Minami Tamaki LLP Senior Counsel Dale Minami, recently awarded the ABA Medal, was profiled by Lorelei Laird in the September-October 2019 issue of the ABA Journal, the flagship publication of the American Bar Association. Published monthly, it is read by more than half of the nation’s 1.1 million lawyers.
ABA Medal recipient Dale Minami built a career around inclusion and civil rights for Asian Americans
Dale Minami didn’t know what the ABA was for the first nine years of his legal career. Then, in 1981, an invitation came.
The ABA was hosting a national institute of minority lawyers in Washington, D.C., along with several affinity bar associations. Minami was invited to help hash out reforms within the profession to help attorneys of color and their clients. But the subtext—based on Minami’s recollections and contemporary coverage from the ABA Journal—was an apology for past discrimination and an appeal to minority lawyers to join forces with the association.
The event prompted Minami and others to form the first national bar association for Asian Pacific Americans. Though that effort failed, he says, it planted the seed for the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, which was founded in 1988.
“And now we have an organization that was inspired by the ABA, truthfully, in many ways,” says Minami, who practices at Minami Tamaki in San Francisco and has been an ABA member for some 30 years. “They set us on the road to forming an organization. They welcomed us.”
On Aug. 10, Minami received the ABA Medal—the association’s highest honor—because he has spent his career working toward exactly that type of inclusion. It will not be the first ABA award for the attorney, who is also a past recipient of the ABA’s Thurgood Marshall Award and Spirit of Excellence Award.
Though Minami’s law firm calls him senior counsel in personal injury law, he’s better known as one of the lawyers who helped overturn the conviction of Fred Korematsu, the Japanese American man whose name is on a notorious and widely repudiated U.S. Supreme Court case. With far less publicity, he’s also helped blaze trails for Asian Pacific Americans and other people of color.
“He has a powerful passion for social justice that drives him,” says friend and former law partner Mike Lee, a solo in San Francisco. “And he puts his efforts and time into addressing his passion for justice.”