Chinh H. Pham
Shareholder, Greenberg Traurig, LLP
What you don’t know about me
I have run four Boston Marathons, including this year’s, as a member of the Boston Museum of Science Marathon Team to raise funds for its Traveling Programs initiative, which brings science and technology to over 100,000 students annually in schools, community centers, and libraries throughout the Northeast.
My Greatest Strength
An entrepreneurial mind. A competitive spirit. A can-do attitude. A passion for my endeavors.
These are some of the attributes that have allowed me to build a robust legal practice, establish myself as an intellectual property law attorney, become a go-to person for legal issues relating to emerging technologies, and earn the respect of my firm, my clients, and technology industry leaders.
In connection with my role in emerging technology, Harvard Law School appointed me to serve as an Attorney-in-Residence at the campus-wide Harvard Innovation Lab (i-Lab), where I regularly advise student entrepreneurs regarding venture and business planning issues.
In addition, I have been recognized as one of the “Top 10 Intellectual Property Lawyers Influencing Nanotechnology” by Nanotechnology Law & Business, among the “Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business” by the Asian American Business Development Center in New York City, and one of Intellectual Asset Management magazine’s Intellectual Asset Management Patent 1000 for 2014.
I routinely engage law students at Boston area schools to talk about life as a lawyer and how to be successful as a diverse attorney. I also volunteer my personal time to mentor law students looking to secure local and national opportunities, as well as younger lawyers navigating the path toward partnership.
I was most inspired by my wife, who encouraged me to rethink a career in biotech research to pursue my passion which was the intersection of technology and law.
Early in my career, I was encouraged by the attorneys who represented the biotechnology companies where I worked to attend law school. At the time, I had been considering a PhD program in immunology, but thanks to the support and counsel of my wife and colleagues, I decided I was better suited for the legal profession.
The Model Minority Myth
Study hard, get good grades, go to a good university, and get a well-paying job. This cycle has been perpetuated through many generations within the Asian-American community. In my family, the push from my parents, when I was growing up, was whether I would become a doctor or an engineer. Of course, I became neither
As a community, we are taught to put our heads down, work hard, and not rock the boat. If we continue to work hard, we will be recognized for our efforts. Not the case. Such an approach has failed to help advance Asian Americans into management positions. We continue to be in roles where our destiny is controlled by others within the organization
When asked how this happens, our responses tend to be from a perspective of being a victim.
My own experience when interacting with Asian-American law students and young Asian-American attorneys only illustrates how strongly this model minority myth is reinforced by the students and attorneys themselves without them realizing it.
Too many good Asian-American attorneys, at some point in their career, realize that they are not going to make partner despite working hard, providing superior work products, and doing everything that they have been asked to do. When asked “why?” the response that I typically get is “I was not given the opportunity to network, to pitch, to work with the right partner, to generate business, or to…” just fill in the blank.
These responses may seem typical or even apropos, but we need to break out of the victim’s role. We should ask ourselves why we need to be given opportunities to be successful. Our success should not be so dependent on the actions of others, and our failure should not be the result of others’ inaction.
We need to accept that we may not always get invited to sit at the table, to attend a pitch, or to go out and network with others. If we recognize that these opportunities are critical to our success, we then need to create them for ourselves.
As a young attorney, I watched the senior partners at my firm wield tremendous influence. When I realized their influence stemmed from their book of business and the size of their client base, my perspective changed. I then understood that in order to control my own destiny, I needed to generate for myself those opportunities necessary to be successful.
I was able to transform my role to one where I am able to say, “Jump!” from one where I had to ask, “How high?”
Lessons I’ve Learned
In the course of my career, I have recognized that the most effective organizations are ones that don’t simply use diversity as a mechanism to gain legitimacy with clients and customers, but instead, use their diversity to increase the cultural competence of their overall workforce. I have always encouraged diversity to be viewed as a business imperative that enables an organization to accomplish its goals. In this way, I try to work toward creating an environment that integrates diversity and inclusion into all aspects of the legal community.
Although mindful of diversity issues, I try not to view my diversity as a badge to be used to navigate my success. Rather, I believe that we can be successful without focusing on our diversity, that inclusion is critical, and that to be successful, we need to rely on our own skills and ingenuity as individual contributors.
My Best Career Advice
To be successful, you first have to be recognized. So find a champion—someone who will have your back, someone who will help guide you, and who is willing to be candid with you. If you cannot, learn to “toot your own horn” and let others know of your achievements. Otherwise—if you just keep your head down, do good work, and wait for someone to acknowledge your achievements—you may be waiting a long time.
My Favorite Quote
“It is better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”
Success, by many accounts, is measured by results. Our clients demand results. Our colleagues want results. Our families depend on us to get results. Yet, we are usually faced with obstacles in many of the things that we do. Rather than being frustrated by obstacles, I try to encourage my team to find ways to overcome them. I often encourage them to look for options and identify the risks associated with each option. Often times, the option that offers the least risk is the best solution for the client.