Tell us about your career journey. How did you end up in Korea?
After graduating from engineering school (Virginia Tech, ‘98), I took a position at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as a Patent Examiner. While working here, I started attending George Mason University School of Law (GMUSL) at night.
In my second year of law school, I left the USPTO and became a Patent Agent at a very large law firm in downtown Washington, D.C. At that time (2000), Japanese companies were very aggressive in securing patent protection for their products and Korean companies were just getting started. I became very close friends with a Korean expatriate in the office next to me who told me so much about Korea. After doing some research, it was clear to me that Korea was about to emerge as an intellectual property powerhouse and I quickly decided to focus my career on the Korean market.
In my third year of law school, I moved my job to a mid-sized law firm in Northern Virginia whose main clients were large Korean companies. I had several chances to go on business trips to Korea to help Korean clients, which were a very eye-opening experience. I was impressed that my co-workers genuinely wanted to get to know me personally and that there was an important personal-professional balance in all Korean business relationships.
After graduating from GMUSL in 2003 and passing the Virginia Bar Exam, I opened my own law practice (2004-2019) focusing on the Korean market. The main reason I opened my own law practice was because I wanted the professional freedom to pursue my Korean dream. In 2010, I opened an office in Korea for two years. Finally, in 2019, I joined a large Korean law firm as a partner and moved here permanently.
How have you found life in Korea both in terms of your own comfort and adapting to Korean culture?
Simply, I love living in Korea. I realized this deep down in my bones even from the first time I visited in 2002 and those feelings have only increased over time. The three things I appreciate the most are: (1) the safety, (2) the public services, and (3) the privilege of being able to engage with a culture that has had remarkable continuity for literally thousands of years.
What was the highlight of your Mason experience?
I think the most important thing you learn in law school is how to talk like a lawyer. It is a re-programming of your communication and analytical skills. I truly believe that learning how to communicate appropriately is the most important thing in our careers. When you are talking to lawyers, you need to talk and listen like a lawyer.
Although it is also important to gain some knowledge during your education, you have plenty of opportunities throughout your career to grow your knowledge base and further develop your analytical skills. Remember, you may have something very important to say, but if your communication skills are poor, then nobody will hear that valuable information you are trying to communicate.
By the way, the most important thing I learned in engineering school was to be able to talk like an engineer, so my philosophy about education extends to every educational discipline.
Have you met any other Mason alumni working and living in Korea? Would you be willing to attend alumni get-togethers?
Unfortunately, I have not yet met any Mason alumni here in Korea, which is a real shame. I am looking forward to being highly active in the Mason alumni association here in Korea so that we can increase the intellectual footprint here in Korea. I really enjoy socializing, so alumni activities are a real pleasure for me.
Being alumni of a great university like Mason cannot be minimized. In our professional lives, when we meet new people, we are constantly being judged by which university we attended. One reason for this is because sometimes we do not have very much time to get to know somebody prior to deciding to work with them, so which university you attended is an important reference point.
If a professional had a good experience working with someone from Mason in the past, they will associate that experience with you and give you an opportunity. My main point is that as Mason alumni, we all have a responsibility to each other for our collective reputation.
What is your career advice for Mason students or alumni who may consider working in Korea?
Study the Korean language! It is something that I struggle very hard with, and I wish I had followed my own advice earlier in my career. If you can speak Korean or can at least show Korean people that you are attempting to speak Korean, everything falls into place more naturally. My more specific advice is to take the TOPIK exams and do not stop trying until you pass level 6, which happens to be my personal goal.
Many of the people I went to law school with at Mason are still my friends and many of us work together. Being classmates is such a special experience and allows us to bond more genuinely compared to the professional relationships we develop post-education. My advice to any student is to be very nice to your classmates because you do not know who will be very important for you later.
What does the future hold for you?
My intention is to stay here in Korea indefinitely. At this point, I cannot imagine working any other kind of job besides being a lawyer. I fantasize about being able to speak Korean fluently and I am working as hard as I can towards that fantasy. My instincts are that Mason Korea is going to be an increasingly significant institution here in Korea on so many different levels and I hope that I will have as many opportunities as possible to contribute to that inevitable success.
July 20, 2022