Interview with Incoming Board President James Wu

James Y. Wu, an employment attorney in Walnut Creek, takes over the leadership as President of the CCCBA for 2018. Below is a just a start to getting to know more about James.

Tell us a little about yourself…

I am a native of Littleton, Colorado and enjoyed growing up in suburban Denver. My two sisters and I were the first of our family to have been born in the United States since my parents were both born in China. My parents worked hard to make better lives for themselves and their family, and I hope that some of that has rubbed off on me too. Growing up in Colorado, I enjoyed skiing, became a lifelong fan of the Denver Broncos, and was a state-ranked tennis player and swimmer.

I left Colorado to attend Stanford University where I majored in Political Science. Stanford was an incredible experience socially, culturally and educationally. I enjoyed my first four years so much, that I did everything I could to stay longer, so I also earned a Masters Degree in Education (Higher Education Administration).

After five years in Palo Alto, I moved to the East Coast to attend Boston College Law School. I am not one of those folks who loved law school. Frankly, I did not. I did, however, meet great friends and colleagues.

I am married and have two sons – one is a sophomore in high school and the other an 8th grader. I’ve been lucky to have a wonderful wife who’s remained married to me for over 20 years, and counting.

How and why did you become an attorney?

When I was at Stanford, I was heavily involved in what was known as “Residential Education” – which included being dorm president, a Resident Advisor (RA), and working as the Head Coordinator for new student orientation. These experiences had me thinking that I’d want to work in a university and perhaps be a dean of students or provost of some sort. So, I earned my Masters degree. After that, a small quiet voice in my head (and louder voices from my parents) urged me to go to law school. After all, a law degree is relatively fungible and could help my career should I wish to go into a university setting.

Then, during the summer between my first and second years in law school, I interned at the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights in Boston. At the time, the office was investigating various higher education institutions for alleged Title IX violations, as well as sexual harassment issues. The following summer, I was a summer associate in Chicago, and I gravitated to the employment attorneys and enjoyed the assignments given out by those attorneys. These two summer experiences sparked my interest in practicing employment law, and I’ve been doing so for almost 22 years now.

How did you become involved with the CCCBA?

After practicing employment law at a large law firm in Chicago, I moved with my wife to Walnut Creek. I eventually joined the Walnut Creek office of Littler Mendelson. The folks at Littler were, and still are, very supportive of the CCCBA. Littler signed me up for membership, and then I took the initiative to get more involved in the CCCBA. I quickly discovered the incredible sense of camaraderie, community and fellowship within the CCCBA. I served on the Employment Law Section Board for several years, and also served as President of that Section. I enjoyed getting to know my Section colleagues and helped to plan programs, write articles for the Contra Costa Lawyer magazine, and collaborated with them.

During that time, I was encouraged to apply to the CCCBA’s Board of Directors. I did, and have now served on the Board for six years. I’ve had the privilege of serving on the Editorial Board of the CC Lawyer, the Diversity Committee, the Membership and Education Committee, the Communications Committee, and many others. Now, I look forward to serving as President in 2018.

What are a few goals you have for your term as President?

The CCCBA has existed for nearly 85 years. While it has faced challenges over those years, it has continued to evolve and improve. So, overall, my first goal is to not unwind the progress made during the last several years.

A couple of specific new items I want to focus on for 2018 include:

Senior attorneys: The population of the U.S. in general is aging, and our membership is no different. In 2017, approximately 76% of our members were over 41 years old, and 34% were 61+ years old. These are significant populations of our membership. I want to be sure we are better able to meet the needs of these attorneys through focused programs (MCLE or other), offering topics of interest to senior attorneys (whether they be on winding down a practice/retirement, succession planning, marketing strategies and/or referral networking, for example). We also need to check whether we are communicating with them using methods they prefer (while our more junior attorneys/law student members may prefer text messages and/or Twitter, our senior attorneys may not). Finally, I’d also like to tap these senior attorneys for their expertise and offer them more opportunities to reconnect with the CCCBA by, among other things, writing articles for the CC Lawyer, presenting at MCLE programs, or becoming mentors to newer attorneys.

Diversity and Inclusion: In 2017, the Diversity Committee was as robust as ever. We’ve got to keep that momentum going. Past President Phil Andersen came up with the idea of a Diversity Award, and the sub-committee, lead by Board Member Reneé Livingston, created an excellent “checklist” of very detailed and creative activities firms of all sizes can engage in to increase diversity in firms and the profession. While the Diversity Award and the checklist has certainly raised awareness and thoughtful conversation, I hope our members and our profession can embrace and get past the basic idea of “let’s look at diversity” and move towards “let’s be diverse and inclusive.” It does no one any good if we just focus on numbers, however, real action and focus on inclusiveness will go a long way for the profession.

Any other points of emphasis you’d like to share?

There are always different needs and challenges faced by the Association’s members, the public whom our members serve, and the bench. We’ve been successful in helping and working with each of those groups, however, the challenges of decreasing budgets amidst higher costs will require the CCCBA to adapt and evolve. We’ll need to continue to support and rely heavily on our talented and dedicated office staff, as well as our members who generously give their own time and money to the various programs we offer to other members and the public. And, we will continue to upgrade the CCCBA’s social media presence and strategy, as well as develop a new and improved website, which may take until 2019 to complete.

I look forward to working with each staff member, CCCBA member, and judicial officer to help the CCCBA thrive for at least another 85 years. It is an honor to serve as the CCCBA’s 2018 Board President.

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