About USC Gould
USC Gould is a top-ranked law school with a 120-year history and reputation for academic excellence. We are located on the beautiful 228-acre USC University Park Campus, just south of downtown Los Angeles.
Learn about our interdisciplinary curriculum, experiential learning opportunities and specialized areas.
Student Quick Links:
USC Gould helps prepare you for a stellar legal career. You can pursue a JD degree, one of our numerous graduate and international offerings, or an online degree or certificate.
Participate in an unparalleled learning experience with diversity of people and thought. Get involved in the law school community and participate in activities that enhance your studies.
Student Quick Links:
We work closely with students, graduates and employers to support successful career goals and outcomes. Our overall placement rate is consistently strong, with 94 percent of our JD class employed within 10 months after graduation.
Our faculty is distinguished for its scholarship, as well as for its commitment to teaching. Our 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio creates an intimate and collegial learning environment.
- Alumni and Giving
A career of advancing Asian American inclusion in law
USC Gould School of Law
- ABOUT USC GOULD
- A MESSAGE FROM THE DEAN
- + HISTORY OF USC GOULD
- LAW, RACE AND EQUITY
- + NEWS
- + EVENTS
- BOARD OF COUNCILORS
- CONSUMER INFORMATION (ABA REQUIRED DISCLOSURES)
- VISIT US
- SOCIAL MEDIA
- + CONTACT US
Tuesday, May 17, 2022
By Diane Krieger
|Albert Lum, with wife Theresa, and daughters Jennifer, 18 months, and Mina, 6 months, at his USC Gould graduation in 1962. At the time, Lum was two credits shy of completing his law degree, but "USC allowed me to go through the ceremonies,” he recalls. Admitted to the California bar in 1963, Lum began practice immediately and returned two years later for the missing legal writing course. "Funnily, I used my Supreme Court case brief as part of the course requirement,” he says. Lum officially earned his LLB in 1965.|
At a time when Chinese Americans were kept at arm’s length by the Los Angeles legal community, he spearheaded the Southern California Chinese Lawyers’ Association (SCCLA) and used his political clout to put members on the California bench.
At a time when clients from Chinatown had nowhere else to turn, he practiced general law that catered to the community’s every legal need.
At a time when casual racism was the norm, he fearlessly pushed back.
“I’m not going to let somebody step on me,” says Lum, 88, who speaks vigorously with a strong Arkansas accent. “Has anybody got the right to say to me, ‘Go back where you came from?’ Hell no! When my grandchildren have children, they’ll be fifth-generation Americans. I haven't, throughout my life, backed down, and I don’t ever intend to.”
Born in West Memphis, Ark., in 1934, Lum was the youngest of six children born to Bertha and Charlie Lum. His mother, who came from Mississippi, and father, a Chinese immigrant, opened a grocery store and a restaurant. Though Bertha had only a second-grade education and Charlie had no formal schooling, they were fierce advocates for their children’s educational rights. When the Lums were told in the 1930s that their kids could not attend the local public school—because they’d been deemed “colored”—Bertha fought tooth and nail to get them admitted. A close family friend from Mississippi, Katherine Lum (no relation), had brought the same issue before the Supreme Court in Lum v. Rice, and lost. The 1927 decision was later overturned in 1954 by Brown v. Board of Education.
An all-star quarterback, Lum was voted “best boy athlete” and “best all-around” in his high school yearbook. Athletic prowess commanded respect in their rural Arkansas community. But strangers could be hateful.
He vividly recalls a passerby muttering a racial slur as he and a cousin sat in a West Memphis coffee shop late one night. Fists balled, the cousins chased their tormentor into the parking lot. “He didn’t expect that,” Lum says, chuckling at the memory.
He continued to face discrimination but kept pushing back.
Journey into law
|Albert and Theresa Lum|
“Financially, I just couldn’t make it at UCLA,” he says, “so I chose USC. And I’m really happy I did. The night program was tremendous. Very demanding.”
Classes met five nights a week, year-round, for four years. Half the students didn’t finish the program, but Lum persevered. He was married and a father of two by graduation. He’d met Theresa Cheng at a mutual friend’s wedding reception in 1959. An international student from Taiwan, she came from Beijing intelligentsia who had fled communism.
“My wife spoke perfect Mandarin, and I spoke nothing. I’m a Southern boy. I can’t read any of that,” he says, waving at the Chinese calligraphy wall art in a conference room of the Lum Law Group’s Pasadena office.
Lum credits Theresa — his interpreter in high-stakes meetings with Mandarin-speaking clients — for his professional and financial success.
No white-shoe law firm would hire him as an associate in 1963, so Lum went to work for accountant-attorney Edward Eng in Chinatown. One of his first cases, representing a client blocked from inheriting property left by his late mother in China, went all the way to the Supreme Court (In re Estate of Lillian Ng). He later worked with Hiram Kwan.
Lum trained himself to be a generalist. Tax and corporate law, personal injury, immigration – “you had to know everything,” he says, “because you knew that if you didn’t take the case, nobody would take it.”
He opened L.A.’s first Chinese minority law firm in downtown, Lum & Ku, with branch offices in San Francisco and Taipei. In the late 1980s, Lum accepted a Big Law partnership at Lewis, D’Amato Brisbois and Bisgaard. He exited in 1990 and started his current practice in Pasadena.
When Lum started in 1963, only about a dozen Chinese-American lawyers were practicing in the Southland. By 1975, when he convened SCCLA’s first informal meeting, 45 attorneys were in attendance. Los Angeles County’s earliest “special bar” group became the model for others to follow; it remains the region’s most active.
Among Lum’s proudest achievements was persuading then-Gov. Jerry Brown to name three SCCLA members to the bench.
In a nod to the group’s clout, the governor’s legal affairs secretary broke protocol when he invited Lum to make the official calls informing Judge James Yip and Judge Harry Mock of their selection.
Lum had no desire to serve on the bench. Over his long career, he represented hundreds of clients — from local shopkeepers, to major commercial airlines in Taiwan and Singapore, to astronaut Taylor Wong, the first ethnic Chinese person to go into space. He worked on political campaigns for Mike Dukakis, Dianne Feinstein and Gray Davis. He even made a run for U.S. Congress, losing the Democratic primary to Xavier Becerra in 1992.
He and Theresa invested in an air cargo service, a newspaper, a restaurant. They produced a Chinese acrobat show at the Tropicana in Las Vegas.
“How many people get to do that?” Lum says, with a genial grin.
They loved Vegas. Lum Law Group still has a branch office there. Theresa, who passed away in 2015, could be found at the card tables right up to the end.
At 88, Lum is making final edits to his book-length memoir. He still keeps a finger in the family practice, where his son Justin is the managing partner. Lum’s other son, Robert, was a partner until his death in 2017. Daughter Jennifer Lum, a former assistant U.S. attorney and magistrate judge, is now Caltech’s general counsel. His fourth child, Mina, is the only non-lawyer: she’s a banker in New York.
Combined, they’ve given Lum 10 grandchildren — all fourth-generation Americans with an unforgettable role model who wouldn’t dream of staying silent if someone dared suggest he “go back where you came from.”
USC Gould Commencement Day 2023 - Ceremony Videos
May 12, 2023
Join the USC Gould School of Law in celebrating the accomplishments of the Class of 2023!
Katherine Sims JD ’23 to continue championing public service after graduation
May 11, 2023
Through the highly selective CA Attorney General Honors Program, Sims will be joining the CA Department of Justice
Rohan Garg JD ’23 to be Gould’s flag bearer for USC commencement ceremony
May 11, 2023
Garg is a DEI fellow and founder of the trial advocacy team at USC Gould