Beyond Mauck & Baker: Soo Yeon Lee
Soo Yeon Lee is a Korean attorney who has made it her goal to step up where she is needed in her community. By making the most of her skills as a lawyer, fluency in multiple languages, and Christian faith, Soo has truly demonstrated what it means to use one's gifts for the greatest good.
Q: Which organizations do you serve with beyond your work with Mauck & Baker?
SYL: I serve on the board of AgeOptions, an organization located in suburban Cook County that connects older adults and those who care for them with resources and service options so they can live their lives to the fullest. It is there that I also chair a Resource Development Committee whose role is to seek out various ways to set up clients and their loved ones for success in the future. The main event is a fundraiser, which brings everyone from AgeOptions together and reminds us why we love what we do. I am also an Advisory Board member of Korean American Bar Association of Chicago. I served as a board member from 2008-2014 and have been an advisory board member since. Lastly, I am also a Council member of the Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law of the American Bar Association.
Q: How did you get involved with AgeOptions?
SYL: A colleague of mine from the Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law, Nancy Rich (she is a partner at Katten Muchin), reached out to me to see if I could assist Age Options with its lease amendment. Age Options was leasing a space in a building owned by Chase, and Nancy wasn’t able to handle it because she had a conflict of interest. So did many of Nancy’s attorney acquaintances. But I, a small firm attorney who never worked on matters on behalf of Chase, didn’t have a conflict of interest. I reviewed the lease amendment for Age Options as a pro bono work, and I learned about the wonderful work Age Options does. That was the beginning of my involvement with Age Options about two years ago.
Q: Why do you enjoy serving with AgeOptions?
SYL: Aging is everyone’s business. That’s why I am proud to be involved with building community support and quality of life around the journey of growing older. I believe that the ability to make good choices depends on reliable resources, which is one of Age Options’ key beliefs. It is my privilege and honor to be part of an organization that connects aging with options for living our best life. As a lawyer I enjoy guiding many people through their future planning in the estate planning process. Naturally, AgeOptions gives me the opportunity to do this on a greater level.
Q: The second organization you mentioned is the Korean American Bar Association of Chicago. As an attorney with Korean heritage and background, is there anything that you did in particular?
SYL: Early on in my career, probably 2-3 years into practicing law, I volunteered at a pro bono legal clinic jointly held by Korean American Bar Association of Chicago (KABA) and Korean American Community Services (now Hana Center). The typical cases that you see at a legal clinic are very different from your regular cases you handle at work. However, it was always those clinic cases that pushed me to think seriously about the role and limits of the law. It also provided me with a unique perspective on providing “useful advice” for people with no defense (such as foreclosure and eviction cases) or with very limited means. As someone fluent in the Korean language, it afforded me opportunities to talk with Korean-speaking clients, which gave me a huge sense of making a difference in my own way. I eventually became the director of the pro bono legal clinic of KABA from 2008 to 2012. I still volunteer at the KABA-Hana Center legal clinic regularly and it is important for me to continue.
Q: What did you get from your pro bono efforts?
SYL: My experiences at the pro bono clinic generated an important pillar in my practice. In a typical law firm, the amount of money clients pay is probably the most important factor in determining the value of a case. However, when you see the people more than the money they bring in, you find the true measure of the case value. This helped me learn an invaluable lesson for my day-to-day work, and also gave me the chance to help others.
Q: Is it also a reflection of your Christian faith?
SYL: To be honest, I did not begin my pro bono efforts for faith reasons. At first I wanted to find my roots as an attorney with Korean heritage and background, and find deeper meaning in my role as an attorney. However, the Bible’s teachings enriched my perspective and continue to encourage me. I believe God engineers the whole circumstances and reveals His thoughts to me from time to time. He often does that when I help others. Pouring costly oil, a seeming waste to some people, is a beautiful thing (Matt 26:6-13). I want to be able to make that kind of decisions for Him.
Q: You are also pretty active with the Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law of the American Bar Association. What is your role in the Section and why is it important for you to participate in the Section?
SYL: In 2012, I applied to be a Section fellow. You won’t believe how ecstatic I was when I was notified that I was selected as one of the three Real Property fellows for the Section for a two-year term. I was so thrilled that I was able to mingle with nationally known experts and practitioners in the real estate and trust and estate areas. The Section’s programming for practicing attorneys was always very impressive and thoughtful, and I was very happy to be part of that force. I met professional mentors that I would not have been able to meet in my own firm or my usual and local circle of professional network had I not participated in the Section. The Section has given me many leadership opportunities and made me see what it means to be a leader in an organization, and I will always be very grateful for that. The Section nominated me to be a Section Council member on the real property side, which I consider a huge honor and privilege. The Section also provides comments to proposed legislation and is sensitive to changes in our society and helps the law catch up with the real world. In the wake of COVID-19, the Section worked hard to support remote notarization in a large number of states, which is integral in real estate and trust and estate law. The time I spend and the activities I do in the Section is important because it helps me to achieve the very best level of skillfulness I strive to have for my clients.
Q: Why should other professionals make time to serve outside their normal work?
SYL: Serving at organizations beyond your usual work is important because that is how you become a “willing” person. We spend so much time in order to become a competent professional. No one will blame you for not being more willing as long as you do what’s expected. But think of David in the David v. Goliath story. No one asked David to step up at that moment. However, David knew he could do something, so he did! Step up and show the world that you are willing and help others and you will be a part of making society move forward for the better.