I like to think that I’m a persistent and conscientious sort of guy, but I also understand that a bit of good fortune has been afforded me. I’m grateful that I was able to handle it a meaningful way. At the age of nine, my family left Santa Mesa and we immigrated to the United States to start a new life. We settled in the Tenderloin District near downtown San Francisco. Some may see this as leaping from the frying pan into the fire. Some may recall the 2006 movie “The Pursuit Of Happyness” starring Will Smith. This is the story of a struggling salesman who is poised to begin a life-changing professional endeavor. That film was filmed partly in The Tenderloin. The Tenderloin was a pretty rough neighborhood. But, at least it was in America. Studying the history of this country, I recognize that each new wave of immigrants caused a backlash, usually from peoples who just a generation earlier were immigrants themselves. So, yes, I had to put up with some untoward indignities and face some irritating challenges. I bet the situation was tougher on my folks. Due to their accent and their culture, they faced a cruel job market. As always is the case in immigrant families, the pressure is put on the younger members to avail themselves of the opportunities that abound. Of course, to my folks, that meant school. The other motivation to go to school is fear. I feared that I may not be able to escape the sometime brutal and hostile conditions of the streets in my neighborhood. I feared that hopelessness and powerlessness may overtake and engulf my entire being and eventually my people. I eventually wound up studying at California State University at Sonoma. While I was earning an undergraduate degree in Arts and Humanities, I worked as an intern at immigration law firms. I graduated in 1988 and immediately applied to law school. I was accepted for study at the University of San Francisco School of Law in 1989. I continued my work with the immigrant community, helping folks get through the arduous labyrinth of U.S. immigration law. Many immigrants simply did not understand the confusing immigration forms. Many elderly Filipinos didn’t realize that they have the right to be reunited with their love ones or even if they did no one can show them how without costing much money. Then another blessing befell me. In 1992, I was awarded an academic scholarship by the American Asian Bar Association. They said it was for my legal work within the Asian and Filipino immigrant communities. I felt it was a sign from fate to further my career in a way that could really help those less fortunate, as I and my folks had once been. So, I set off down that path. In 1995, myself and a group of like-minded – and yes, idealistic – young attorneys informally founded Lazaro Law Group. Our goal was to put the full weight of the law behind those who had legal problems and were hampered by poor language skills, cultural confusion, or lack of money. We were eager to make a difference in people’s lives. We knew that our status as lawyers can even the playing field for the poor and the under privileged. We helped folks with immigration issues, civil litigation, family law, and business law. In 2002, I was elected the president of the Filipino Bar Association of Northern California. Once again fate had put me in a position to do what’s right. I organized the first conference of Filipino-American Lawyers ever held in the United States. The conference convened at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. In that venue I held forth, in front of about 600 lawyers, that they should commit more time to providing pro bono services for those who lacked the income or other wherewithal to effectively stand in any legal proceeding. I simply asked them “to serve and to dedicate their careers to ensure that everyone gets fair treatment in a court of law.” I also tried to encourage many young attorneys to look beyond our borders and contribute to the legal system in the Philippines. I was shocked to learn after speaking with a former Chief Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court that there were many innocent prisoners who are executed because we lack qualified attorneys to represent them. This was the seed of my current mission to train Philippine attorneys and bring law books and other legal resources to the Philippines to assist attorneys in representing prisoners in death row. I am forming an organization called “Lawyers Without Borders” to accomplish this mission. That may have been a high point in my career so far, but there’s more to do. We continue to represent clients against the U.S. government in Federal Courts and in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as families are being split up and loved ones removed from U.S. soil. Some of my pleas have been published in law books as court decisions. When the recession hit in 2008, the attorneys at Lazaro Law Group responded forcefully when clients approached us to save their homes or if they were nearing bankruptcy. We have discovered much banking and lending fraud that caused many errant foreclosures and thus forestalled those proceedings. I myself have stood before federal court judges to fight for homeowners. I have also made cutting-edge arguments and presented legal theories to educate and inform judges of the current state of foreclosures in the United States. Why? Well, that’s my job.As an attorney in our American society, I am afforded a lot of respect and even some deference. But I’ll never forget what it feels like to be poorly clothed, or bullied because of my background. I will especially remember having empty pockets. Empty pockets shouldn’t be a reason for an individual to be improperly represented or disenfranchised of their legal rights under the U.S. Constitution. Nor should an accent, nor a strange religion, nor a different culture make anybody below the law. The U.S. Constitution is my life. I may be interrupted or pulled aside by other concerns, but that document is the main reason I practice law. It has certainly helped make a decent life possible for me, once just a little Filipino immigrant boy.
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