They’ve Got Next: The 40 Under 40 - Michelle Park Chiu of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius

July 14, 2021, 8:46 AM

Please describe two of your most substantial, recent wins in practice.
I recently obtained a $20 million judgment for JPMC in litigation against Landry’s. Landry’s experienced a data breach and was obligated to reimburse JPMC for assessments issued pursuant to the indemnification agreement between the parties. Landry’s refused to pay. I led the strategy for the entire case, including JPMC’s motion for summary judgment, requiring a two hour in-person hearing during COVID. The court ruled in JPMC’s favor and found Landry’s was obligated to reimburse JPMC for the assessments.

I also successfully enforced an arbitration agreement for JPMC in a putative class action alleging California Unruh Act claims. This was one of the first times the agreement was tested in court. The court evaluated the arbitration agreement under California law and concluded it was enforceable.

What is the most important lesson you learned as a first-year attorney and how does it inform your practice today?
Remember whose problems you are trying to solve. As a first-year associate, I had the opportunity to represent a client who was facing potential indictment by the Department of Justice. We had worked tirelessly for months to prepare our defense, which included representing our client in an interview with the government. A few minutes before we walked into the conference room for that interview, I noticed our client’s hands were trembling with anxiety. It was at that moment that I recognized that what may seem just like another’s day “work” to us as attorneys means something very real and personal to our clients. I think about that today whenever I am developing strategy with our clients. We provide our best client service when we understand what a problem really means to our client, and then work with them to develop a solution that is right for them, not us. Attorneys have a lot of tools in their toolbox, but we are most effective if we remember to look at a problem from the perspective of our clients, so we don’t suggest using tools or methods that don’t work for them.

How do you define success in your practice?
For me, there are two components to success. The first is solving problems for our clients. Our clients look to us to help them fix problems and resolve issues that are keeping them up at night. As a litigator, it can be easy to equate “wins” as successes. Wins are great, but I believe that whenever we help a client get through a challenge in a way that makes their life easier, whether that’s through a legal argument or achieving resolution in a way that reduces risk for the client, that is a success. The second component of success is helping future generations reach even greater heights in their careers. Every one of us benefitted from the lessons learned and struggles fought by those who came before us, and I believe we all have a duty to pay it forward to those who are coming behind us.

What are you most proud of as a lawyer?
I had the honor of representing a Somali refugee in immigration removal proceedings as a junior associate at Morgan Lewis. What was supposed to be a relatively routine pro bono representation morphed into an extremely complex case, as the Department of Homeland Security charged our client with immigration charges that he had provided material support to a terrorist organization. The case went on for many years, with multiple procedural twists and turns, and our client in detention the entire time. We ultimately succeeded in securing a dismissal of all immigration charges against our client and he was released from detention a free man. I can still remember sitting in my office and receiving that phone call from the Department of Homeland Security informing me that my client was being released from detention as we spoke. It was such a powerful and moving experience for me to see that I could literally change someone’s life for the better as an attorney. And more than a decade after I first began working on his case, I had the incredible honor of attending my client’s naturalization ceremony when he was able to fulfill his dream of becoming a U.S. citizen.

Who is your greatest mentor in the law and what have they taught you?
Jami McKeon is an incredible inspiration and mentor to me. I’ve learned so much from Jami, but what stands out is what I learned from her about how to earn our clients’ trust. Jami makes it a priority to understand every aspect about a case by asking questions and most of all, by listening. She doesn’t shy away from telling clients when they are about to make a decision that she doesn’t think is right. It can be tempting to tell a client what they want to hear, but Jami taught me this can often create a bigger mess for the client later. As a result, Jami earns the trust and respect of clients who know they can turn to her for real advice and counsel. I try to emulate her example of how to earn our clients’ trust in every matter I handle.

Just for fun, tell us your two favorite songs on your summer music playlist.
“Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson, because “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”

“Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles. It’s been a “long cold lonely winter” for us all, and this song is a great reminder of the happiness the summer can bring, especially this year.

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