NAPABA proudly presents the 2020 NAPABA Pro Bono Award to Karen Kithan Yau. This award recognizes an attorney for outstanding achievement in pro bono service that advances or protects civil rights and provides direct legal services to individuals in the furtherance of the administration of justice.
I’m honored to be recognized by NAPABA for the pro bono work that my colleagues and I do at the Asian American Bar Association of New York.
I’ve been fortunate to be able to do public interest work and government service for most of my legal career. Some people would say, “Isn’t that pro bono work?” No, it’s not. It is not pro bono work.
Pro bono work is what we do, not only because we are doing it for free, but because it is necessary, especially for the AAPI community. Many of whom are excluded from the court system. They are unable to access the justice system, either because they cannot afford it, or they just don’t know about it.
One of our marquee projects is the Pro Bono Clinic. It was a walk-in clinic and we had three locations before the pandemic.
During the several years that we have had the Pro Bono Clinic, we have served thousands of clients.
Among the many people whom I have given consultations to, one particular client stood out in my mind. She was living in a homeless shelter and she ended up being homeless yet again. She was able to learn about our services. She only spoke Chinese. And it was clear that she has had some obvious mental health issues. Slowly we were able to gain her confidence. We were able to get her some benefits. Eventually, she told us that she actually did not have legal status in this country. We were able to arrange for her to meet with an immigration lawyer to try to get legal status in this country.
By engaging in pro bono work and doing what we can to make the world better, I hope that you send the message loud and clear to our children. . . to my children that we can be who we are, not what other people expect us to be. I believe that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. We can all be a part of that.