This article about WMU-Cooley graduate (J.D. Marshall Class, 2013, cum laude; LL.M./Insurance, McLean Class 2015) was written by Legal News writer Sheila Pursglove and originally published by the Legal News on Feb. 15, 2016. It is reprinted here with permission of The Detroit Legal News.
Lansing attorney Joseph Lee Yang is one of only two Hmong lawyers in the state of Michigan and the only one in private practice. “I’ve always wanted to help my people and felt this was a gap I could fill – hopefully they feel the same way too,” he says.
Yang has several Hmong clients, who trace their roots to the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. “I’ve found they don’t really call unless they need a fire put out,” he says. “I’ve been trying to change that by providing education about pre-planning and the importance of getting your affairs in order before legal issues arise.”
A graduate of Lansing Everett High School, Yang earned an associate’s degree in Information Technology from Lansing Community College, an undergrad degree in Information and Technology Management from Michigan State University, and his J.D., cum laude, from Cooley Law School, where he was associate editor of the Law Review, president of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association and of the Weekend Law Society, a Cooley Ambassador, and a member of the Parent Law Student Association.
“I was primarily a weekend student at Cooley, and I enjoyed the practical knowledge that was shared by the professors,” he says. “I appreciate legal theory, but learning skills that helped the rubber hit the road prepared me to go solo right out of law school.”
He opened the Law Office of Joseph L. Yang PLLC, in Lansing in July 2014, and specializes in criminal defense, contract drafting and estate planning. In addition to legal services, he also is a notary, and a Hmong translator. “I enjoy being able to set my own rules and decide which clients to take on,” he says.
Named in 2013 among The Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce and Grand River Connection’s annual “10 Over the Next Ten” rising young attorneys, Yang has also earned a master’s degree in insurance law from Cooley. “I have a background in IT and business, and I’d like to merge that with my legal skills,” he says. “I think that the merging of all three give me the technical knowledge, attention to detail and people skills that would translate well in the insurance law field.”
A member of the Ingham County Bar Association, Yang has been involved for a few years in the annual ICBA charity golf outing. “It’s fun to see everyone out of their dark suits, and just having fun on the course – although, I don’t know how to play,” he says.
The youngest of seven children, and the only boy, Yang is the only sibling born in the United States. His family, forced out of their homeland by the Vietnam War, came to the Lansing area under the sponsorship of the Presbyterian Church of Okemos, whose members sponsored a number of Hmong families from Thailand refugee camps. “My mom has returned once but I’ve never been there,” he says. “I hope to take a trip soon with my family so my mom can go with us and tell us all her war stories. She has tons of them.”
A Lansing native, Yang has lived in the state’s capital his entire life, and makes his home there with his wife, Ger, and children, Logan, Ginger and Alex. “When I submitted my bar materials, I realized I’ve never been away from Lansing for more than 10 days in a row,” he says. “I love the fact I can get anywhere and do anything in about 20 minutes. Lansing is a great city, and it’s where I want to raise my three children.” In his leisure time, Yang enjoys playing basketball, collecting “Spawn” action figures, and serving on the Hmong New Year Committee.
A member of the Michigan Asian-Pacific American Bar Association (MAPABA), the Delta-Waverly Rotary Club, HAC of Lansing (Hmong American Community Inc., of Lansing), and South Lansing Business Association, he also has served as Director of Operations for the nonprofit Boys & Girls Club for 11 years. “Until someone can persuade me otherwise, I plan to be there as long as I can,” he says. “Working there and being solo has worked out well so far.
“I enjoy seeing kids grow. Some of the kids I knew when I first started are in college, working, or starting their own families. You never know what kind of impact you will have on a child until they tell you years later that you inspired them to do better. That’s food for the soul.”