Magazine Feature / People

Chan follows in hero’s footsteps

photo portrait

Paul Chan

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.

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 the first Asian-Pacific American to head the organization.

“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.

Now, well into his one-year term as president of the Denver Bar Association, Chan leads 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. 

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

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