June 27, 2022
June 2022: Leo Yu
Leo Yu (he/him)
Board Member, ACS Dallas-Ft. Worth Lawyer Chapter; ACS Faculty Advisor, SMU Dedman School of Law
When I came to America in 2010, I was 23 years old. My plan was simple – I needed to get my degree in the U.S., and then go back to Shanghai, where I used to work, and make a lot of money there.
That plan did not go anywhere, and I saw that coming in law school. After forcing myself to take business law classes and truly not enjoy any of them, I decided that business law was not my calling.
But what should I do? Constitutional Law was my favorite subject in law school, so I decided to give it a try despite many obvious hurdles – I didn’t go to the “right” law school for this type of works; I was not qualified for clerkships due to my immigration status; I actually needed the money … the list was long. But I told myself: I came to America to be myself, and that has to mean that I get to follow my passion.
After graduating from SMU School of Law, I started my career as a civil rights attorney for the Muslim community, and then a plaintiffs’ attorney for the local government. The journey was bumpy from time to time. Money was a struggle, the workload could get unmanageable, and I learned—in a hard way—that progressiveness does not magically make your workplace inclusive and less biased towards you.
But I still enjoyed it. As a young attorney, I was exposed to a wide variety of constitutional issues in the fields of immigration, national security, and administrative law, and I was given the opportunity to litigate them in court, which is something that does not happen often in the business law world. More importantly, I enjoyed going to the court for a good cause. I enjoyed the process of advocating tough constitutional positions in federal courts. In addition, ACS has played a positive role in my journey. Through ACS’s network, I connected with many attorneys who share the same values and passions with me. I attended ACS’s national convention many times, and it was always intellectually exhilarating.
Presently, I am a clinical law professor at my alma mater, and I teach Civil Rights Litigation, Perspectives of the American Legal System, and Legal Writing and Research for International Lawyers. My classroom is filled with students from different countries, with different backgrounds. I tell them that I really don’t believe that our constitution is a “dead, dead, document” – nobody comes all the way across oceans to learn about a dead document. On the contrary, it is the aliveness and openness of our constitution that makes the American legal system uniquely attractive. That’s why people like you and me come to this country, because we believe that in a system with many possibilities, we will eventually find our space. This is what America is really about.