Heather Chang ’95 
Criminal Defense Attorney

Q: You have extensive experience working in criminal defense. In what types of felonies and misdemeanors do you specialize? 
A: I handle a combination of misdemeanors and felonies these days and there aren’t a lot of us in Alameda County who do both juvenile and adult cases. So if there’s a specialty within criminal defense that I have, I would say it would be juvenile delinquency law. 

Q: Is that by design for you? Do you like doing both?
A: Both are really time consuming. I love the balance of having both adult and juvenile cases because the clients are different and their needs are somewhat different. I can’t see myself giving up one or the other since I enjoy them both. And even though it can make my schedule really crazy, I like having that balance where sometimes, when the juvenile cases get really hectic, I may get a little bit of relief on the adult side or vice versa. 

Q: When you’re dealing with serious felony cases, what is the rewarding side of that for you?
A: It’s really intense. After all these years, I still have my mom asking me, “Do you like your work? Do you enjoy it?” 100 percent I love it. I still love it with a passion. I feel so lucky to be able to work in an area that I was originally super interested in and I haven’t lost an ounce of that passion along the way. The work is hard. It can be depressing, it can be heartbreaking. The reward is being able to help clients in some way, shape, or form—whether that’s listening to them or helping them through a complicated criminal justice system. I try to give as much individualized attention to my clients as I can, especially those who are in custody. We talk about their case or about their lives and what’s going on with them. A lot of my clients have told me that they’re grateful that I’m here to help and listen. I take that responsibility very seriously.
Q: You served in leadership positions for the Asian American Criminal Trial Lawyers Association. Why has that group been important to you?
A: There aren’t a lot of Asian American criminal trial lawyers, and especially Asian American women who practice criminal defense. When that group was first started, the idea and the hope was to bring together practitioners to provide for that community. There was no organization for Asian criminal trial lawyers so it’s really nice to have this community to support each other and provide mentorship. When I was getting started, there were days where I’d be the only Asian American face in the courtroom. Some people would come up to me and ask me if I was the Korean interpreter or the Vietnamese interpreter. I’m Chinese, but they wouldn’t necessarily ask whether I was the Chinese interpreter. At the end of the day, representation matters, and that kind of diversity in the courtroom, especially in a criminal courtroom, matters. 

Q: What is, and how do you manage, the most challenging aspect of your work? 
A: I wish I had double the hours in the day, whether it’s on the work side or on the family side. I’m not known to slow down or take too much time off. I have a 12-year-old daughter who is my joy and a good reminder that I need time to unwind. 

Q: In your private practice, how do you determine which cases to take? 
A: A lot of it has to do with timing and what is going on in my life at that moment. The longest case that I’ve worked on involved some very serious charges in juvenile court. I just finished a case this morning and I’ve been in that hearing since January. There are three main courthouses. One in Dublin and two in Oakland. I try not to have to run to both Oakland and Dublin in one morning. Time is a huge factor.
Q: How often do your cases  go to trial? 
A: I think I can fairly easily say this for both adult and juvenile cases that the vast majority are resolved by some kind of plea agreement. So let’s say with the over 100 cases or more that I handle in a year, I’m going to trial on average once or twice a year. The vast majority of cases do resolve and it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a conviction. It might mean a dismissal, or it might mean some kind of alternative disposition. 

Q: What classes were most influential for you at
College Prep?
A: I loved my classes, teachers, and my classmates there. A lot of the classes that are memorable for me are not necessarily the ones that I was required to take. I loved photography at College Prep. It was such a great outlet. If my sister couldn’t find me on campus for a ride home, I was probably in the darkroom. I remember the experience of literally putting the film in total darkness onto the coil and mixing the chemicals, going through the process of developing black and white photography. Getting that on a page made me really proud of my art. 
Someone who will always stand out to me was the jazz band teacher. He invited me to play a flute solo and I freaked out. The solo meant that I had to improvise, and for a more classically trained, rigid flute player, that was the opposite of my training and experience. I got through the performance and will be forever grateful to him for encouraging me to step out of my classical box.
Q: How did debate play into your high school experience?
A: I did debate for three years. I spent a lot of time at school prepping for debate. I did team debate and we needed to do a lot of research. Back in the day, we carried our research on paper everywhere. We went around with our cardboard boxes of files, quotes, and news stories about anything and everything that we would try to fit into a debate argument. One of the most memorable times was when I was on campus the day of the huge Oakland fire that happened in 1991. I was there that morning and the fire came close to campus later that day. It’s surreal to think that I was there that day working on debate.

La Escuela Preparatoria de la Universidad

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