Legally Speaking

Officers and directors of Young Lawyers Division are, from left, Kelcie Nagata, treasurer; Jasmine Wong, president; Chad Au, O‘ahu director; Lisa Yang, vice president; Lansen Leu, O‘ahu director; Nelisa Asato, secretary; and Jarrett Dempsey, O‘ahu director.

Ensuring that the law remains accessible to all is the primary reason why Lisa Yang adores working with Young Lawyers Division — the community service arm of Hawai‘i State Bar Association — and one of its signature programs known as Law Week.

Participating in the program’s legal clinic that was staged in Honolulu last year, Yang remembers being assigned to a middle-aged woman whose father had recently passed away. The woman was visibly concerned about her predicament and had many questions about her father’s will, the future of his home, and whether procuring the services of an attorney would be in her best interest.

Given Yang’s role as a program volunteer, she was not able to offer legal counsel. However, she was able to reassure the woman that there were legal remedies out there and pointed her to a referral service that would furnish her with a qualified probate intestate attorney.

Almost instantly, the woman began to feel better about her situation, and thanked Yang for listening to her concerns and supplying her with just enough direction so that she could move forward with confidence.

Jasmine Wong, at left, and Lisa Yang play key roles with Young Lawyers Division. Wong is group president while Yang serves as vice president. Yang is also chair of Law Week ’22.

“She was actually very touched because she felt lost, and it had been a very difficult situation for her to deal with,” recalls Yang, an associate at the law firm Watanabe Ing LLP. “Letting her know that we all have specialties and that we all do different things within the law, and then being able to provide her with some guidance on what to ask for and what kind of attorney to look for was a relief to her.”

That’s part of what makes Law Week — scheduled for June 20-26 in Hawai‘i — such a valuable program to so many. It not only offers a sympathetic ear to those with questions about the law, but also dispenses free and useful information to help them resolve their legal concerns.

“The biggest benefit that Law Week provides is making the law more accessible to the average community member and letting individuals access resources that our courts have created and put in place for them,” says Yang, who currently serves as the division’s vice president and chair of Law Week 2022. “It’s important that people don’t think the law is only for people or corporations who make a certain amount of money.”

During the program’s week-long activities, dozens of volunteer attorneys will be available to answer questions on a variety of subjects through the bar association’s call-in Legal Line, as well as at in-person clinics planned for four islands: O‘ahu, Hawai‘i island, Maui and Kaua‘i. Additionally, several of these lawyers will appear during the “Ask-a-Lawyer” segment of KHON2’s Wake Up 2day morning show to address those topics deemed most important to the community, including family law and landlord-tenant issues. (For specifics on Law Week 2022, see additional story on this page.)

But Yang cautions that while legal information will be freely shared with in-person audiences and callers throughout Law Week, no “legal advice” will be offered by the program’s attorneys.

“What Legal Line and our clinics do is simply connect people to the appropriate legal resource for their specific issue,” explains Yang, a Hilo native who graduated from Stanford University with a degree in psychology before receiving her law degree from University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s William S. Richardson School of Law. “So while we cannot tell a person whether or not their tenant has breached their lease agreement, for example, we can point them toward the resources where they can get affordable legal advice or find information on how to utilize the District Court system to pursue their claim.”

Law Week may be just one of several programs that Young Lawyers Division hosts each year (other projects include its High School Mock Trial and Junior Judges initiative, which sends volunteer attorneys into elementary school classrooms to help students make “ethical decisions when ‘feeling the pressure,’” according to the division’s website), but it’s an important event because, in part, it helps break down stigmas often attached to the law profession.

“It kind of puts a face to the law,” clarifies Jasmine Wong, president of Young Lawyers Division. “A lot of people might have preconceived notions about how attorneys are or how they work, but we’re really just normal people, too.”

She adds that Law Week is the division’s opportunity to “get out there and provide everyone with information and accessibility, and personalize (ourselves) a little bit more in our communities.”

After having to shelve the program in 2020 due to the pandemic and limit its in-person clinics to O‘ahu only in 2021, Yang and Wong say that members of its division — made up of young lawyers sworn into the Hawai‘i State Bar Association who must serve for five years or until they reach the age of 36 — are eager to return to a full-scale version of Law Week in 2022.

Wong expects the participation of between 50 and 100 volunteer lawyers this year while Yang predicts the program will attract in-person visits from “100 to 150 people” at statewide clinics and “conservatively, another 50 or more callers to our Legal Line.”

Those are good numbers, Wong notes, particularly when considering that “after 2020, we had to slam the brakes on all of the events we normally do.”

“We keep coming back every year to do this, and we’ll continue to do so,” says the Pālolo-born Wong, who received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering from University of Southern California, her law degree from UH-Mānoa’s William S. Richardson School of Law and who’s currently employed as an energy contract manager at Hawaiian Electric.

For Yang, Law Week remains one of the best ways for fledgling attorneys to provide invaluable service to island communities.

“At the end of day, I think most of us went to law school and became lawyers because we want to help people,” she says in conclusion. “So, we’re excited about Law Week and we’re excited about interacting with the community. We’re also grateful to all of our attorney volunteers throughout the state who are making the time and putting forth the effort to uplift everyone in our community.”

As former executive director of Hawai‘i State Bar Association and president of its Young Lawyers Division, Coralie Chun Matayoshi (pictured above) knows firsthand the importance of Law Week. While serving at the bar association, in fact, she was the one responsible for partnering with KHON2-TV and launching its popular “Ask-a-Lawyer” news segment, which has been instrumental in guiding viewers with legal questions over the years.

“I am very proud of our volunteer lawyers for working so hard to teach people about the law,” says Matayoshi, producer and host of the station’s “What’s The Law” podcast and someone whom many may recognize as the longtime CEO of American Red Cross in Hawai‘i — a position she retired from in 2019.

“I hope everyone will take the opportunity to tune in to ‘Ask-a-Lawyer,’ call the Legal Line hotline and visit the free statewide in-person legal clinics.”

This year’s Law Week will be held Monday, June 20, through Sunday, June 26, and once again offer Hawai‘i residents opportunities to receive gratis legal information from volunteer lawyers. Several of these attorneys will appear on the “Ask-a-Lawyer” morning segment (scheduled appearances are set for 7:15 a.m. on June 20, 22 and 23; 8:10 a.m. on June 21; and 7:45 a.m. on June 24) to address issues that currently affect the community. Topics deal with family law, landlord-tenant issues, the District Court system, probate intestate planning, and the law affecting small businesses.

In addition, volunteer lawyers will be on hand to answer questions on the association’s Legal Line from 6 to 7 p.m. June 20-24. To participate, call 808-537-1868.

Finally, six in-person clinics will be staffed by attorneys and held across the state during the last weekend in June. These pop-up locations, dates and times are listed in the box above.

Law Week: What’s On The Docket

Where: Kaka‘ako and Pearlridge farmers markets
When: Saturday, June 25, 8 a.m.-noon

Hawai‘i Island
Where: KTA Super Stores in Kona
When: Saturday, June 25, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Where: KTA Super Stores in Hilo
When: Sunday, June 26, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Where: Grove Farm Market in LÐhu‘e
When: Saturday, June 25, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Where: Sunday Market at Kahului Shopping Center
When: Sunday, June 26, 4-8 p.m.