A Conversation with Presiding Judge Samuel K. Feng - Recipient of the 2021 Tara L. Riedley Barristers Choice Award
By Cristina Piechocki
Hon. Garrett L. Wong, Judge and Former Presiding Judge, San Francisco Superior Court, said it best when speaking of San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge Samuel K. Feng, “He is a shining example of the dedicated public servant committed to equal access and justice for all. His extraordinary efforts to educate and encourage lawyers new to the practice of law and the courtroom are not surprising. Always willing to spend time with young attorneys, he is known for his incredible energy, generosity, and good cheer. His sage wisdom and enthusiasm for inspiring new lawyers is part of Judge Feng’s devotion to improving the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.”
Judge Feng is also a strong supporter of the Barristers Club and the Bar Association of San Francisco. This year, the Barristers Club is delighted to present Judge Feng with its Tara L. Riedley Barristers Choice Award at the 37th Annual Judges Reception on July 29. This award is given each year to a state or federal judge in the Bay Area to recognize his or her extraordinary efforts to educate and encourage young lawyers new to the practice of law and to the courtroom. The revenue raised at this event supports the Barristers Club and its programs.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Judge Feng in his chambers recently—here are some of the highlights. Please note that this interview has been edited and condensed.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Liverpool, England and immigrated to Hong Kong. I grew up in Hong Kong. I am a British citizen and used to have a British accent. I speak three dialects of Chinese and English. It is an asset to know other languages; our country is so diverse and languages bridge one person to another.
Then, I immigrated to the United States and settled in Sherman Oaks, California. I went to undergraduate school at University of Southern California, and law school at UC Hastings College of Law. I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1983.
What initially drew you to a career in law?
I always wanted to be a lawyer. I grew up in the TV years, watching shows from Perry Mason to L.A. Law. I think it is a very noble, but difficult profession.
Have any aspects of being a judge surprised you?
Cases of first impression are very challenging. For example, litigation regarding COVID will start, and that is a new area. There is no precedent, but we have analogies to law on pandemics. Who knows where that will go.
Do you miss anything about being a lawyer?
It is a matter of just a different phase of my life. I appreciate how hard every lawyer works. As a judge, it is important to understand the difficulty of practicing law. It can wear you down, but be very rewarding.
Do you have any advice for attorneys trying a case before your bench?
Be nice, professional and courteous no matter what happens. Be flexible and prepared for anything. Try to have some fun.
What are you most proud of professionally or personally?
My family. I’m also proud of the fact that I treat people fairly. My parents taught me to be kind and understanding; that not everyone is privileged and blessed; and to know that it is hard for a lot of people.
Who are your mentors?
My parents. They are the ones who taught me to be respectful, compassionate, and work hard.
Do you have any role models in law?
Perry Mason. I love how he cross-examines people and is always right, but I know that is not always the case or reality.
Are there any changes in the legal community that you are excited about?
I am always excited to meet young lawyers. What I look forward to is seeing how young lawyers develop and I’m proud we have Barristers because it is a forum for young lawyers where they can exchange ideas, war stories, talk about their bosses, etc. It is a tradition that should never stop.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to watch Chinese dramas. I love to eat. I go to every new restaurant that is inexpensive. I do not like fancy food, but I like food that is “greasy spoon.” I love to be with my wife and travel (before COVID).