Michael Quigley ’80 joined the Charter Hill Society in 2014 and is the Honorary Chair for South Korea. We asked him about his path at Cal and about how the events of 2020 have affected his work at Kim & Chang, one of the world’s top 100 law firms.
You graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in economics before receiving a juris doctorate from Pepperdine. How has your Berkeley education served you in your professional path and more broadly?
I arrived at Cal from Orange, California in 1975 as a rough stone. To this day I am certain that my acceptance letter was a lucky blunder by Cal’s Admission Office that has inured to my lifelong benefit. Though I was ill-equipped to enter Cal, the university welcomed me kindly and with open arms. My first encounter with senior faculty was in Professor Slotman’s class on the Hapsburg Monarchy. It was a large lecture with breakout sessions run by graduate students. Professor Slotman hosted each section to a small cocktail party at his home in the Berkeley hills. Mingling with faculty and students in his home that night, I was awestruck. I felt that I had found some alternate universe unconnected to my past life. Professor Slotman was wickedly smart and so far above anything I could grasp that his kindness, self-effacing humor, and warm empathy caused me to think I had encountered not a man but a bodhisattva from Buddhist mythology; a divinity who elected to stay on earth to guide the rest of us on the path to enlightenment. Later, I found sanctuary in the Economics (I wasn’t completely inept at math) and Rhetoric departments. I took several classes from the late (and chain-smoking), amazing Professor William J. Brandt, including the Rhetoric of Argumentation, for which he wrote the textbook. He and others among the Rhetoric faculty greatly shaped my critical thinking and writing skills. In my upper class years I took courses in labor economics from the legendary Professor Lloyd Ulman and applied econometrics (at a very basic undergraduate level) from Professor Kenneth Train. These and other faculty in the Economics Department refined my analytical skills and opened my eyes to the ways social science can be used to unpack the complexities of the mystifying world in which we live. So, arriving as a rube, I departed Cal four years later with some of my rough edges removed by the skill, dedication, and kindness of the finest university faculty in the country.
"The most influential people in our lives may be our parents, other family members or our cherished teachers. Each of us stands on the bedrock of their strong shoulders. This foundation allows us a platform to realize the potential found within us. Once achieved there comes a time in each of our lives when you must equip yourself to let others stand on your shoulders."
You have been a generous supporter of UC Berkeley and you serve as an honorary chair of the Charter Hill Society for the Social Sciences. What led you to give back to Berkeley? What would you say to someone considering joining the Charter Hill Society?
Earlier this week a good friend and former law partner of mine, Vernon Jordan, passed away at the age of 85 in Washington, D.C. Vernon was one of the wisest people I have ever known. He achieved the highest levels in the legal and corporate worlds. Vernon would often say that you are on your way to becoming a complete person once you recognize that your achievements and successes are not principally the product of your own individual efforts and skill. He observed that we all stand on the shoulders of those that came before us. Sir Isaac Newton nicely capsuled this idea: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." The most influential people in our lives may be our parents, other family members or our cherished teachers. Each of us stands on the bedrock of their strong shoulders. This foundation allows us a platform to realize the potential found within us. Once achieved there comes a time in each of our lives when you must equip yourself to let others stand on your shoulders. This reciprocal duty brings me back to Cal. Whatever my professional accomplishments, I owe an unredeemable debt to my parents and to my teachers, including the faculty that guided and taught me at Cal and subsequently at Pepperdine Law School. My participation in the Charter Hill Society is a small recognition of my reciprocal duty to allow others to stand on my shoulders. I love the expression “pay it forward.” Whoever coined it hit the nail on the head. The Charter Hill Society helps me pay it forward.
You are a senior attorney at Kim & Chang, the largest law firm in South Korea and one of the world’s top 100 law firms. What prompted the move to South Korea? What were some changes in culture or otherwise you didn’t anticipate? Finally, tell us more about what inspired you to join Kim & Chang.
It’s a bit of a long story but, greatly abbreviated, much of it centered on things I learned at Cal. I began my legal career in Washington, D.C. as a trial attorney at the Department of Justice. A mentor, Professor Helen Buckley, urged me to go to DOJ. This was great advice. While at DOJ, I learned the rudiments of effective trial advocacy. After government service, I began private practice and was hired by a large US pharmaceutical company for a tax litigation against the IRS. The issue was transfer pricing; an area of the tax law that governs how multinational companies apportion their profits among the many countries in which they operate. This field is a complex blend of law and economics (thank you Professor Train!) and is vital to the management of multinational firms. I won the case in the US federal courts and gained some notice because of that victory. Transfer pricing was then a fairly new concept to Korea and many Korean companies and the Korean National Tax Service needed help in understanding and applying these rules. I was asked to help and this connected me to Korea for the first time.
