Just as the face of Minnesota is changing, so is its legal community.
Chances are you were unaware there are 62 licensed Hmong attorneys in Minnesota.
That’s according to Adam Yang, past president of the Hmong American Bar Association. “I think it’s great,” says Yang. “We are becoming more American.”
Yang, 44, is an attorney in the Hennepin County Public Defenders Office, where he’s been since 2001.
He came to the United States from Laos with his parents and siblings in 1980 when he was about 9. His parents wanted him to do well in school and become a doctor, he says. He got a bachelor of science and a master’s degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Minnesota and wanted to be a patent lawyer. He went to law school at Hamline University, then got interested in the Neighborhood Justice Center, where he worked before moving on to become an assistant public defender.
He currently represents juveniles and likes the work. “In my opinion I am defending the Constitution,” he says. “We want to make the courts provide due process, make sure their rights are protected.”
Yang guesses that more than half the state’s Hmong attorneys are in private practice. One of them is Nom Fue Thao, 40, who helped revive the Hmong American Bar Association in 2010 and became its president. Thao said his main work is in personal injuries and bankruptcies, and 95 percent of his clients are Hmong.
Almost all the state’s Hmong attorneys were refugees “born in the old country,” as he puts it, either from Laos or Thailand. But there is a big need for attorneys, he says.
“We have a lot of people who don’t have access to legal representation, they don’t know who to turn to, they don’t know their legal rights, and they don’t know they have a right to an attorney.”
“Hmong people have the same issues as everybody else,” said Ma Manee Moua, a St. Paul attorney, who represents both Hmong and non-Hmong clients. “I am extremely busy.”