Kao’s father gave up a legal career when he moved his family from Taiwan to the U.S. in the
1970s, but was all smiles when Carol received her J.D. in 1991 (above). At far right, Kao’s
Taiwanese passport photo, circa 1972.
Q: You were a CPA for a while, right?
A: That’s what I did after graduating from
college. I took a break from school and
pursued accounting and worked at Arthur
Andersen for about three years before
going to law school.
Q: What drew you to the law?
A: Oh gosh. I’m going to have a corny
answer for you.
Q: We love corny answers.
A: I wanted to be a lawyer ever since I
was young—probably because of my sixth
grade teacher. They had this Constitutional
Congress thing as one of the courses; and
after that I was so interested in it and she
just encouraged me. Her name was Mrs.
Stahl. The school was Marguerita. It was
up in Los Angeles.
Q: Were you thinking about this
particular practice area in law school?
A: Not at all. I wanted to be a real estate
lawyer. But I graduated in ’91, which was
the last real estate recession, so there
was no real estate legal work to be had.
Fortunately, I made a call one day to one of
the partners here at the firm, Rob Durham,
who’s now retired, and asked if I could
help with anything. And from that day I’ve
worked in this area.
And unless you work in this area you
don’t appreciate the benefits of it, because
it’s very challenging and very rewarding.
When I talk to my clients, we’re talking
about things that people don’t typically
talk about—death and taxes—but really
we’re planning for their peace of mind. I
find it’s rewarding. I find it’s constructive.
So I’ve been happy as to how I, fortuitously,
fell into this area.
Q: When you started practicing, did it
differ from what you expected?
A: When you start out as a young
associate, the work you do may not be the
most exciting? And you may not get to see
the whole picture. So for the first couple
of years, I found it wasn’t as challenging
as I had anticipated. And because of it, I
actually did question whether I wanted to
do it for a long-term career.
Q: What changed your mind?
A: Rob Durham said to me, “Give it time.
It changes.” And he was absolutely right.
It gets more interesting, you get to take on
more responsibility and more control. Now
I relay that message to young associates
who are coming up the ranks.
Q: You were born in Taiwan. When did
you come to the States?
A: My family moved to the States when I
was about 8. We moved to Los Angeles
and that’s where I grew up.
Q: What was it like coming to the U.S. at
A: It was a tough transition. The schools
back then didn’t have the formal “English
[as a] Second Language” program. So
basically me and my five siblings were
placed in a classroom speaking not a
word of English. [Laughs] We did real
well in math, though.
I do have this memory. Every
morning you had to recite the Pledge
of Allegiance. You never want to be
left out of anything as a child, so I
remember memorizing the entire Pledge
of Allegiance by sound without realizing
what I was saying.
But sometimes the “sink or swim”
approach works. We learned so quickly
because we were forced to learn quickly.
Within, I would say, a year and a half we
were fully fluent and able to keep pace
in all aspects of it. In fact, after a couple
of years, in our school system, you get to
read to schoolchildren and tutor and so
forth? I was doing that for the younger
grades in English.