by Heidi Smith
In theory, the law is impartial, with equal access to justice regardless of background or income level. But in practice, as attorney Veasna Hoy knows all too well, many cannot afford legal representation or are unaware of the resources available to them. That’s one reason Hoy and her partner Robin Zaragoza decided to focus on inclusivity, breaking down barriers and underrepresented voices at their Olympia firm HZ Law.
“If you’re not from a family of attorneys or didn’t grow up wealthy, it can be daunting to face a legal issue,” says Hoy. “Robin and I are both first-generation attorneys, and it was important for us to take the value of understanding and overcoming adversity and use that strength in working with our clients.”
HZ Law offers multiple services, including employment law concerning wrongful termination, employment discrimination and EEOC, business law with support for business formation and trademarks and construction law. The business cases tend to involve creativity, Hoy notes. “We think of ourselves as a business startup legal firm, where people come to us with an idea, and we help protect it and bring it to life,” she says. “If they want to register trademarks, we can walk them through the process. We like to have long-term relationships with our clients, so they come back as their business continues to grow.”
The firm also handles cases in which disputes arise between business partners or commercial landlords and tenants over lease agreements. “People come to us with questions of how to resolve the situation through mediation or arbitration or simply working it out with the other party’s attorney,” says Hoy. “We are very effective in negotiation, so they don’t have to go through the costly phase of litigation which everyone wants to avoid.”
Then there are the special cases they take on a contingency basis, often involving racial discrimination, unfair employment practices or workplace retaliation. HZ Law is particularly focused on providing access for underserved clients, beginning with letting them know that services exist. “Law school teaches us about how to use the law to your benefit, but if you don’t have access, knowledge or resources, there is a real disconnect to having that benefit,” says Hoy. “We’ve seen the ripple effect of discrimination in the criminal justice system, in employment and housing, and I’m proud that our law firm is leading with a vision of equality, inclusivity and equity.”
Hoy has come full circle in her professional and personal life. She grew up in Tumwater and attended Pacific Lutheran University before earning a Master’s degree in Asia Pacific Studies at the University of San Francisco and graduating from Seattle University School of Law. She also worked as an English Language and Cultural Studies instructor and served as a Cabinet Assistant for the Royal Government of Cambodia. In addition to practicing law, Hoy directs the Youth Maritime Collaborative in Seattle, a collective working to create career pathways for youth pursuing careers in the maritime industry.
Her connections throughout the Puget Sound Region have served the firm well when it comes to attracting clients. Many are referrals through friends, former colleagues and family. Recently she served on the King County Public Safety Advisory Committee, a group that shares recommendations and priorities for improving public safety. “I’m still connected in terms of what issues are affecting communities of color,” she says. “I’m also reconnecting with my roots, meeting new business owners and expanding my client base.”
HZ Law has been well-received in the south sound business community and is part of the Small Business Incubator program at the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce. The program provides office space, a receptionist and resources to offset typical costs for a startup business. “We’re able to have a physical mailing address,” says Hoy. “You never realize how important that is. The incubator program is a great opportunity to focus more on our clients and business growth. We have this foundation already set up for us so we can thrive.”
Although the firm is just two years old, Hoy and Zaragoza have already contacted the paralegal programs at South Puget Sound Community College and Saint Martin’s University to discuss hiring graduates. “We want our firm to be known as a career pathway,” Hoy explains. “I would like our impact to be providing access for underrepresented groups and making the American dream attainable for everyone.”