Magazine Feature / People

Attorney Paul Chan follows in hero’s footsteps

When Paul Chan was asked to consider running for president of the Denver Bar Association, he knew it wasn’t really a choice. After all, he could never turn down the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of one of his heroes — early civil rights champion and former Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr.

Carr, who was governor from 1939–43, criticized World War II Japanese internment camps and welcomed Japanese-American evacuees to Colorado. This unpopular position cost Carr his political career, but he went on to become president of the Denver Bar Association in 1945.

Now Chan (BA English ’81) has taken on that same post, and Carr’s act of “human compassion and decency” is serving to inspire him as he becomes the first Asian-Pacific American to head the organization.

In fact, Chan says one of his goals as president is to “reach out to diverse attorneys—not just different ethnic groups but also government and in-house lawyers who in general are not as active in the bar association.”

“There’s a misperception that if you’re not involved in a law practice, you can’t benefit from being part of the bar association,” Chan says. “But, I’m a perfect example of someone who has benefited.”

It was through the Denver Bar Association that Chan met former DU College of Law Dean Dennis Lynch, who encouraged him to start teaching at the school as an adjunct professor. That, in turn, led to Chan’s current position as DU general counsel, a job he’s held since 1997.

During his one-year term as president of the Denver Bar Association, Chan will lead an organization of some 7,800 lawyers. It is one of the largest volunteer bar associations in the country and an important source of community support, he notes.

Each year, the association sponsors a school-supply drive for Denver Public Schools and raises funds for program such as Work Options for Women and the Children’s Outreach Project. And this year, the Barristers’ Ball raised more than $90,000 for Metro Volunteer Lawyers, which provides free and low-cost legal services to low-income community members.

“I want to spread the word on how generous lawyers are to the community,” Chan says.

This article originally appeared in The University of Denver Magazine, Winter 2006.

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