Decision Dialogues
Decision Dialogues

Episode · 1 year ago

Catalyzing Change - Ep 15

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

On Episode 15 of Decision Dialogues, Mark Willoughby and Mindy Neira speak with Cyndie Chang, Managing Partner of Duane Morris’s Los Angeles office. Cyndie talks about her trajectory in law and her creative approach to solving problems for businesses. She discusses her passion for diversity and inclusion work and shares insights about mentorship, decision making, and more. Get the full show notes and more resources at ModeraWealth.com/DecisionDialogues

Are you paving the way for the life you want facing decisions that may affect you personally and financially? The decision dialogs podcast, brought to you by Modera Wealth Management, presents personal stories about navigating through life's pivotal moments, narratives that we hope will inspire you as you create your own story. You'll learn what influence their next steps and gain insights that could help you with your own critical choices. Welcome to decision dialogs. Thanks for joining us on decision dialogs with thrilled to have you along. My name is Mark Willoughby and I'm a principal and wealth manager and the Chief Operating Officer of Madera Wealth Management Llc. Today, my colleague Mindy Neira, Senior Financial Adviser from our New Jersey Office, and I will be chatting with Cindy Chan Cindy Chang is the managing partner of Dwayne Morris's Los Angeles office, Wayne Mars Lp, a law firm with more than eight hundred attorneys and offices across the United States internationally, serves a broad array of clients. Cindy litigates complex business, class action and commercial disputes involving contracts, products, liability, product safety and recall, business tarts and fraud, insurance coverage, trademarks and real estate. Welcome everyone to the show and I will head it over to mindy now. Thanks, mark, and Hi Cindy. Welcome. Thanks for joining us today. Thank you for having me and so we can jump right into it. You have quite an impressive resume, so we have a lot to talk about today. I think we could get started with you know, I'd love to hear how you chose the law profession, or rather how law chose you. Maybe. Sure, I went to law school to try to find myself, because I knew I liked debate and political science, but I honestly didn't really know what I'd end up doing or what I was getting myself into. In fact, I liked writing a ...

...lot and I thought I'd be a journalist with the law degree under my belt. When I went to law school, I ended up going through the general influenza working for a law firm and so forth. Then got veered into working for a law firm in private practice. Wow. So have you been able to incorporate some of that journalism into what you do now? Well, yes, writing and analysis is really integrable to my practice. That's great. So how about the journey from when you started to now you're a partner of the firm? Yes, it's been a long journey and, to be honest with you, it's not been an easy one. I can tell you that my first year as a lawyer I almost felt out of the practice of law. I was a litigator and I wanted to become a trial lawyer and the firm that I was working at, the you know, Major Law firm partner there whose name is on the letter head, told me I never be a trial lawyer because he thought I was meek and softspoken and you know, I don't know if I really was. Perhaps there was some unconscious bias as to, you know, me being an Asian American lawyer and a female in my first year of practice. I went home really stressed because not only the practice of laws is very challenging in and of itself, especially as a litigator, when you're in a very adversarial type of practice and you're working with people who are really stressed to out with the EGOS and a lot of pressure and you know, I really questioned whether I wanted to continue with the law, but luckily for me my continued on. I moved law firms and I had to move several times until I got to my ultimate law firm right now, and I really started to get into the group once I found a place that I could thrive and really established what it means to be a lawyer, which is helping...

...people and advocating on what you think is right. So tell me more about the type of law that you do. I know mark just listed off the type of work you do, but what is that all mean? I think of myself as a problem solver for businesses. I've been fortunate enough to handle a large variety of issues and disputes on behalf of small to very large companies, and they can range from issues involving contracts, real estate, securities, fraud, employment, intellectual property, trade secrets and even if I don't have a particular specialty for the need, I get a subject matter expert to help, be like subject matter expertise and tax or big groups incorporate. So I what. I've also a project manager and think of myself as very, extremely resourceful. I could get calls on a daily basis about some situation and employee has stolen the treat secret or there's a problem or defect with a product and how to how do we minimize exposure? Or we have a dispute with the vendor who's not paying us, or there's good stuck somewhere with government authorities and how do I get them out? I had a call recently of client who said they have a data breach, and what do I do? You know, people come to me with a business problem. It's not necessary lawsuit and you know, although it can be, but I try to get resolved in a creative fashion and I can't take cases to trial, and that's what we all know about before, you know, a judge or jury. But litigation can be very expensive and so I try to very much look at the big picture. For example, while you can win on the merits of a lawsuit, that actually might not be a win in if you realize how much you actually spent. Right I'm in money and resources expended, and so it may not really be win from a financial perspective. So I really need to figure...

