Feature, Q&A

Tin Le: A Recent Graduate Helping Students Thrive

Mariana loves a good conversation, especially when it's about the finer points of civil litigation.

Tin’s trajectory from an undergraduate student who took the LSAT for fun to a first-generation attorney at a global law firm is nothing short of inspiring. While law school was not always his intended career path, once he decided to embark on his legal journey, he had no doubt that LLS was the perfect place for him. My conversation with Tin was a powerful reminder of the importance of taking ownership of your career and advocating for your abilities, no matter how “junior” you are. Tin is a testament to the diversity, tenacity, and commitment of the LLS network and I am grateful to call him a mentor and a future colleague.

Mariana: What was your trajectory into the law and how did you end up choosing LLS?

Tin: Law school is not something that I always knew I wanted to do. I’m not one of those people who went to undergrad being interested in the law and knowing they wanted to go to law school. I took the LSAT before I was even interested in law school. My older sister was always interested in law school and she decided to study for the LSAT, so we thought it would be a good idea if we studied for it at the same time. I really enjoyed the LSAT and funny enough, I ended up wanting to go to law school and she never even opened her test score. After that I started working at a superior courthouse in downtown San Diego and I loved it. That job was so fun. Being in chambers and seeing judges and court proceedings as an undergrad really solidified my interest in the law. After that, Loyola was an easy decision because I wanted to be in southern California. I went to Preview Day for admitted students not knowing what law students are like and if the environment is supposed to be hostile or competitive, but it was not the case at Loyola. From the first Loyola person I met, I had a really positive experience. People were genuinely happy to be there and were happily volunteering their time on a Sunday to be at school, and that’s something you wouldn’t expect from a law school and something that I felt wasn’t the case at other law schools. So Loyola was an easy pick based on the location and because it was very clear that people wanted to be there.

Mariana: What were some classes, either during 1L, 2L, or 3L, that you found particularly meaningful or useful in your career?

Tin: Intro to negotiations. We showed up every class just to negotiate, so that was way more useful to me than a standard lecture class. It was practical because all you did was more experience negotiating with other future lawyers. That was 100% transferrable to my practice. Another great class was exploring the role of in-house counsel. That class introduces you to a lot of in-house counsel. You learn practical skills like sitting in on board meetings and how general counsel are selected, which is not something you think about a lot. But it is so applicable because most of us will end up being firm attorneys right out of law school, so we don’t know what it will be like to get in-house experience until we have the opportunity to do so.

Mariana: What was your favorite part about Loyola throughout your time there?

Tin: It’s very hard because there’s so many great things to say. But if I had to pick only one, and it’s hard to put in a box, I think the best thing about Loyola is that people genuinely care for each other. People, students, and alumni generally care about you succeeding. For example, during my 1L summer, it was the beginning of the pandemic, and everyone was kind of scrambling to find summer jobs. I reached out to my 1L-assigned Loyola mentor, and he reached out to a friend who was also a fellow LLS alum who was looking to hire. All my mentor had to say was “this is a 1L student, he’s my mentee.” He didn’t even say anything else and I got hired right away.

Mariana: What is one thing you wish you would’ve discovered earlier at Loyola, or a Loyola “life hack”? Mine is silly and simple, but I didn’t realize that if you go to Sonia’s you can just get water and ice from the vending machine so you don’t always have to go to the water fountains and they let you do it for free and you can always have ice water!

Tin: That’s a great hack, and maybe even more practical than the one I have to give. But mine, which I discovered as a 3L, is that you’d be surprised how willing professors are to go to lunch or dinner or grab a coffee with you. You always think that the best way to interact with your professors is during office hours. But they are much more willing to create a more personal relationship with their students than you’d think.

Mariana: You spoke a little already about how you found your 1L job opportunity. Once you were going into your 2L year, there’s OCI and the whole recruiting process which is a big part of a lot of students’ experience at Loyola. What are some pillars or values of firms that you were looking for when you were going through the recruiting process?

Tin: My advice might be more general because I had no idea what I wanted to do, so my interests were very broad. But you really have to lean into the people more than your interests sometimes, unless there is something really specific you know you want to do. But in terms of values, you just have to find people you want to work with. You have to take ownership of the job hunt. You’re not begging for a job, you’re qualified and coming from a great school. So ask yourself: what do I want out of this job? Don’t just go for any job you land, because realistically you will have a lot of options, whether you do private practice or public interest. When you project your interests and take ownership in your interviews, it comes across well. For example, for me, I wanted a place where they would let juniors and new attorneys have as many opportunities as they earn. It was important to me that if you can do the work, you are given it, instead of certain work being reserved to only 3rd or 4th years. So that is something I took ownership of in my interviews.

Mariana: While you were going through this process, did you feel supported by Loyola, whether it be through career services or outside career services, in a way that was reflective of your choices?

