Business: Meet the Head Attorney at a Law Firm in Seattle, WA

Interviewer: Emily Feng; April 6, 2020

Interviewee's name has been removed for privacy.

The law firm's headquarters is in Seattle, WA (Pinterest).

Could you tell us about yourself and your occupation? How does your occupation impact the local community?

I’m an attorney at a law firm. I’ve been practicing law for 21 years, and our firm has evolved significantly throughout these years.

Though we’re licensed in multiple states, my physical office and headquarters is in Seattle, Washington. Specifically, our office is in Seattle’s International District, or Chinatown. Behind our office is a homeless area, and behind that is the freeway. Occasionally, there have been break ins with the cars, and we just experienced our second burglary of our office since we moved to this location of 2012. We’ve tried to be more careful by placing cameras and signs around the building. All the cameras were stolen over time and the perpetrators do not bother to read the signs.

Around 90% of our clients are Chinese, both due to our location and our excellent office manager. As our Chinese cultural representative, she fulfills a lot of the translation work necessary to maintain communication with our clients.

I know you’ve mentioned difficulties with your office location; have any troubles worsened during the pandemic?

Yes, we actually experienced one of our worst break-ins recently this year on March 10th. At that point, COVID-19 had already started changing our daily lives. My son attends a school in Seattle, and everybody knew online schooling was an inevitability at that point. The signs were obvious: the NBA had canceled their entire season. I thought to myself, “Wow, for a multibillion-dollar business to shut down…that’s unheard of.” Think of the money they would be losing by making that decision! I personally believe they could pay $50 million to a charity to create a vaccine just to get their billions back that they are going to be losing this year.

When the homeless looting occurred, most of my building managers had already been staying home since they are at high risk and over 80 years of age. As for my business, we didn’t want to place high-risk employees in a comprising work environment given the rate of spread. When I went into the office at March 11th, I was shocked to see that my own office space had been burglarized the previous evening. Among the items stolen, they had stolen a gun, both of my safes, office checks, a laptop computer, an iPad, and the flat-screen TV. I figured it must have been more than one person—how else would they have lugged the two heavy safes out of my office? Thankfully, they didn’t take my stand alone computers, so my data was safe.

I assume the police have also been adjusting to the pandemic. Did that affect their response to your break-in?

The police response has been severely debilitated, and this is a perfect example of how. To my understanding, the Seattle police department has been coordinating with the National Guard in the past 2 weeks. They’ve been working to ensure hospital tents are set up in places like Century Link Field. Hate crimes are escalating and the police have been placed in a very reactionary state; at the end of the day, the situation is so new for everyone. It’s pandemonium out there. Even Seattle parking is free since nobody is enforcing parking tickets.

"It's pandemonium out there."

To get back to our break-in, it makes sense that the police were so slow to follow up. They’re trying to save lives.

The day after the event, I realized that one thing they stole was my iPad. I have another iPad at home on the same network, so I used the “Find my iPad” application to try and locate the stolen device. It was giving off a signal in Woodinville. We immediately called up the Seattle PD, but the cops said they would need a warrant first. With over 200 different apartments there, even a search would take forever. The next day, as I was at the office moving stuff out, the app started giving off another signal. It indicated that the stolen device was right behind the Harborview Medical Center. The officer told me they would send someone else the following morning. I said, “You might want to be concerned because I know they took a gun.” Within the next 15 minutes, I was meeting 12 officers at the Harborview Medical Center. Unfortunately, issues with search warrants prevented them from entering any homeless tents in the area or any vehicles in the area.

The complications didn’t end there. I got a phone call from our bank alerting me that a guy had walked in with my forged signature. They were demanding money from my trust account. The bank had him on video and he’d clearly not thought it through very much, because he’d also handed the bank his ID. The video and ID were handed to the cops, but the Seattle PD, just like before, did nothing about it.

A few days later, I received a call from the Bellevue PD. They said, “We have a guy, and he’s in possession of a lot of your checks.” They released him a few days later, which I’m fine with. With everything going on right now, the police department doesn’t want to keep someone who might be infected. They have 6 years to prosecute, so what’s the rush! The safety of the officers and the police departments is paramount in my opinion.

The Intermediate Care Ward continues to be set up inside the field hospital for non-COVID-19 patients at CenturyLink Field Event Center (Amanda Snyder/The Seattle Times)

Wow, that’s definitely one heck of a story. What are the next steps for the firm? How are you all adapting to the break-in, and now especially, with the coronavirus closures?

Our firm is actually considered an essential practice in Washington, but we figured we needed to get out of the space to limit exposure and keep ourselves safe from more break-ins. Today there are two COVID 19 tent test sites next to the building in Chinatown where our office was located. We had to get out of there. Our business is now being hosted on my giant living room table. There are 3 computers set up there so far. I’m still finding ways to expand the computers at home. Hearings are all via telephone, and instead of going to court, we handle hourly fee cases and accident cases. A majority of my work has been settling automobile disputes.

We also have some law students still working for the firm. One is in charge of auto injury cases, so she’s still doing a lot of active work. The other two usually work on research and investigation. Obviously, they can’t go to crime scenes or talk to witnesses in person in the current climate. Instead, I’m giving them research projects to keep them learning and on board. All the employees of the firm are staying at home but are able to remote connect or correspond by email.

It’s definite that we won’t return to Chinatown. Currently, I’m looking into office spaces in Bellevue, in large part because I want to limit exposure to COVID-19 and not be subject to anymore senseless crime and burglaries. The city council of Seattle is just too liberal now in accepting the homeless situation and not enforcing the crime that comes with it. I’m not sure how long this will last, but Bellevue has less people infected as of now and their police department enforces crime and protects its citizenry and businesses much better. Also, the pandemic has been spreading like wildfire amongst the homeless population. The obvious downside to our move to the Eastside is how we will manage internships. Right now, we get a lot of help from law students from Seattle U and at the University of Washington; they used to be able to easily take the light rail or streetcar and show up for work. Once we move to an address to the eastside, it will be more difficult for them to commute to the office. But, when I’m balancing safety vs convenience, it’s clear that moving East is the safest choice for everyone at the firm.

If you don’t mind sharing, how has the coronavirus impacted you and your family personally? What do you hope others learn as they adjust to these times?

I feel bad for my son, who has to deal with such a massive change so young. It has turned his world upside down. I’ve experienced plenty of stress and disasters growing up in Southern California. At the age of three I experienced the aftermath of my father being shot in the line of duty as he was a policeman. At the age of ten I was a witness to an armed robbery and had to identify the perpetrator to the police. I had to learn to defend myself just walking home from school as other kids, and sometimes bad people on the street, would try to mug me just to steal my lunch money. Also, in school, we grew up with earthquake and nuclear bomb drills, so danger always felt imminent. I always had to watch my back. For my son, he’s used to going to school every day in a peaceful environment and things moving forward with no major stress or interruption. Now, everything that was good in his life, has turned upside down and there is a sense for all those in his generation, things will never be the same. I’ve had to teach him the same lesson my father taught me when I had a hard time in my neighborhood: "Tough times don't last, but tough people do."

"Tough times don't last, but tough people do."

When you think about it, the decisions we make now will change what the world looks like for his generation, so it feels particularly daunting. I think this pandemic is a wakeup call to other larger disasters like climate change. I also hope that people reject this as a new “normal.” We have the power to change our world and make it a better place. When we start normalizing these disasters, we lose sight of possibilities for how to move forward. We need to fight back, and make sure our world is a place for us to be human, to socialize with one another, and for a balance to exist between our ability to live in a healthy world, and our desire to improve in a capitalist society.