...out what the client wants. And you know, the goals are different from company to company, from start up to public company. Wow, that's a lot to manage and sort of priority. Sounds like your prior to prioritizing for your clients. You're helping them think through the different creative solutions, not just going right to trial at the start. So, going back to the the first law firm you spoke to, who told you that you couldn't be a trial lawyer and that unconscious bias. What type of advice would you have for anyone joining the industry now or joining the profession who wants to become a partner and faces some of these biases that might impact their future, or what they might believe is a bias? There was unconscious bias. That exists not just an a legal profession but everywhere. And speaking from my own personal experience, which is in the legal profession, the challenges that I've seen is the institutional barriers for women and minorities, especially in a very male dominated profession. And, to be honest with you, the law and handling a legal issue, you can research it, you can analyze, you can strategize with a team. That's actually not that hard once you figure out you know you could find the resources to get what the law is. So that hasn't been a problem and actually I love figuring out the legal solution. The problem and the challenges is really been dealing with other people and the institutional barriers. Just speaking a little bit more about the experience is that often, as a woman, even as a woman of color, were often mistaken as the legal assistant or the court reporter and not necessarily the lawyer. And there many times in a situation where you can be even with someone who knows who you're that you're a lawyer, you're either your undermined, your underestimated, disrespected, talked over, talk...

...down to or someone's taking credit for something you did. And so you know, this has been a passion for me to speak out and mentor and help women, especially women of Color, in the profession and trying to find their own voice and their own style and navigating this profession. That is great to hear that you're doing that and very important. You're right, it's across many, if not all, professions that we see see this type of thing. And but to that end, I know that you are frequent speaker on the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion. Could you tell us more about your passion in this area? I think it's great that you're mentoring women and women of color in your fields. But about some of the organizations you're with? Yes, I've had the privilege and honor to work and lead an organization as president of Nutpava. The acronym stands for National Asian, Pacific American Bar Association, and I've served as president of another local Bar Association in Los Angeles and have been in leadership for many other organizations and nonprofits, including currently serving as a commissioner on the Aba Commission on Women in the profession. And that work, as I was talking about before, has been my passion. It's promoting and advocating for women in the profession and minorities in the profession. And with that work, not only do we do things like advocate for diverse judicial appointments, including talking to the White House and talking to senators, we've also filed amicus griefs all the way up to the US Supreme Court on positions that we think are important to our groups. We've worked and partnered with many other racial and ethnic groups and other underrepresentative groups like lgbt lawyers and lawyers with disabilities, and we find that having united voice on these issues of willing helped to move...

...the needle and I was as I was saying before, it's just so important to me that woman, especially woman color, develop their own voice and style. For a long time the true aditional notion of a lawyer is a tall white male representing you for again, as a very male dominant profession. But why is it that woman and minorities have to try to get in and hit in in this old boys club? And so, instead of trying to overcome and climb barriers that have been put before them, instead let's work on tearing down those barriers and redefine what a modern lawyer looks like. So, you know, I've been talking about diverse inclusion for many years, since the start of my career, almost two decades ago. Unfortunately, progress has been very slow, but I'm very hopeful that recent developments since in our world are getting more people to be cognitant with these issues. And you know, gone are the days of, I think, a very competitive environment, especially in the legal profession, where I recall woman elboming other women because of the perception that there's only one seat at that table or female. We're all in this together. When you get that seat at the table, how are you going to create another seat for the next woman or minority, because that only strengthens the organization and amplifies your voice there. Yeah, that's that's a great point. It's not about, you know, filling someone else's seat at the table to pull up another chair, enjoin the table, join the conversation and having room for that. So that's just wonderful to hear that you're doing this work. I want to go back to some of the the law that you practice. I know I've also seen that you advocate for the American Disability Act. Is...

