Athena Fan’s Unique Voice Took Her from Public Interest Advocate to Legal Start-Up Founder

Topics: Diversity, Leadership, Next Gen Leadership: Advancing Lawyers of Color Advisory Board, Thomson Reuters, Women’s Leadership Interviews & White Papers

ABA

Athena Fan joined the advisory board of the Next Gen Leadership: Advancing Lawyers of Color (NGL: ALC) initiative in order to direct her commitment to increase the diversity of the legal innovation pipeline by creating inclusive and data-driven access to justice tools.

In this blog post, she shares how her family’s challenges inspired her passion in public interest law and her drive to start a legal tech company to close the access-to-justice gap. She also describes how joining the advisory board of the NGL: ALC provides a platform to take advantage of the unique combination of her childhood, academic, and professional experiences.

Inspired by Immigrant Parents’ Legal Challenges to Pursue Public Interest Law

Athena grew up as a first-generation immigrant in Silicon Valley, and she witnessed her family experience several legal problems as she was growing up. These challenges propelled Athena to pursue a career in the law and to break new ground within the industry as a founder of a legal start-up called Bite Size Legal, which is a business-to-consumer company that empowers consumers to address for themselves their civil legal issues. Its first product launch is focused on housing rental issues and is accessible as a web platform.

Public interest law has always been a priority for Athena, and it directed her choices in what undergraduate university she attended and where she went to law school. After graduating from UC-San Diego but before attending the American University Washington College of Law, she volunteered with the Asian Law Alliance, which helps low-income people gain access to critical legal services.

How She Honed Marketing, Sales & Influencing Skills

To gain experience and confidence as an early career founder and professional within the legal industry, she worked in sales and business development for various technology companies before law school. Though she encountered many challenging work situations, these experiences expanded her sales skills and prepared her to speak to people and market herself and Bite Size Legal’s brand. “Taking a sales job is something that everyone should do in their career because working in sales and business development will train you to talk to people and market yourself,” she said.

Athena was a NextGen fellow with the ABA Center for Innovation, and for her, this opportunity pushed her into the spotlight. It offered her access to speaking opportunities at well-known legal tech conferences and connected her to other founders and partners for her entrepreneurship endeavors. In addition, the year-long fellowship also enabled her to further hone her technical skills.

Why She Joined the Next Gen Leadership: Advancing Lawyers of Color Advisory Board

Athena joined the advisory board to contribute her unique voice to the conversation and to the digital platform. “As a woman of color with a legal background who is in the legal tech entrepreneurship space, I am a minority on every front,” she explained.

“At times, I feel like a warrior charging forward alone in this battlefield. I believe that my experiences and the challenges that I am facing help me contribute a unique and useful voice for the initiative.” Athena appreciates the goals of the initiative because she believes we are at a pivotal point in the legal industry, and now more than ever, it is important “to focus and be inclusive of female lawyers and lawyers of color… and it is only with an inclusive intention that we are able to advance the legal career as a whole.” Another reason she joined the board is “to give back to the community and continue to be a Next Gen leader in the legal space and also in the legal innovation space.”

What excites her most about the initiative is the fact that it is digital. “It is very relevant to the current trends of how next-gen lawyers engage and interact online,” she said. The fact that the initiative is exclusively digital also democratizes the accessibility of the guidance, stories, and career wisdom that is shared by attorneys of color. It is “very attractive to the next generation of tech-savvy attorneys and attorneys of color. Being in the digital space allows the participants more time to be thoughtful and reflective of their personal experiences.”