Hon. Dean S. Lum (Ret.) joined JAMS after a distinguished 23-year career on the King County (Seattle) Superior Court. As a trial judge, Judge Lum presided over hundreds of civil trials, heard thousands of civil motions and conducted dozens of settlement conferences. While on the bench, he presided over dozens of bad faith, Insurance Fair Conduct Act, Consumer Protection Act and coverage cases involving claims for professional malpractice, theft, construction delays, flooding, disease and business interruption.
Early Days as an AAPI Litigator
Lum's story is one of resilience and dedication, with a deep sense of community service. Starting his career in the prosecutor's office right out of law school, he quickly realized his passion for litigation. He tried over 50 felony jury trials to verdict, a feat made more remarkable by the fact that at the time, there weren’t many Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) litigators, particularly in criminal law, in King County.
“You could count the number of AAPI litigators on one hand in King County,” Lum recalls. “It was a somewhat isolating experience.” Despite the isolation, Lum found the experience formative. “I learned how to be tough. I learned how to persevere over some hardships, so it was also a rewarding time.”
Lum’s resilience and perseverance allowed him to take on significant responsibilities early in his career.
A Personal Journey Shaping a Professional Path
Lum's personal history is as compelling as his professional one. Adopted as an orphan from Hong Kong at three months old by a Chinese-American family in Seattle, Lum considers his adoption and the opportunities it provided as a significant factor that shaped his life and career.
“I’ve never psychoanalyzed myself,” Lum says, “but I suspect that some of the reason why I do what I do is just because I consider myself so fortunate and that I have an obligation to give back.”
Throughout his career, Lum has been deeply involved in the community. He was the third president of the Asian Bar Association of Washington and was actively involved with the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and various diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives. One of his notable contributions was founding the National Adoption Day celebration in Washington state and King County, promoting the adoption foster children into permanent homes.
Lum's involvement in civic activities, charitable organizations and bar association activities was extensive. Eventually, he was encouraged by others to apply to be a judge.
“That wasn’t something that was at the front of my mind. I wasn’t one of those people that said I planned to be a judge since I was a kid,” Lum admits.
Instead, his interest in becoming a judge grew organically with steady encouragement from his peers.
He applied and was appointed in 1998 by Governor Locke to the King County Superior Court, where he served for 23 years.
Guided by Mentors, Leading by Example
Lum credits many mentors for his success, but he singles out Ruth Woo, a well-known figure in the Seattle Asian-American community. Woo taught him the importance of sharing credit and the belief that no problem is insurmountable with enough time, patience and discussion. These lessons have guided Lum throughout his career and continue to influence his current work in alternative dispute resolution.
If he were to title a book or movie about his life, he would call it “Just Lucky.”
From leaving Hong Kong as a three-month-old to his adoption by a loving family in America to his education, career and community involvement, he feels lucky for the opportunities he's had.
And in a recent twist of fate, through a DNA kit from 23andMe, Lum identified his biological family and discovered he has a cousin living just three miles away from his home.
“If that’s not luck, I don’t know what is,” Lum happily proclaims.
Today, Lum proudly continues his work as a mediator and arbitrator at JAMS.
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