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Kim Vu-Dinh
Professor Kim Vu-Dinh prioritized addressing economic equality after working as a public defender in Alaska. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: Professor continues economic equity focus

Professor Kim Vu-Dinh is helping students work with community organizations as director of the new Economic Inclusion Clinic at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

The clinic launched in the fall, when Vu-Dinh joined the school’s faculty. Clients are nonprofits or public agencies focused on reducing economic inequality.

The clinic’s six students have drafted documents and advised clients on issues including taxes and lobbying. Vu-Dinh led a similar clinic at the law school at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Vu-Dinh prioritized addressing economic equality after working as a public defender in Alaska. “When you work in economic development, you see growth not only in a neighborhood but also in a family and in an individual,” she said.

Vu-Dinh previously served as a teaching fellow at Yale Law and an adjunct at Tulane. After Katrina hit New Orleans, she worked in community-based real estate development in disenfranchised neighborhoods. She also developed experiential learning and social enterprise opportunities with leadership at the University of Applied Sciences in Kosovo.

Name: Kim Vu-Dinh

Title: Associate professor of law; director, Economic Inclusion Clinic, Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Education: B.A., development studies, University of California, Berkeley; J.D., City University of New York School of Law

Q: Best way to start a conversation with you?

A: Talking about food, music or cultural events. I have a dormant independent record label I started a decade ago called Milo Records New Orleans, promoting musicians around the world who play roots music, Americana music, jazz.

Q: Why did you go to law school?

A: My mom became a lawyer later in life. It gave her lots of opportunities to interact with different communities. She was an immigration lawyer. She’s fluent in Spanish. We had pretty great tamales. We always had wonderful gifts from her clients. She worked with a lot of restaurant chefs and sous chefs. I thought that was a fun way to interact with people. On television in the ’80s, there were so many law programs — that was a huge part of it, too.

Q: What books are you reading?

A: “The Left Behind.” It’s related to the writing I’ve done and some client work with agricultural communities. In Arkansas, I worked with cattle ranchers. At Yale, I worked with local organic farmers trying to scale up. The book is by Robert Wuthnow, who teaches at Princeton. It looks at the urban-rural divide in the U.S. and understanding that better. Why there’s that divide politically and culturally and what it’s attributable to.

Q: What’s your pet peeve?

A: Insincerity. Not only do I find it unkind I find it very disrespectful of everyone’s time.

Q: Best part of your work?

A: Meeting people from all different walks of life, students and clients.

Q: Least favorite?

A: The unnecessary drama, that’s the part I could skip if I had a choice.

Q: Favorite activity away from work?

A: I love eating. Discovering restaurants. I enjoy the outdoors, having lived in Alaska. I recently took up swing dance lessons. That’s a fun way to meet people in the Twin Cities.

Q: Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?

A: I grew up in Southern California. I’d probably take them to the beach, because I don’t think there’s anything in the U.S. like a California beach. And I know this sounds silly, but In-N-Out. It’s this chain that I just adore.

Q: Legal figure you most admire?

A: A professor who continues to be a mentor to me, at CUNY, Stephen Loffredo. He’s incredibly modest, incredibly accomplished and incredibly dedicated to community issues.

Q: Misconception that others have about your work as an attorney?

A: Students have a misconception that a lot of people do, that you can only do public interest work as a litigator. But there are many opportunities where transactional lawyers can be a community asset.

Q: Favorite book, movie or TV show about lawyers?

A: “A Civil Action,” because it’s based on a real story. It shows how good legal work isn’t about being a brilliant superstar. It’s very methodic focused work and the hard part isn’t necessarily the flashiest part.

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