...that a big part of what you do? How often are you seeing cases like this or you know what usually comes from it? Love to hear more about that. Yeah, it's a part of my practice. You know, I have clients on both sides. We're mostly on businesses that I represent where they are doing the best that they can in trying to accommodate and make their business as open and accessible to consumers and you know, it's just it's good work that I'm proud of. That's great. That's great. One of my areas of focus and financial planning is disability. So it very intriguing to me. So I love to hear about it. No thinking about financial decisions that you make. What type of personal or financial decisions, maybe difficult decisions that you've had to make over your career the beginning up to becoming a partner. So currently I'm I'm a I'm single and I have two young kids and I have to do that along with being a leader of a major law firm and some comedy organizations, and it's been very hard to balance all of those different things that that's been a, you know, a challenge and, you know, trying to figure it out and doing it at different rates at different times. The most challenging decision that I've had to make personally is probably having to go through a divorce, and that was a very difficult and emotional challenge that I had to overcome, and that divorce has an impact on everything, your family, your friends, social circle and and your finances. As to the financial aspect of that, I've had some very hard lessons, to be honest, and when I was working really hard during my rise up the law firm ladder and doing long hours to make partner, I really wasn't paying that much attention to my financial situation. I just assume things were good and I relied...

...on someone else to manage things. After I got divorced, I realize that I had significant credit card debt and other depths that were really overwhelming and and astronomical. It was a pretty low point for me. I didn't really know what to do. I had to, you know, get it together and sees back control and get visibility on my finances. And I'm no longer and dad paid every sent off. I never want to to that place again. It does feel so much more furrying and empowering. Wow, wow, I mean it's just great that you you overcame that struggling being in that nope sending knowing what you know now, what would you say to your younger self? Yeah, I would say get a financial planner or advisor and look to the future and have visibility and do not rely on on someone else. I mean, you really need to be personally in the know of what is going on as to your personal finances. Great advice in approaching decisions in general. What is your best advice on how to approach a decision? As a leader of my law firm and a leader of some organizations, it's always been integral to me to do one simple thing and I use this in everywhere, which is I listen to all perspectives before making a decision. There have been many times where I could have easily rushed to judgment and get emotional about certain issues, but when I take a moment to step back and just think, how does the other side feel or what is this other person side of the story, am I really listening to what's going on here, other than jumping to my own conclusions or my own unconscious biases? That has helped me in making so...

...much better decisions. That extra Depp or moment have probably stopped me from pushing send on a particular email that I would have regretted later, and I think that that has demonstrated my leadership to others because I think, you know, I've been very deliberate and insightful and thoughtful when I make a decision. Thinking about your practice now, in the way it's structured, you mentioned mentoring. Do you have a formal mentorship program within the firm? Is that something that junior partners or junior lawyers can take advantage of? Yes, we have a formal mentoring program. That's very common in large law firms, but I actually am a big proponent of informal mentoring. I think a lot of great relationships are formed organically when you have some real synergistic relationship with someone that you're getting something out of that relationship in the other person is getting something out of it. It's a mutual relationship where there's give and take and interest that are aligned. And so I just have a lot of mentoring relationships organically because there's some some people that I really like and they really like me and we we get along grade and they'll call me and I'll call them too and I need advice. What would you say to a young person joining, maybe young female, and how they would find a mentor or develop that mentor relationship if they don't have a formal program or maybe going around a formal program and becoming more informal? Well, what I tell young lawyers is just don't put your head down and just focus on the work. You actually have to know the organization and get outside of the office and meet people and there are different personalities than our organization and you might not get along with everybody. So they really just do have to get out of their gask, you know, network. We have...

...multiple offices and find someone that you have you know, some synergy with it's great. Okay, so last question. This is a fun one. What is the last decision you had to make today, and it could be non financial? Okay, well, first, since we're in the pandemic and I've been working remote for over a year now, I guess the fun they're the funny response to this is I have to wake up each day deciding whether all were sweat pants or yoga pants, or will hire for the day, and that usually depends on whether I'm going to be on video or not. But I guess the you know, when you ask that question more seriously about, you know, making decisions. You know, I also think about my mindset and decisionmaking and, for example, today I've had a lot of things to do on my things to do list and they've been getting lower on my list because it kind of put them off and feel like, Oh, I have to do this today, but I realized I don't have to do anything. Instead, I get to do these things and because I get to do this, I remind myself of how grateful I am and the blessings that I have in this really robust an exciting career and I get to help clients solve problems and they call me to get it done. Just that simple reframing of the thought. That's that's impactful. Thank you for sharing that, and thanks very much to Mindy Neira and to Cindy Chang for letting US listening on their conversation. We appreciate their time and perspectives and thank you for tuning in. We hope you'll join US next time on decision dialogs for more stories from successful business owners. So long for now. Thank you for listening to decision dialogs. We hope you found today's stories helpful for your own decisionmaking. If you like to listen to more episodes, you can subscribe on your preferred podcasting APP or...

...visit our website, where you'll also find show notes and important disclosures. WWWOOD WELCOM forward slash decision dialogs. This has been a production of twin flame studios.

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