KLC Alumni Interview with Sarah Choi

Sarah Choi, Associate Attorney, Cooley LLP (Santa Monica Office)

Sarah Choi graduated from UCI School of Law (UCI Law) in 2018 and was admitted to practice law in California in the same year. While attending UCI Law, Sarah was the inaugural research fellow of the Korea Law Center. During her tenure with the Korea Law Center at UCI Law, Sarah played a pivotal role in orchestrating many of the Center’s key events, including the joint mentorship conference with Council of Korean Americans (CKA) and the UCI Law delegation’s visit to Seoul Korea in May 2017. In addition, Sarah was an associate editor for the UC Irvine Law Review and also served as a judicial extern to the Honorable Otis D. Wright II, US District Court Judge for the Central District of California. Her current practice at Cooley LLP focuses on emerging companies, mergers & acquisitions, venture capital, and general corporate matters. 

Korea Law Center research fellow Jinho Noh had a conversation with Sarah Choi on October 7th, 2019. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation which spanned Sarah’s background, motivation, personal thoughts, and some practical advice to current UCI Law students:

Tell me about your background. Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Irvine, Southern California. I went to USC in Los Angeles and came back to Irvine to attend UCI Law. So, I have not spent much time away from Southern California – it’s difficult to leave the great weather!

Why did you go to law school?

When I was studying at USC, I worked on a documentary film project titled “The Drop Box,” which was about adoption and reproduction rights in Korea. While working on this project, I became really interested in how laws impact social change. Secondly, as a producer I got to work with a number of lawyers on a variety of matters including dealing with contracts and I found out I was pretty good at it and enjoyed the work. So eventually, I decided to pursue a legal education.

Why UCI Law?

I really admired the idea of joining a small and entrepreneurial community. When I applied, UCI Law was not officially ranked and was such a new school. I knew that the school had done several innovative things such as hands-on learning; interdisciplinary study; public service; had an active Pro Bono program and also was a tight-knit community. I really appreciated those qualities and I wanted to be in a place where I could take an initiative in structuring my own legal path. For these reasons, I thought UCI Law was the perfect place to do that.

Why did you join KLC and how did you like it?

It was Professor Kim’s first year in UCI Law, and she was my Contracts professor during my 1L year. So, during our chat, she shared some of her ideas about the Korea Law Center with me. Since I was already very interested in doing legal research and other work related to Korea, I naturally became interested in joining the center and was able to do some really interesting and substantive work. Given that international law is a required course during a student’s first year at UCI Law, I appreciated the school’s effort in making one’s legal education pertinent not only on a domestic level, but an international level as well. It felt appropriate to apply this as well as my Korean-American background beyond the classrooms of Irvine, and instead to a global arena. Being a part of KLC was a highlight of my law school experience. In particular, I will always remember the UCI Law delegation’s visit to Seoul Korea in May 2017 where we visited with leaders of Korea’s Supreme Court and presented on a variety of cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural issues including Freedom of Expression in South Korea.

Why did you choose to work in your current law firm (Cooley LLP), especially regarding your current specialty (transactional business) and how do you like it so far?

I knew I wanted to practice transactional law since I studied business during my undergrad and knew that Cooley was a top corporate law firm. Cooley is a full-service firm, but has particular strength in the technology and emerging companies sectors, which aligned with my interests in entrepreneurship and business. And much like UCI Law, the Cooley Los Angeles office was relatively a new office where there would be a lot of opportunities for growth and development. On a daily basis, I work with creative and sophisticated entrepreneurs to help start and develop their companies, which is really exciting to me. Whether it’s helping incorporate a business or working through a Company’s exit strategy via a merger, acquisition or IPO, it’s rewarding to be able to partner with and advise our clients to help them reach their visions and goals.

What were the biggest struggles you had when you attended law school and how did you overcome them?

As you’ll often hear, law school feels like you’re learning a new language. So amidst everything being substantively and technically new, one of the great challenges is time management and discipline. There’s a lot of work involved along with long hours, but I think going through that in law school helps to train you for what’s to come in the workforce. Every time I felt like I was behind or struggling in any way, the best way I overcame this was by reminding myself the purpose and reasons for why I came to law school in the first place. Giving yourself perspective is really important and setting gentle reminders for why you’ve decided to pursue this path is helpful to give you the little push when you need it.

Since you now must be working with many other lawyers who graduated from other law schools, what do you think is the most remarkable thing that distinguishes UCI from other law schools?

I think the greatest difference between UCI and other law schools is a sense of community. Since UCI is a relatively smaller and newer school, students seem to be invested not only in their own legal careers, but in the school itself. UCI also has a world-renowned faculty, which makes all the difference in one’s law school experience. I’m not sure what’s it like at other law schools, but the faculty at UCI Law are not only brilliant on an academic level, but overall incredibly approachable and want to invest in the legal education and careers of their students.

How did you prepare for the bar exam? How long did you study per day?

The bar exam is really a marathon, so one needs to both mentally and physical well. The test is really about persistence and consistency. It also requires a lot of endurance over a two-month period where you want to put in 250% of your effort. I built myself a routine and plan for the two-month study period and stuck to that during my bar preparations. Other than that, as I would do during law school exams or times of high-stress, I would remind myself of why I wanted to be a lawyer in the first place.

Any last personal advice you want to give to the new incoming UCI law students?

For 1Ls: It is normal for it to be a very stressful time and you are not alone if you feel like you do not know what is going on. While it feels like the hardest time, I can guarantee that it will go by very quickly. I do also think that 1L is the most important year regarding grades. Therefore, I believe 1L is the year in which you should invest your greatest efforts. Also, while doing it, you all have to keep remembering why you are doing what you are doing. Law school is definitely a huge investment of time and money, so you would not want to waste it. In other words, try to take advantage of all the opportunities being offered to you while in law school.

For 2Ls: Relatively, 2L is more settled. During my 2L year, I started to think about what I want to pursue in my post-graduation legal career. Also, you may want to think about what specific specialties you are interested in and try to take more classes that align with those interests.

For 3Ls: By the time I went into 3L, I had finished up my summer associate position at Cooley, which solidified my sense of what practice I wanted to pursue in my legal career. As such, I took courses that most interested me and that would help prepare me to become a corporate attorney. Aside from this, I would just say to enjoy this last year. Take advantage of any clinic opportunities, spend time and build relationships with your law school peers and be really proud that you made that it to this point and finish up strong until graduation.


Mary Germain
Senior International Programs Administrator
(949) 824-5335