At Jackson Walker, we are extremely proud of our Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) attorneys and allied professionals who have brought leadership and helped shape the Firm into what it is today. As May marks AAPI Heritage Month, our partners Shari Mao and Sang Shin shared how their upbringings shaped their careers.
Shari, a Corporate & Securities partner in San Antonio, reflected on her experience growing up with one foot in the U.S. and another in Taiwan. She also shared her unconventional path to practicing law, starting out on Wall Street before helping run—and eventually sell—her family’s business.
Sang, a Business Immigration & Compliance partner in Houston, walked through his family’s experience emigrating from South Korea and the struggles he observed as his parents worked their way through the immigration system, which inspired him to start his own immigration practice.
We all have individual and shared experiences in our lives which shape our heritage and cultures. At Jackson Walker, we are proud to have leaders like Shari Mao and Sang Shin who enrich the Firm’s culture by sharing their stories and experiences with us. Please join us in celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Visit our Diversity & Inclusion page for more information about our efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive environment for all.
Greg Lambert: Hi, everyone. I’m Greg Lambert, and this is Jackson Walker Fast Takes. The month of May brings us a celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. In addition to the nation taking time to celebrate the achievements of Asian American and Pacific Islanders, here at Jackson Walker, we are extremely proud of our own Asian American and Pacific Islander attorneys and allied professionals who have brought leadership and helped shape the Firm into what it is today. I asked two of my colleagues to come onto the podcast this month and share their own experiences with us – Shari Mao, partner in our San Antonio office, and Sang Shin, one of our newest partners at the Firm and just down the hall from me here in Houston.
I have asked you both to come in during AAPI Heritage Month, and give you the platform to share your story and experiences and how those have shaped your legal practice here at Jackson Walker. Shari, you have the floor.
Shari Mao: Hi, Greg. Hi, Sang. Glad to be here today.
So, a little bit about myself—I was actually born overseas in Taiwan. My family emigrated to the United States when I was around 5 years old. At that time, my family actually owned a business, and my father would travel back and forth between the United States and Taiwan for his business. I would probably see him maybe four times out of the year. We were kind of a family that actually had our feet into two continents, the United States and Taiwan.
When I was a kid, I remember growing up and watching television here in the United States and never really seeing anyone who looked like me. But when I went back to Taiwan, it was kind of like a very different society. So, the ability for me to go back and forth really shaped the way that I see the world.
My family owned its business throughout my childhood. In fact, after working on Wall Street for a little bit after graduating from college and then working for various different public companies, I ended up going to work for my family’s business. In doing so, I think it really shaped the way that I thought of business from an owner’s perspective. I helped establish the North American operations for the family’s business. There was a lot of responsibility with respect to the people that we hired as well as, of course, our clients and our customers. When we eventually sold the business, I helped negotiate that sales contract. I ended up kind of assessing what I would be doing after the sale of the business.
When you sell your family’s business at a younger age, I think oftentimes you look into the future in terms of, well, what’s next? What would be the next best move for me? For a while, I thought about going back to work in the corporate world, but my husband ended up convincing me to maybe go back to school, and I had always wanted to go to law school, and I did that.
Greg Lambert: Shari, where did you go to law school?
Shari Mao: I went to law school at St. Mary’s here in San Antonio. I think it was interesting for me because a lot of folks who I worked with were probably either going straight through or they had worked a little bit beforehand. But I really had a full career before going to law school, and that really helped me appreciate the time to be able to spend on reflecting on the law and just learning itself. It had been so many years since I had been able to just kind of focus on learning and absorbing all that information. I really, really enjoyed law school. It was not stressful to me because I’d never thought that I would actually at the end of law school become a practicing lawyer. I always thought that I would go back into just the business world because that was all I knew, and that was what I loved.
Greg Lambert: So, Shari, what made you change your mind?
Shari Mao: I actually summered at Jackson Walker, and it really captivated me. I had the opportunity to work with a lot of clients, family offices, folks who actually are entrepreneurs. It gave me such a gave me such an appreciation for being an attorney and being able to have the honor of actually providing advice to clients who are going through a lot of what my family had gone through as we were making decisions and transitioning our company and looking at succession planning.
It’s been truly an honor. I’ve been with Jackson Walker ever since I graduated, and that is really my focus is working with family owned businesses and family offices. I’ve learned so much from them, even beyond what it is I learned from the business side. I think it has a different flavor in some ways for me, being an Asian American and having kind of my footing in two different cultures in Taiwan and the United States.
Greg Lambert: Thank you, Shari. Sang Shin, you’re up.
Sang Shin: Yeah. Well, Shari’s story attracts many stories that Asian American and Pacific Islanders experience. Mine is very similar. I was born in South Korea, and I moved to the United States when I was 2 with my parents. Most of my childhood was in Charlotte, North Carolina. During that time, I think Charlotte probably resembled – and it’s changed a lot – but it resembled a lot of what Shari’s experience was in terms of there weren’t many people that looked like me.
My parents came there and, you know—they didn’t go to like Los Angeles or New York or anything like that—they went to a smaller town so that they could set up there. For 30 years, my mother owned a laundromat-turned-dry cleaning/alterations, dependent upon the – I mean, in 30 years, a neighborhood can change, right? So, you know, she was an entrepreneur for all that time, but just in a really small one-off business. I grew up in that business. I grew up with different individuals – not Asians, but different individuals that were customers for my mom. I just saw how she did business, how she related to individuals, how she treated her customers, how she conducted business, and that informed a lot.
During that time as immigrants, my parents were navigating that system of being integrated, I would say, into the United States and how that works. But it was hard, right? I think that Shari, you probably went through the same thing. But my parents had a rough immigration history of people that they couldn’t trust with things like how to get their green cards and things like this. I just remember always feeling I want to do something that will make it easier for people like my parents, so I kind of always knew I was going to be in immigration. I didn’t see it developing into more of a business practice that I have a Jackson Walker now, but it’s the same thing. You know, you’re helping individuals and making it easier for them to come into a country that, quite frankly, does not make it sometimes easy to come into. So, that’s kind of how I’ve formed my practice.
When it comes to being a Jackson Walker, what my experience has taught me both as an immigrant, a son of immigrants, a son of an entrepreneurial mom, was that that level of service to your clients and to the people, even within your Firm, is so important and paramount to being successful. Jackson Walker gives you a platform to do that. It’s a very entrepreneurial firm. So just at the core fabric of what we believe in as a firm matches with me personally.
Greg Lambert: Shari Mao and Sang Shin, thank you very much for coming in during AAPI Heritage Month and sharing your stories with us.
Shari Mao: Thank you.
Sang Shin: Thanks, Greg.
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The music is by Eve Searls.