By Tom Cho, Esq.
My family and I landed in in the United States when I was 14 years old. Like many immigrants, my parents wanted to move America so that my siblings and I could pursue a better life with more opportunities and access to quality education. Growing up, my father scraped by as an accountant but barely earned enough to cover the mortgage on our house. To ensure that he could provide for his family, he took on as many jobs as he could. At one point, he even worked a part-time job on the weekends at a store called Pic ‘N Save (talk about a blast from the past!). With a front row seat watching my father and his tireless work ethic growing up, I knew that the least I could do is not squander the chance he struggled to give me and my siblings by studying hard and pursuing higher education.
After graduating high school, I was fortunate enough to attend the University of California, Los Angeles where I earned my Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, and the University of Southern California, where I earned my Master of Science Degree in Computer Engineering (Yes, I am internally quite conflicted!). Upon graduating, I landed an engineering job at Hughes Aircraft (now Raytheon) where I worked on a number of government contracts and projects (that I still can't talk too much about).
After about 6 years at Hughes Aircraft, my father, who by that time had started the very first escrow company serving the Korean American community, started struggling with health issues. Given the situation, I decided to resign from Hughes Aircraft to help him run our escrow company family business. Fortunately or unfortunately, not too long after I gave up a great stable well-paying job, the housing market began to decline precipitously which negatively impacted our escrow business quite considerably.
It was during those very difficult years that my father encouraged me to consider going to law school and becoming a lawyer. Since I worked in an escrow company, I was often exposed to and dealt with real estate matters, living trusts and other legal documents and issues so I could appreciate his logic and belief that having an “in-house” real estate and trust attorney might be a market differentiator and a fantastic asset for our company.
I quickly found that there weren't too many part-time ABA-accredited law school programs in the area. But as they say, where this is a will, there's a way (apologies for the dad joke)! I was fortunate enough to earn a scholarship to Southwestern Law School and four and half years later, I received my law degree.
After being a solo practitioner for over a decade focusing on estate planning and real estate law, I reconnected with Jong Lee, CFO at Thompson Von Tungeln and husband of firm partner, Sonia Lee. Jong's parents and my parents go way back and he shared with me Sonia's journey into the field of estate planning and how Thompson Von Tungeln was currently expanding its outreach to the Asian American and Hispanic communities and as a result was exploring solutions to better serve these communities in Los Angeles. After a few conversations and much prayer and deliberation, I happily accepted the opportunity to join the firm as its newest Of Counsel attorney.
I am excited to be a part of such a fabulous team of estate planning attorneys and professionals and look forward to working as a team to collectively provide excellent service to our clients. After over three decades of experience in law and the real estate industry, I am particularly pleased to be associated with a leading firm that specializes in estate planning and asset protection because I can personally attest to the importance of having properly designed, drafted and well-maintained estate plans for not only clients but for their families and loved ones. Finally, with the ability to serve clients from all walks of life whether they speak English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese!) or Korean, I'm proud that our firm reflects the dynamic diversity that makes Los Angeles such an amazing metropolis.
While we've had our highs and lows, God has blessed my parents and my family in abundance. I consider myself so very fortunate that I can still visit my father and mother regularly and that they are in good health despite their age. I am an empty nester married to a wonderful woman who recently retired after serving as a school-teacher in Los Angeles for decades. Our two sons are both grown and out of the house. The eldest works at Meta after obtaining his PhD from UCLA and serving in the National Guard as a pilot and serving in Afghanistan. The younger boy is currently finishing up his fourth year in medical school and looks forward to becoming an ophthalmologist. I also serve as an elder at our church and I have apparently been nominated by the firm to accompany Kevin Von Tungeln on all future skiing trips.
I look forward to being a part of the TVT family and helping our many wonderful current and future clients.