Over the years, as my international practice grew, I came to Korea frequently and, in many ways, fell in love with Korea and its amazing and warm people and rich and beautiful culture. The first lawyer I met on an early business trip to Korea was Dr. Young Moo Kim. He is the founding partner and chairman of Kim & Chang. He is a great believer in mentorship and the “pay it forward” philosophy. He has been a source of great wisdom and sound advice to me. In the summer of 2012, I was in Seoul on business and Young Moo Kim and I met for a friendly dinner. He asked if I would ever be interested in moving to Seoul and working at Kim & Chang. I was shocked by the idea! Because I am a US lawyer and do not speak Korean well, I initially thought my living in Korea would be a lark or folly. After some serious reflection, I changed my view. Living in Seoul — a vibrant, rapidly changing, and beautiful major city in a country I had come to respect, admire, and cherish — was intriguing. I began to see the opportunity, in the words of Robert Frost, as a chance to take the road “less traveled.” Eight years later, I can truthfully say that making that choice has “made all the difference.”
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the workplace across fields and geographic locations. South Korea, where you reside, has handled it strategically and swiftly, but you also travel to the United States for work often. That travel has now stopped. How have you navigated the very global aspect of your job amid COVID-19?
The pandemic has changed Korea and the world, no doubt. The suffering it has inflicted on the world is incalculable and an epic tragedy. It will take a long while to heal. I do not see a silver lining to this misery, but there are lessons to be learned from the ordeal. In Korea, the government moved very swiftly to lead the people of Korea to wear masks, wash hands frequently, and practice social distancing. Korea is a small but densely populated country. A quarter of the size of California, Korea’s population is larger by 12 million. There were no protests or complaints about social distancing or the prudence of wearing masks. The people understood the grave threat and heeded the advice of doctors, scientists, and epidemiologists. The nation responded with unity. The government followed through with immediate and careful contact tracing from the outset. All of these measures reduced fatalities and the spread of the virus.
At Kim & Chang our entire firm – lawyers, accountants, staff and our leadership – responded with vigor and diligence. Zoom, Skype, Bluejeans and Microsoft Teams are now part of the basic tool kit of every professional in our firm. We see our clients (via remote meetings) more frequently than before the pandemic. The adoption of these great remote meeting technologies has been swift and transformative. In thirty years of practicing law, I cannot recall a single month I was not on an airplane flying to see a client. Yet, from February 2020 after the pandemic hit, I did not board a plane for one year. So Korea and Kim & Chang and our clients - just like the entire world– are doing their best to adapt. Vaccines are arriving now in a steady supply and I expect that by the end of the summer most of Korea (and hopefully most of the US population) will be vaccinated. Surely, many of the ways the pandemic has compelled us to re-think how we do our jobs and live our lives will be lasting. I predict that more and widely prevalent remote meetings and working, fewer business trips of longer duration and much greater use of connective communication technologies will be lasting changes. I believe that much less emphasis will be given to living near your job and a greater emphasis will be placed on living where you wish to live. I foresee a vastly greater focus on public health and a wide recognition that our individual health is inextricably tied to the health of humanity at large.
"consciousness, is perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from Cal. It is the pursuit of knowledge, awareness, and a deep understanding of our world and your role in it."
What advice would you give to the graduating class of 2021?
To Cal graduates in 2021 I say, I teem with optimism for the future because of your presence in the world. You have the intelligence, wisdom, and training to succeed at anything you undertake. The world has never needed bright, ingenious and dedicated problem solvers more than now. This is your time.
Beyond this exuberance for your future, I also will share one practice over my life and career that has brought me the greatest joy. It’s rudimentary but powerful. Each day I make a focused mindful effort to embrace a balance of love, duty and consciousness. Let me offer a few words to explain this idea. First, I urge you to find love in each and every day. Spend time with your parents and show them and your other mentors deep and true gratitude. Be dedicated to your spouse/partner and your children and shower them with love. And love yourself, for you cannot truly love another person until you learn to love yourself. Second, duty is the purpose or mission that you pursue. Stay dedicated to that purpose and have passion for it. Persevere and be patient and strong during the inevitable struggles and challenges. Whether your purpose is a professional career or raising a family or scientific research or writing great books or making inspiring art or music or movies – the subject is your choice to make. Whatever you choose — pursue it with passion, vigor, and dedication. Third, consciousness, is perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from Cal. It is the pursuit of knowledge, awareness, and a deep understanding of our world and your role in it. Consciousness is crucial. Much of the bitter and angry divisions and hatred that exist today is a function of a lack of common understanding, knowledge, and consciousness. Indeed, all of us are susceptible to being overwhelmed by input overload; too much social media, too many loud and unfounded messages shouted at us, and an endless stream of screaming, opinionated noise. Consciousness and its pursuit teach us how to discern the difference between the truly important things and the merely shrill. By finding love, duty, and consciousness in equal measure every day, your journey will be filled with all of the best things life has to offer. I am certain of it.
Go Bears! -Michael Quigley, Class of 1980