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Irene Kao
Irene Kao

2020 Attorneys of the Year: Irene Kao

The past year has been a reckoning for many people when it comes to issues of diversity, racial equity and forging a new path. For Irene Kao, 2020 was merely a heightening of the work she does and the way she lives her life.

Kao is a first-generation American (her parents came to the U.S. from Taiwan) who holds both a master’s degree in higher education and a juris doctorate from Hamline University School of Law (now Mitchell Hamline).

As intergovernmental relations counsel for the League of Minnesota Cities, Kao’s 2020 centered on issues of diversity and racial equity and working with member cities on their diversity issues, particularly in response to George Floyd’s death at the end of May.

As one of the League’s lobbyists, she also was a leader in coordinating statewide city participation in drafting the League’s legislative policy regarding racial equity.

She and her colleagues worked with cities around the state after Floyd’s death as they worked on issues related to race.

When it came to the lobbying platform, Kao was encouraged that when the first policy draft was submitted to a city work group, they were quick to tell her that the policy “needed to be bolder and stronger.”

“We worked hard. We had sincere, difficult conversations to make it happen,” she said.

In addition to her work at the League, Kao devotes time to the Infinity Project. The group works at identifying, recruiting and assisting women in their efforts to become judges in the 8th Circuit.

“The federal judiciary has not been diverse,” she said. “The Infinity Project is nonpartisan. There is such value in having diversity on the judiciary and being reflective of the communities you serve.”

Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2020 here.

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