Featured Pro Bono Attorney: Meet Jan Tamura

This is the first of two profiles of the Refugee & Immigration Law Clinic’s recent pro bono attorneys. We are featuring them to thank them and to encourage more people to volunteer! RILC will be holding an asylum law training for pro bono attorneys and other legal professionals on May 20, 2023. Register for the training here.

Jan Tamura, WSRSL ‘85, has the distinction of serving not only as Chair of RILC’s Advisory Committee but also as a pro bono attorney for RILC. Guided by her philosophy that she can only fully support an organization when she understands what it is that they do on a day-to-day basis and sees the impact they make, Jan dived right in and has been assisting a young asylum seeker from Myanmar this year with her affirmative asylum application and her application for Temporary Protected Status.

Now retired, Jan was a partner and of counsel at the Honolulu law firm Burke, McPheeters, Bordner & Estes, where she practiced in state and federal courts for over 20 years. During her years in private practice, Jan also established herself as a leader in and champion of work in the public interest, particularly on behalf of women and survivors of intimate partner violence. Jan served the community directly as a court-appointed volunteer guardian ad litem for sexually abused teen girls, as a pro bono attorney for survivors of intimate partner violence, and as a volunteer for the Domestic Violence Legal Hotline. During a break from private practice, Jan also served as the Director of Legal Services for the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse (now known as the Domestic Violence Action Center). 

Throughout her legal career, Jan served on numerous boards and committees, including the Advisory Committee in Family Law for the National Organization for Women (NOW); the HSBA Special Committee on Gender & Other Fairness (as co-chair); the HSBA Committee on Diversity, Equality and Access to the Law; the Advisory Committee of Na Loio No Na Kanaka (now known as the Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center at the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii); the Board of Directors for Hawaii Women Lawyers; the Board of Directors for Planned Parenthood of Hawaii (now known as Planned Parenthood for the Great Northwest, Hawaii, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky); the Board of Directors of the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse; and the Board of Directors for the Hawaii Women’s Legal Foundation.

In recognition of her dedication to the ideals of justice, Jan was twice awarded the Justice Award from the HSBA Young Lawyers Division. The Hawaii Women’s Legal Foundation also recognized Jan with the Rhoda Lewis Award for her public service and contributions to the community.

Since retiring from private practice in 2011, Jan has not slowed down, working as a supervising attorney at the Domestic Violence Action Center, the Legal Services Director at Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii, Senior Advisor and Investigator at the University of Hawai‘i System Office of Institutional Equity, Special Investigator for the Office of the University of Hawai‘i President, and Investigator for the University of Hawai‘i Community College System.  Most recently, she served on the Board of Directors for the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii.

Despite her prolific and impressive contributions to the community, Jan’s exposure to immigration law practice prior to volunteering for RILC was minimal. Her curiosity, empathy, and legal training and skills, however, quickly enabled her to make a tangible impact on her young client’s life this year. Jan hopes her experience volunteering for RILC as a relative newcomer to immigration law will encourage anyone who is interested to attend RILC’s asylum law training and to take the next step toward making a meaningful difference in an asylum seeker’s life.