Tin: The backbone of support is definitely career services, and they will help you as long as you ask. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost and not even know what to ask, so relying on CDO to hand-pick jobs for you is not realistic given the number of students. But if you encounter a problem or have something specific in mind that you’re searching for and you give them that specific information to work with, that is way more productive than: “I’m looking for a summer job I don’t know where to start.” And beyond CDO, the support also comes from alumni. If you find a firm you like and then find one Loyola alum at that firm, you’d be so surprised how willing they are to prep you for that interview or application. Going out of the way to find even just one person sets you up for success because there’s no better way to learn about an employer than someone who’s working there. And Loyola alum won’t sugarcoat it or not be transparent with you, so that’s how I felt supported.

Mariana: Right now you are an associate at Gibson in the Corporate Transactional group. How did you pick this group, or was it more like the group chose you? And what was your experience like finding your place in that group?

Tin: My answer will be a little funky if you compare me to other alumni because Gibson is famous for its free market system where for the first 2 years at the firm you are unassigned. You’re not in a specific group and I get to rotate in between all the groups if I wanted to. So right now I am rotating through the Corporate group, but I am not formally assigned there yet. It’s a completely optional program, but that being said I did choose to go into corporate first. I think law school is so geared towards litigation, so I knew that if I ever wanted to be a corporate attorney I wanted to start my career by getting that exposure. I didn’t want to have a late start since I would already be a little behind the learning curve compared to people who always knew they wanted to be a transactional attorney. So timing-wise it made the most sense, but I also knew that I didn’t like the traditional motion-writing and research work that comes with litigation. But the pleasant surprise there is that there are so many opportunities to do litigation that is not just legal research and writing, which is something I didn’t know heading out of law school. So if you’re a little on the border like I was, maybe talk to people who practice litigation in a less traditional sense. For example, people who do internal investigations or government investigations or white collar defense. You’d be surprised that they don’t just do research and motions, they do a lot of fact-finding, presentations, the fun parts in my opinion of litigation. That’s why I chose corporate first, but at the same time I am not exclusively doing corporate work.

Mariana: I also want to touch on your experience as a first-generation person of color at a large law firm. We are going into spaces where traditionally we don’t see people like us, so sometimes it may feel like the learning curve going into these particular types of firms or into the legal profession at large is very steep. What did you feel was the steepest learning curve you’ve faced so far?

Tin: As a person of color, minority, woman, or first-generation attorney or law student, it comes down to comfort and confidence. At the end of the day, sometimes you will feel like you don’t belong. And that isn’t always a product of anything, it is just a feeling that is hard to shake off if you’re not comfortable. But that comfort and confidence is what good employers and firms will do a good job at in helping you grow. The first step is that some people are better than others at recognizing that it is a disadvantage or an obstacle. I think employers who brush it off as not a problem in the workplace or the legal industry say a lot about how cognizant they are about the people who want to join their firm. Firms who recognize this, for example those that have a first-gen affinity group, say a lot about their commitment to diversity. It’s easier to feel comfortable when you know other people are in the same boat as you. During the recruiting process, it’s a completely valid question to ask about.

The important thing is the comfort part. You have to be cognizant that it’s more internal pressure, there will be no one telling you that you shouldn’t feel comfortable. It’s often really self-imposed and it’s hard to get over the feeling at first. But the more you practice the more you get over it and learn how to be more confident.

Mariana: Next I wanted to talk a bit about financial literacy. We know what the salaries are like at these big firms, the numbers are everywhere. Young attorneys can potentially be making significant amounts of money, and sometimes as a first-gen you may the first person in your family who makes this kind of salary. You maybe now are trying to navigate the complexities of having the kind of money neither you nor your parents had growing up. How do you work on financial literacy and wellness?

Tin: You won’t really know until you ask, and there are so many opportunities and resources that will be available to you once you feel comfortable asking for them. It might be a new problem for you, but your coworkers already went through it even if it was a new experience for them as well at first. Asking older associates what they did in terms of retirement, 401K, benefits, insurance, what financial planning or new homeowner services they recommend. It’s not about asking the most intimate details of their financial lives, but simple questions like: What’s a 401K and what do I do with it? How do I pay off my student loans? People are so happy to help you, we’re in the same career and a lot of people had this first experience as well. So don’t try to figure it out by yourself. Asking questions as they come up will come a long way. And not just your coworkers, but other alum from your school. And ask about credit cards! Attorneys love talking about credit cards and points.

Mariana: Lastly, as a junior attorney I imagine you are trying to balance doing good work and establishing yourself at your firm, so work-life balance might look a little different for you now than it might for a more senior associate, but what does that balance look like for you? Do you struggle with balancing being present at the firm and also just learning how to be a new attorney?

Tin: It all comes down to good will. As a new attorney you don’t have any good will so people don’t know what your work quality or ethic is like. People don’t know if you’re willing to work nights, weekends, or holidays. So the earlier you can showcase that you produce high work quality and are a team player and that you are willing to contribute to the team when it’s not convenient for you, the more people will reward you for it. People are willing to be more courteous once you show them your good will. So in terms of work-life balance and establishing that reputation early on, the more you say yes and establish a good name for yourself early on, the easier it is to set boundaries and have a better work-life balance.

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