A new alliance will connect victims of anti-Asian hate with pro bono legal services and work to prevent further acts of violence. The effort shows the importance of clear goals and strong networking in addressing social problems.
A recent surge in anti-Asian violence across the country motivated a group of prominent law firms, bar associations, and advocacy organizations to form the Alliance for Asian American Justice. The alliance is a national pro bono initiative committed to standing up for victims and stopping the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.
Nearly 3,800 anti-Asian incidents have been reported between March 2020 and February 2021, according to data from Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition. Nearly seven out of every 10 victims who reported an incident during that time were women.
“All of us have seen coverage of these attacks in the media,” said Debra Wong Yang, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and cochair of the alliance’s board of directors. “These people are getting attacked and it’s unprovoked. They’re just innocent people.”
The idea for the alliance started with Don H. Liu, executive vice president and chief legal and risk officer at Target Corporation, and Wilson Chu, a partner at McDermott Will & Emory. They brought together a coalition of top lawyers and started to solicit other law firms.
“We were met with overwhelming support,” Yang said. They started out with about 10 law firms, and now more than 70 firms are participating.
The goal of the alliance is to provide pro bono legal resources and match people who have been victimized with the right service. This can include providing victims with counsel to bring lawsuits to seek compensatory and other civil remedies or working with law enforcement to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable. The group will also identify additional resources that victims may need, including specialized legal services, social services, and other community support.
The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and other frontline legal and community organizations will perform the initial intake of victims and refer them to the alliance.
“What we’re feeling right now is that as a community we need to stand up and stand together,” Yang said. “And, as a general population, we need to stand together for each other.”
Goals and Networking Are Key
Putting together the alliance required forethought and preparation, Yang said. Five key people—the alliance’s board of directors—were well connected, understood the law, and had worked for many associations in the past. They were able to hit the ground running and move quickly, Yang said.
When setting up an alliance or coalition to address a specific problem, it’s important to identify what you are trying to accomplish, and then make sure there is not another organization doing the same thing, Yang said. Setting a clearly identifiable scope is also critical. For example, people came to alliance about workplace discrimination, but the group decided they weren’t going to take employment cases.
“We were formed because we wanted to stop the violent acts,” she said. “So be clear on your goals and objectives.” Then start reaching out to your network.
The alliance’s purpose has personal resonance for Yang. She grew up in Chinatown in Los Angeles and was one of the few people in the community who could speak perfect English because she was born in the States.
“I always felt that part of my life’s responsibilities is to help others who couldn’t help themselves,” she said. “For all five of us, it’s really born out of nothing more than wanting to help our community.”