answered: Lived and Learned. In this episode, Ward speaks with Mia Yamamoto.

Criminal defense attorney Mia Yamamoto says she made her decision to publicly transition genders in 2003 at age 60 because she was tired of being a “phony.”

“In that moment I remember thinking, you know, I can’t live a completely false life,” says Yamamoto, who was born in a Japanese-American internment camp in 1943 and served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. “I refuse to do that.”

A former Los Angeles County deputy public defender who has handled more than 200 jury trials and now has a sole practice, Yamamoto’s significant fear in making the decision to transition centered on how clients and colleagues would respond to her coming out. But her fears about the reactions of her clients—some of whom were members of street gangs—proved to be unfounded.

“The clients were amazing. The level of embrace I got from them was absolutely the most astonishing part, I didn’t expect that,” says Yamamoto, a former president of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the Japanese Bar Association and the Asian Pacific American Women Lawyers Alliance.

In This Podcast:

Stephanie Francis Ward
Mia Yamamoto is a criminal defense attorney in Southern California. She is a former deputy public defender and has been in private practice since 1985. Yamamoto is the past president of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the Japanese American Bar Association and the Asian Pacific American Women Lawyers Alliance. She is also a co-founder and past chair of the Multi-Cultural Bar Alliance. The ABA presented her with a Spirit of Excellence Award in 2008.

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