Amy Shen’s Journey Home
Boxer & Gerson’s only Mandarin language speaker was born in Massachusetts, spent her formative years in California, returned to Massachusetts for law school, then made what may well be a final return to the Bay Area when she took a job with a workers’ compensation defense firm in San Francisco.
All of which was preparatory to Amy Shen crossing both the bay and over to the workers’ comp applicant side of the table when she joined Boxer & Gerson, LLP as one of several new attorneys to join the firm in 2018.
Shen’s parents both hail from Taiwan, which begat her soaking up Mandarin in that way common to second generation immigrants who hear it consistently spoken in the home. Her father, following a classic immigrant success story, had gone to dental school for a spell in Taiwan before deciding that America offered better opportunity. A sister had preceded him to southern California, so he headed there with literally $12 in his pocket and a willingness to do whatever it took to eventually enroll in dental school.
What it took for a while was working in a pizza parlor and a number of blue collar jobs before he was able to bring his wife over from Taiwan a year later and get started on the twin projects of starting both a career and a family.
I’m thinking of a client who worked for 20 years for a fast food franchise, living paycheck to paycheck while putting her whole life into her job…Helping guide her through the workers’ comp system was truly satisfying.
Shen’s Massachusetts birth came about while her parents were staying with friends on the East Coast shortly after their arrival in the U.S. The small family then crossed back over the continent when her father began dental school at the University of Southern California. Diploma in hand, the family, which now included Shen’s younger brother, moved to the East Bay, where the family became complete with the youngest sister’s birth, five years after Shen’s.
The family eventually settled in Piedmont, where Shen graduated high school before going up the road to UC Berkeley to pursue her college degree in legal studies.
“I seemed to fall just naturally into the law,” she says. “Three of my cousins are attorneys, and I remember in school always enjoying subjects where I needed to analyze things and find solutions. The law felt like it fit that really well. Which was all fine with my dad: he never stopped emphasizing how important it was that we get our education.”
Today, all three siblings remain in the greater Bay Area, gathering for birthdays, holidays, and other events. Shen’s mother lives in Taiwan, where she returned after she and Shen’s father split many years ago. Shen, her husband and nearly-2-year-old daughter are preparing to visit her mother again there in April, a pilgrimage they try to make on an annual basis.
Shen launched her legal career by working for two workers’ comp defense firms over a 15-year span. She joined Liberty Mutual in Massachusetts during law school and then jumped on an offer to transfer to their California office after graduation.
Four years later, she was lured away by the Oakland firm of Mullen & Fillipi, where she signed on as an associate but was soon named a partner. She spent the better part of a decade handling the firm’s management duties while also occasionally squaring off against Boxer & Gerson attorneys across the table in workers’ comp cases.
“One of the reasons I went to law school back in Massachusetts was that it gave me a chance to see the larger world after staying so close to home going to Berkeley for undergrad,” she says. “I loved Boston—but not enough to be away from my family. Soon as I had a chance to come back here, I took it.”
She describes a similar migration from the defense side of the table to representing claimants. Despite the seeming step down from managing partner to associate, Shen says she’s exactly where she wants to be in joining a firm she always knew to be “tough but fair.” Even more importantly, she now has the opportunity to represent claimants whom she had seen were often oppressed by the circumstances surrounding their job injury.
“It’s all about getting to help people,” she says. “Titles don’t matter to me. There are a lot of experienced people here, working together for a common goal. I’m thinking of a client who worked for 20 years for a fast food franchise, living paycheck to paycheck while putting her whole life into her job. A lot of people in her situation do the same. She basically ran the shop, the owner paid part of her salary under the table to avoid taxes, and then she got hurt and was left with almost nothing when new owners came on board who didn’t know all she had done for the business. Helping guide her through the workers’ comp system was truly satisfying. That’s who I think of when people ask about my job.”
Shen describes herself as an “office person” who would prefer not to work at home even if she could. “I’m more old school,” she says. “I like being hands-on, consulting and commiserating with people.”
When she does leave the office, though, it is often in the company of her daughter, with whom she frequents the usual mother-daughter haunts.
“Play means doing whatever Zoe wants to do,” she cheerfully notes. “As an older parent, it’s nice to see the world through her eyes. We went to Oakland Fairlyland recently, a place I’d gone by most of my life but hardly ever really noticed. But Zoe was completely amazed by it all, and that was pretty wonderful for me.”
In the greater world beyond, her husband, Derek, a scientist who works on HIV research for Gilead Sciences, got her interested in scuba diving soon after they met in 2012. They married two years later, with scuba trips to exotic locations such as Thailand, Tahiti, Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean, and Palau accounting for a substantial portion of the family’s vacation budget.
And when they return, it is to Shen’s childhood home in Piedmont, which the couple bought from her father when he retired last year. “It’s strange to look out from my house and see the place I grew up in, and where I spent most of my life,” she says. “But it’s also really satisfying. I’m home now in every way.”