Yu Chang publishes on expectations of foreign lawyers at US law schools

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Albert Vincent Y. Yu Chang, Senior Counsel at Warner Norcross and Judd, felt that he had identified a serious challenge for lawyers from around the globe coming to study in the United States.

The problem is that so many who do are unprepared for the complexity of the U.S. legal system and the competitiveness of the current job market should they decide to stay.

“Many of us — myself and some of my classmates included — had come from very good, very distinguished backgrounds both academically and socially, and went to leading law schools in our home countries,” Yu Chang says. “But then we came to the U.S. and there would be challenges. The approach to learning could be significantly different.”

Yu Chang’s solution? He wrote a book, now entitled The Unofficial Guide to U.S. Legal Studies for Foreign Lawyers.

Yu Chang’s first step was to make a proposal to the American Bar Association. When the ABA agreed to publish it, he set about broadening the book’s perspective by involving other foreign attorneys, including fellow students at Northwestern University.

Yu Chang received his LL.M. in 2001, with honors, and his J.D. in 2005 from Northwestern. If that seems out of order, the reason relates to the types of experience he wanted to prepare others for: he had already received his first J.D. in 1997 from Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines.

Though Yu Chang is of Chinese origin (both sets of grandparents were Chinese), he says he grew up in the Philippines as part of a small community of people who had come from China. He attended De La Salle University, also in Manila, for a B.S. and an A.B. degree.

He decide to pursue his legal studies further in the U.S. “I worked at the largest law firm in the Phillippines and we were representing some U.S. and global clients. So many of my former colleagues pursued that route of going to either the U.S. or the United Kingdom  to pursue legal studies, so I decided to do that. I wanted to experience law practice here.”

After interning at a law firm in Atlanta, he came to Northwestern, from whose Kellogg School of Management he also received a Certificate in Business in 2001.

He was a summer associate, and then got an offer to work, at Warner Norcross and Judd, where he has been ever since his 2005 graduation.

He said he loves Grand Rapids, as do his wife and two children. “It takes living here to appreciate it,” he comments.

But the more he thought about his law school experience and that of some of his classmates, the more he felt that sharing what he had learned would be helpful for foreign law students, both before and during — and even after — their studies.

The Unofficial Guide to U.S. Legal Studies for Foreign Lawyers covers a lot of ground. It is both a compendium of specific experiences and a practical guide to what to expect from law school, the bar exams, and legal careers in the U.S., should the student decide to stay.

Yu Chang’s co-editor is Johana Mantilla Gomez of Colombia, a Northwestern classmate. The two were careful to include contributors from a variety of different countries.

“The law is very jurisdictional. The U.S. has a unique legal system; it’s common law-based. To a certain extent it shares that with the UK, but this is a more complex and sophisticated system in terms of analysis and detail,” Yu Chang says. “American lawyers typically dig much deeper, the materials are much more advanced, and there are nuanced differences.”
Moreover, the publication reflects Yu Chang’s understandings about “culture shock” and the potential barriers caused by different cultural attitudes. His personal analysis is that even such basics as thought processes do differ from culture to culture, and the book includes “certain diagrams of the thought process in different cultures,” he notes.

One of the book’s collaborators was George Aquino, chef at J.W. Marriott. Aquino contributed suggestions of restaurants countrywide to a section that encourages foreign students to enjoy U.S. cultural offerings, which Yu Chang feels is central to deriving as much as possible from  legal studies here.

Customs differ as well, and Yu Chang feels that some insight into that fact will help foreign students. For example, he says, “Americans like superlatives, giving big compliments, but that would be frowned upon in some other cultures.”

He also observes that many of the major differences stem from language, in complex and subtle ways.  Yu Chang speaks Filipino, Mandarin Chinese, and Minnan Chinese, and has given a lot of thought to how language works cognitively.

His excellent command of English has been displayed before in co-authoring several works including another ABA publication, A Legal Guide to Doing Business in the Asia-Pacific. Yu Chang is involved with the ABA’s International Section, which co-sponsored publication of the current book, and he co-chairs its Asia-Pacific committee.

Yu Chang feels that in a global economy, law firms benefit greatly from hiring attorneys from other countries. And he feels he brings value to Warner Norcross and Judd. He is part of the firm’s Business and International Business practice groups, and also focuses on minority business law and international dispute resolution.

He comments, “Because of my contacts, Warner does work for some of the prominent Asian-Pacific companies doing business in the U.S.” He feels that even without the personal contact, the presence of foreign lawyers at a firm is likely to help attract such clients.

Even more essential to Yu Chang’s message is that he sees U.S. study as valuable not only to the individual, but also to the global business community as a whole.

“The idea of foreign lawyers coming to the U.S. is a really good thing for global business, because they are much more likely to know in depth the specific economies they’re talking about. Taking advantage of that knowledge helps the global economy run more efficiently, and it also helps the economy here,” he says.

The book, which is already available in university libraries across the U.S., can be purchased through the American Bar Association store and through amazon.com.

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