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Victor Hwang, Managing Attorney

Victor Hwang of Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach

One of the most free and democratic countries in the world, America is sorely lagging on the ideal that everyone is created equal. Racism, prejudice, and no access to special services are just a few of the barriers that have created divided communities. Victor Hwang, 39, and the Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach (APILO) are out to tear those barriers down. Founded in 1975, APILO serves the Bay Area’s diverse API community by providing legal representation to the most neglected or alienated members, but it goes beyond that. They’re also partnered with several social service organizations that assist in anything from providing shelter to empowering individuals going through hard times. Beyond their strategic partnerships and hard work, much of their success also lies in their ability to effectively communicate with their clients: the staff can speak over 12 languages and dialects. There’s so much more to this organization, so be sure to check out this week’s Non-Profit Spotlight for all the details.


Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach





Name, Title

Victor M. Hwang
Managing Attorney




Warren, New Jersey

Current residence

San Francisco, California


J.D., U.S.C. 1992
B.A., U.C. Berkeley 1989

Work Experience

API Legal Outreach 2001 – present

Asian Law Caucus 1996 – 2001

Los Angeles County Public Defender 1992 – 1996



About the non-profit

Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach (formerly Nihonmachi Legal Outreach) is the largest social justice law firm serving the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities of the Greater Bay Area. We provide legal counseling and representation to the most marginalized segments of the API community including survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, immigrants, youth, and seniors.

Our staff of nearly 30, located in offices in San Francisco and Oakland, speak more than a dozen different API dialects and languages. In the past few years, we have been a strong advocate for immigrant rights- representing Arabs and South Asians in post-9/11 issues, defending families from removal and deportation, and advocating for victims of human trafficking from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In 2006, we also authored and filed a statewide appellate amicus brief on behalf of 25 API community groups supporting the right to marry for all (Woo v. Lockyer).

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

I spend a good part of my time doing active legal casework: representing victims of domestic violence and child abuse in courts throughout the Bay Area.

We also speak out and advocate on a number of social justice issues including immigrant rights, language access, police misconduct, hate violence, affirmative action, and same-sex marriage.

Finally, as managing attorney, I supervise our legal team of 15 which includes attorneys, volunteers, law clerks, and paralegals.

Most notable milestones

Each time I represent a domestic violence survivor, there is a “notable milestone” the day she realizes that she has the right to be free of abuse and intimidation. Some of the larger cases that I have litigated include:

  • Woo v. Lockyer – filed appellate amicus brief on behalf of Asian American community defending the right to marry for all.
  • Zheng v. Dept. of Corrections – co-counseled case on behalf of Asian American inmate put into solitary confinement after petitioning for ethnic studies to be incorporated into prison educational curriculum (www.eddyzheng.org).
  • People v. Dr. Wen Ho Lee – filed national amicus brief on behalf of API community on issue of racial profiling, convened national level organizing on behalf of Dr. Lee.
  • Truong v. S.F. Housing Authority – class action litigation against housing authority for its failure to protect Southeast Asian residents from hate violence.
  • Kao v. Rohnert Park – lawsuit against police for killing an Asian father of three based on martial arts stereotype.
  • Yang v. Glickman – class action on behalf of Hmong veterans against food stamp cuts.
  • Sutich v. Callahan – national class action on behalf of immigrants impacted by 1996 welfare “reform” law.

  • Aside from my day job, I have also served as President of the Asian American Bar Association, as a member of the State Bar Ethnic Minority Relations Commission, and currently sit on the San Francisco Elections Commission. I have also published an anthology on Anti-Asian Violence and teach as an adjunct professor of law at Golden Gate University and Boalt.

    What’s the niche?

    I think two things make API Legal Outreach unique, our commitment to serving all the segments of the API community (not just the Chinese and Japanese) and our practice in providing holistic services.

    As an API organization, we have one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse staffs around with staff who speak more than a dozen different languages and dialects including Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Tagalog, Taiwanese, Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, Toisanese, Spanish and Burmese. We believe in empowering communities by helping to build infrastructure and community-based legal resources.

    On a day to day basis, we also strive to provide holistic client services meaning that in partnership with social service agencies, we try to address all of the legal and social service needs of a client. In a “typical” case, we may file for an emergency restraining order, advocate for the client within the criminal justice system, file papers for divorce to address issues of child custody and support, assist with immigration, public benefits or housing, and help in setting the client on a path towards independence and recovery.

