Second-Generation Success

Intellectual property attorney Janet Kim Lin’s heritage is a source of strength

Published in 2013 Washington Super Lawyers Magazine

Growing up in Federal Way, Janet Kim Lin found herself living in two different cultures.

“Korean at home and American at school,” she recalls.

That has turned out to be an advantage for the intellectual property attorney at K&L Gates in Seattle.

“I just kind of take it in stride that people do things differently,” she says. “Especially for my practice, as things become more global and international, that really helps.”

Lin initially specialized in real property and construction litigation—an area she did not find compelling, but in which her first firm needed help. “I was always interested in technology,” she says. “I had wanted to do IP after law school, but I graduated right as the dot-com bubble was bursting, and it wasn’t a great time for IP practices.”

When the dot-com clouds cleared, Lin got an LL.M. degree in intellectual property at the University of Washington School of Law and went to work for K&L Gates. “It is very exciting, dealing with very novel issues,” she says. “And the client base is very diverse and progressive, which I like.”

Here’s where her background comes in handy: “I do a lot of work for companies whose headquarters are in Asia. Understanding those different communication styles helps me.”

Lin’s parents grew up in South Korea and joined the wave of immigrants to the U.S. in the late 1970s, moving to Hawaii. At the time, South Korea was one of the poorest nations in the world. Her parents were determined to improve their children’s lives. Lin was born in Hawaii, where her father got a job as a taxicab driver and tour guide, and her mother worked in a hotel. 

They did not stay in Hawaii for long. “There were better opportunities in Washington state,” Lin says. “Immigrant families are always risk takers.” Her parents landed in Federal Way, home to a large Korean community, and started the first of many businesses. At various times, she says, “my parents owned a restaurant, gift shops, even a hotel near Sea-Tac Airport.” Lin recalls both her mother and father working from morning till nightfall.

Of course, there were challenges growing up in an immigrant family. As the oldest child, Lin often acted as the translator for her parents, and she couldn’t turn to them for help with her homework. “There were lots of times I had to explain things to my friends, like Korean food,” she recalls. 

Lin is still awed by the sacrifice her mother and father made. “It would be so hard to do what my parents did,” she says. “I can’t imagine going to a foreign country and starting over like that, without having a community, without speaking the language.”

Hers was a childhood with clear expectations. “Education was the top priority,” she says. “It was basically my job, ingrained as soon as you started school.” Lin’s parents were not wealthy, but they saved enough to send both her and her younger brother to private school. The outcome was never in doubt.

“I just never really thought, ‘Oh, I want to be an artist,” Lin says. “I always wanted to be a professional, like a lawyer, a doctor. … I wanted to be in a professional setting that had a lot of security.”

Being female didn’t matter. “I was the firstborn child. I never felt that, because I was female, anything less was expected of me.”

It was law that intrigued her. She majored in business at the UW, then went to Boston University for her law degree and a simultaneous MBA. Her parents were pleased. “Law is highly respected in their culture,” Lin says. But the formality of her ancestral culture echoed through her first years as an attorney. “In Asia, you don’t call elders by their names. You call them by their titles.

“When I first started in my practice, even calling people here by their first names felt unusual. It took me a couple of years. But then, one day, I just came to the realization that I don’t even think about it anymore.”

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