Finding his voice
Graduate Keith Jang-Hoon Seo left his native Korea for boarding school in Canada in hopes of learning English. After years of careful study and practice, he has nearly perfect English, but it was another language altogether that provided one of his most meaningful experiences at Seattle University School of Law.
Seo '09 graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Spanish and a minor in Japanese. While in law school, he volunteered for CASA Latina, a community organization dedicated to empowering Latino immigrants through educational and economic opportunities. He worked for the Wage Claim Project, helping Hispanic workers recover more than $23,000 in unpaid wages. Many are undocumented workers who fear deportation if they speak up for themselves.
"These are husbands and fathers who have family members often depending solely on their income," Seo said. "With no savings, if there is no income for even a month, they have to suffer tremendously, barely making ends meet."
One particularly rewarding case involved workers who were hired by an Asian contractor who refused to pay them for their services. Seo helped them get what was rightfully theirs.
"These workers were very skeptical that an Asian person would or could help them because they were lied to by another Asian person," Seo said. "Of course they were surprised when I spoke to them in Spanish. I was sincere and persistent, and they opened up to me. They later called me 'amable,' which means 'kind.' That I was able not only to help them get paid, vindicating their rights as workers, but also to cure their emotional injury was a very fulfilling experience for me."
Seo didn't envision himself in law school, but another situation involving language access made him see the difference he could make. Several years ago his parents were in a car accident in the United States, and he saw how hard it was for them to communicate with lawyers and insurance companies with their limited English skills.
"I realized if a lawyer spoke their language, it would benefit them, and I thought I could do that for other immigrants."
He was drawn to Seattle University School of Law's twin goals of academic excellence and education for justice. He credits the law school's top-ranked Legal Writing Program and other professors for helping him develop writing skills that have been praised by judges and employers.
"Just seven or eight years ago, my English was terrible, especially my writing," he said.
He worked hard, earned a position on the Law Review and won an award for his writing.
"The Legal Writing Program is top-notch. The quality of the faculty is impressive. The first-year professors really got me interested in the law. For me law school was about justice, but it is also about intellectual challenge and stimulation."
Seo, who secured a job with the Seattle law firm Riddell William before graduation, is excited to be a working lawyer at a firm that values community service.
"I am going into private practice, but my commitment to serving the immigrant community and doing pro bono work will stay with me no matter what practice setting I am in."