In accepting the 2023 Woman of the Year award from Seattle University School of Law and the Womxn’s Law Caucus, Judge Janet Chung reflected on what she called her “anti-resume” – opportunities missed, choices not made, offers rejected – encouraging the audience to embrace their full stories, not just their successes.
“There is rarely a straight path,” she said. “More often, the path will include false starts, wrong turns, and dead ends. And sometimes it’s what seemed like a failure at the time that provides an opportunity.”
Chung was elected to the Washington State Court of Appeals, Division 1, in November 2022 after being appointed by Governor Jay Inslee earlier that year. Prior to her appointment to the bench, her career focused on advancing economic and gender justice as advocacy director of Columbia Legal Services (CLS).
One missed job opportunity 20 years ago, she said, was a blessing in disguise because it led her instead to join the law school as a faculty member in the renowned Legal Writing Program, where she taught for several years.
“I learned so much from my students and through teaching that I carry forward with me in my work and my life to this day,” she said.
In 2007, Chung left the law school to take a position at the advocacy organization Legal Voice, where she drafted laws on reproductive parity, pregnancy accommodations, and equal pay, and worked to pass the laws on paid sick days and paid family and medical leave. Her litigation helped secure reproductive freedom and stronger workplace protections, including for LGBTQ people and survivors of sexual violence.
At CLS, Chung helped the organization strategically refocus to better serve populations ineligible for traditional legal aid, including people who are incarcerated or who lack U.S. legal status. During her tenure, CLS also launched an innovative community engagement program.
She has stayed connected to Seattle U Law through student mentorship and involvement in the Access to Justice Institute and Public Interest Law Foundation. Over the years, she’s hosted many law students as interns and externs in her advocacy work.
Chung grew up in Texas and began her legal career as a clerk to a federal trial judge in Houston, followed by a Georgetown University Women’s Law and Public Policy fellowship in Washington, D.C. She is a graduate of Yale University and Columbia University School of Law. Chung is a daughter of Korean immigrants, a first-generation lawyer, and a mother of two sons.
The Womxn’s Law Caucus, a student group dedicated to the support and development of women as active and successful members of the legal community, presented the award to Chung at a reception on March 29. The group also presented two student scholarships: the Womxn’s Law Caucus Kellye Testy Scholarship to Katelyn Kelel, Class of 2024; and the Womxn’s Law Caucus and Black Law Students Association G. Helen Whitener Scholarship to Meralina Morales, Class of 2024.