    Each of our clients is also supported by one our closest social service partners including the Asian Women’s Shelter, Narika, Shimtuh, and Cameron House. These agencies work in partnership with us to provide client empowerment and support, language access, job training, and peer counseling so that each victim will become a survivor.

    What’s the biggest challenge?

    The biggest challenge is also balancing the needs of the community and securing funding to do the critical (yet often unsexy) work that we do. Many government agencies and private foundations are reluctant to support API groups under the belief that our community is thriving under the model minority myth. At the same time, there is little private philanthropy from the API community to support community groups.

    What’s in store for the future?

    We’ve recently completed purchase of a new building in San Francisco where we’ll be moving this summer to establish our permanent home. We hope to use our space to both do our work, but also provide a center and meeting space for other nonprofits engaged in similar struggles.

    Who would you like to be contacted by?

    Attorneys looking to do pro bono work, people interested in donating or volunteering at our fundraising events, or folks interested in joining our capital campaign.

    For you online shoppers, access Amazon through our website at www.apilegaloutreach.org and a portion of all proceeds will go to support our work.

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    Best way to keep a competitive edge

    My clients motivate me to be at the top of my game. Each of them, monolingual, unfamiliar with the legal system, often in crisis – is a hero to me in standing up against injustice whether personal or systemic. As someone who has had the benefit of growing up and being educated in the U.S., I can’t afford to be the weak link and lose a case because I’m not doing my personal best. Whether it’s a client facing state prison time, at risk of losing her children, or someone facing deportation, the stakes are too high not to be motivated.

    Guiding principle in life

    Life is short, live for the moment.

    Yardstick of success

    I want to be completely exhausted at the end of each day and feel like I’ve accomplished something constructive.

    Goal yet to be achieved

    I would like to get a part-time gig as a professional bartender.

    Best practical advice

    Find mentorship and peers who can help you stay true to the path. I rarely make an important decision without running it by my jury.

    Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture

    I am fortunate that my parents have always been supportive of my commitment to public interest work. Probably in true Chinese form, the supportive words have been something along the lines of “you’re doing not bad.”

    Mentor(s) and why?

    I have had the benefit of many mentors through my professional career. Early on, I externed for Judge Robert Takasugi – one of the true unsung heroes in the API legal community. I still remember that on my first day as a new extern, the Judge told me that there are too kinds of judges, those who think that you apply the law to the facts to get justice, and those who know justice and work their way back to find the right laws to get there. Time and time again, Judge Takasugi has walked alone on matters of principle regardless of personal or professional consequences. This is a model I aspire to in my daily practice. Other mentors (most of whom have also been mentored by the Judge) include Mia Yamamoto, Angela Oh, and Dale Minami.

    What motivated you to get started?

    I went to law school to be a social justice activist. I’m not sure that there’s a moment where it starts – you are either passionate about wanting to make a difference or you’re not. It’s not really a choice.

    Like best about what you do?

    Being able to help make a difference in people’s lives.

    Like least about what you do?

    Paperwork, bureaucracy and fundraising.

    At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

    I always thought I would be a writer.

    What was your first job?

    Working as a busboy in the late night shift at the King George Inn. I worked from 6pm to 1pm for $20 and all the leftovers you could eat off the plates coming back from the dining room.

    Biggest pastime outside of work

    Playing with my kids and volleyball when I can sneak it in.

    Person most interested in meeting and why?

    Myself ten years from now because I could really use some career advice right now.

    Leader in business most interested in meeting and why?

    I wouldn’t be able to name a leader in business, but if I did meet one, I’d make a pitch for why they should donate to my nonprofit.

    Three interesting facts about yourself

    1. I have lots of ideas and very little filter before they’re aired publicly.
    2. I have super-sleep powers allowing me to sleep at a moment’s notice.
    3. I am often asked if I have perfected cloning (my kids look like me).

    Three characteristics that describe you

    1. Optimistic
    2. Loyal
    3. Insightful

    Three greatest passions

    1. Spending time with family
    2. Volleyball
    3. Poker

    Favorite book

    Right now, I would have to say “The Holes in Your Nose” since I read it at least several nights a week.

    Favorite cause

    I think the most glaring violation of civil rights at this moment is the denial of marriage equality to same-sex couples. The State has no business telling folks who are committed to each other who they can and can’t love and marry. It’s hard to imagine that in this day and age, we’re still debating this issue. We take for granted now that folks of any race can intermarry- I can only hope that my children one day will look back and ask why same-sex marriage was such a big deal.

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    Interview by Vanessa Chan
    Introduction by Kaiser Shahid
    Edited by Sumaya Kazi

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