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Tina Matsuoka '01

Tina Matsuoka '01 talks about her role as the Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

Mission and role

The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) is the only national bar association in the United States serving the needs of the Asian Pacific American community. NAPABA advocates for the legal needs and interests of the Asian Pacific American (APA) community and represents the interests of APA attorneys and state and local APA bar associations. NAPABA’s mission is threefold:

  • We are the national voice for the Asian Pacific American legal profession.
  • We promote justice, equity, and opportunity for Asian Pacific Americans.
  • We foster professional development, legal scholarship, advocacy, and community involvement.

As Executive Director, I manage the NAPABA staff and work closely with the NAPABA Board of Governors to promote the advancement of Asian Pacific Americans in the legal profession and to promote justice, equity, and opportunity for the Asian Pacific American community. On a day-to-day basis, this means that I work with staff and volunteers to ensure that our various programs are running smoothly, develop and implement policy and legislative initiatives, manage our budget and fundraise, and manage relations with members and key stakeholders.

The biggest challenge confronting NAPABA

One of the challenges I am grappling with at NAPABA is figuring out how to meet the needs of a growing membership organization that has the enviable problem of growing larger and larger every year. It was only 24 years ago that only 200 or so members attended our first annual convention and we now routinely expect up to 1,500 members at our annual meeting. It’s a great problem to have!

A success story

I am very proud that we established an annual Lobby Day two years ago as an event where our members from across the country can convene in Washington, D.C., to be trained in advocacy and meet with elected representatives to talk about and demand action on a wide range of issues, ranging from anti-trafficking legislation to legislation aimed at curbing racial profiling.

A noteworthy change affecting my work at the NAPABA

The biggest change in my life affecting my work was the birth of my son in February 2011. Being a working parent is a challenge but one that can help you build important life and career skills, including time management, organizing, and effective communication.

My career path

I started my legal career at the office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, working in the civil rights division. I began work exactly a week before September 11 and because of this timing, my caseload included many hate crimes and discrimination cases involving victims who were targeted in the 9/11 backlash. I left the office after about five years during a natural transition when my boss was running for Governor and a new Attorney General was coming into office. I spent a brief time in the private sector working on employment law and then, realizing that I wanted to move away from litigation, I ended up at the Massachusetts State House working on legislative issues in the Senate Counsel’s office. My next stop was NAPABA in Washington, D.C. 

The primary impact of the Stein Scholars Program

The Stein Program served as an anchor for me during law school. The Program administrators and faculty, in addition to my fellow Stein Scholars, helped give me a law school experience that was defined by a commitment to service and the public interest. The Stein Scholars Program has served to ground me even after I left law school, and I always enjoy reading updates from the Stein Scholars Program and talking with my former Stein classmates as well as current Steins.

Advice to current Stein Scholars

My advice to Steins is to be flexible and open to change and new opportunities. What you want when you are 25 may not be what you want at 40 and that’s okay. The key is to have given yourself permission to change course and hopefully to have gained the experience to do what you want to do at each stage of your career. Every job, every volunteer position, every contact—they are all opportunities. If you don’t get your dream job right out of law school, be glad, because if your dream job is one that can be done by a lawyer with no experience, you probably needed to set your sights higher. There are always useful skills or insights you can learn from any job so take advantage of every position you have, even if you think it’s “just for now.” You could be surprised at what you might enjoy, so give yourself a chance and give a 100% effort no matter what it is you’re doing.