Wendy Lau mentors lives at the University she loves.
by Brianna Means
photography by Jessica Harsen
Never tell Wendy Lau to get a life. She has at least three. Wendy juggles her career as an attorney, University of La Verne Trustee membership and national and local leadership with Phi Sigma Sigma. Wendy explains her charity with her life mantra: “To those who much has been given, much is expected. Giving back is not an option, it’s a thank you for all the good things in my life.”
As an undergraduate La Verne transfer, Wendy was known as the model honors program student, majoring in English, super committed to the mission of La Verne and involved in multiple arenas of co-curricular life. She left the University of California, Irvine because she felt that she was not gaining a true college experience. Friends’ recommendations brought her to La Verne where she quickly became extremely involved in campus life. Wendy became a marquee debate team member, was a leader in the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority (originally known as Phi Theta Chi on the La Verne campus), was nominated to the Honors Program, served as a Leadership Education and Development participant, led as a Orientation Week Leader and helped create the La Verne Collegiate Panhellenic Association (CPA). “After becoming involved in the debate team, I met some girls from Phi Theta Chi and was convinced to join the local sorority. Shortly after, we decided to become a part of the national sorority Phi Sigma Sigma. Since we were the second national sorority on the La Verne campus (after Sigma Kappa), we joined forces to create a CPA for La Verne,” says Lau.
Ironically, Wendy says joining a sorority was not first on her life list. “I was told by Claudia Jimenez and Christina Hernandez, Phi Theta Chi alumnae, that there was nothing to lose by trying, and I couldn’t beat that argument. So I accepted the bid and ended up loving the experience, and all the sisters I met.”
“We call the time before Wendy joined the sorority her dark days,” says Claudia Traver, fellow Phi Sigma Sigma alumna. “She would wear rock t-shirts and jeans with sneakers. You would never catch Wendy in a pair of heels or skirt.” Now, Wendy dresses to impress every time she steps out of her house. She credits her emphasis on achievement and giving back to her Phi Sigma Sigma membership; she encourages her active sisters to do the same. As an undergraduate, she served as philanthropy chair and president (archon) for Phi Sigma Sigma. Wendy never left active status with the group. She serves as national director for the Supreme Council of Phi Sigma Sigma; previous she served on the Phi Sigma Sigma executive board and as La Verne adviser. “Being on Supreme Council is a huge responsibility; it’s essentially the equivalent of serving on the board of directors for a company,” says Wendy. The Supreme Council is responsible for the policies and business decisions of the national fraternity.
“Sororities and Fraternities are the organizations that grow the kind of people companies and organizations want to hire. These are the training grounds for the type of people you want in your community.” She feels her sorority involvement helped make her the person she is today. “I am not concerned with the future of America as long as there are Greeks. The skills you gain from sorority or fraternity transfer to real life. I am a better public speaker and listener because of my Phi Sig experience, and this makes me a better advocate and attorney. Being in a sorority, not the glamorized version you see in movies and television, means adhering to academic excellence, leadership and community involvement.”
“Wendy was and remains someone I consider one of my best friends,” says Tanya Orr, founding sister of the La Verne chapter of Phi Sigma Sigma and Recreational Coordinator for the city of San Dimas. “She was a bridesmaid in my wedding, and I still see her at least three times a week.”
University of La Verne
Her sorority life was balanced with her active academic endeavors. Based on her high entrance grades and SAT scores, Wendy joined the Honors Program. “I graduated with English departmental honors, and I was something like a hundredth of a point shy of graduating summa cum laude,” she remembers. “I’m still bummed about that!”
The door to her debate involvement opened with an introductory class. “I joined a debate class which piqued my interest in debate, so I joined the debate team. I took Bob Rivera’s—may he rest in peace—speech and debate class, loved it, and ended up on the debate team.” Rivera, ULV professor of speech, inspired her, she says. Wendy traveled with the team to competitions. “I met some of the brightest smart-asses I know through debate, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Her active La Verne involvement extends to the present day. She is a Board of Trustees member and a member of the Alumni Governing Board. Previous, she was on the search committee that selected President Devorah Lieberman. Other Board leadership commitments include the bylaws committee and the West Campus development committee and the search committee for the College of Law dean. “Wendy is one of the people who changed the Alumni Governing Board, making it more organized,” says Chris Braunstein, member. “Wendy is well respected and gives much of her time and energy to it.” She was recruited to the Board about five years ago by college friend Paromita Nag and has served as the Board’s vice-president, president and ex-officio member. She is also chair of the Board Development Committee.
On the La Verne Board of Trustees, Wendy leads as alumni representative. “I have the same voice and vote as any regular nominated and elected Trustee and, like Supreme Council, am legally bound to make decisions and act in the best interests of the University.” Wendy’s goals for the Board are to ensure the perpetuity of the University, provide a positive learning environment for the faculty, staff and administration and to have La Verne be a nationally recognized institution of higher learning. “Serving on the Board is an amazing experience because not only do I get to give back to the University, I also get to meet and work with some incredibly impressive people.” Wendy sees positive University improvement with the new president’s leadership. “President Lieberman brings her positivity and energy to the University while staying on top of things. She shares the values of the school and lives them every day by being a role model for the students and pushing herself to be better.”
Following La Verne, Wendy matriculated at Pepperdine University School of Law to gain an entertainment law degree. There, her involvement mantra continued as a law review member, a student mentor, a legal research assistant and as a teaching assistant. She twice won high awards for Best Petitioner’s Brief in the Vincent S. Dalsimer Moot Court Competition. Outside of school, she managed two bands: “I3Lush” and “The Almighty Grind.”
She is now an attorney for the law firm of Wood, Smith, Henning and Berman LLP, a civil litigation firm with more than 100 attorneys in 12 offices in five states. Wendy works primarily in construction litigation, defending and representing national homebuilders.
Service is at the forefront of her legal career. Since 2008, she has served on her firm’s senior council as both the charity and recruitment chairs and also mentors other law firms. “I generally talk to my mentees to help get them acclimated to our firm and answer questions about projects they are working on—time management and best practices. Phi Sig taught me that giving back is how we say thank you for our blessings.” The recruitment committee includes three attorneys who oversee and organize the firm’s charity work, including its adopt-a-family program for Thanksgiving and Christmas and the Susan G. Komen 5K. The committee selects law students for positions as summer law clerks. In November, she headed the men’s health awareness campaign, aimed at prostrate and testicular cancer awareness.
Wendy is paid through billable hours, which gives her a great deal of time flexibility, allowing her to balance her personal and career-oriented lives. She holds committed to the leadership words, “We’re all given the same 24 hours each day. It’s up to us what we do with them.” Says Wendy, “The people who accomplish amazing things do not necessarily do so because they are smarter or better, but because they make the best use of each and every moment they were given instead of wasting it. Besides that, I love what I do.” She says she is thankful for having a supportive network of family and friends. Wendy’s parents live in West Covina, a sister lives in Pasadena. “My parents learned how to text awhile ago, so it’s not unusual for my mom and dad to send me texts and photos throughout the week.” She also makes time for her boyfriend and friends. “My schedule is typically pretty hectic, and I am usually running from one thing to another most days, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way. It’s to the point that I’ve got dates on my calendar through October of next year. I love it, though, because I have so much to look forward to!”
Wendy’s success advice
1. Do your homework. Whether you are applying to grad school, interviewing for a job or meeting someone in your field, it’s important to know the facts. It shows you care if you take the time to learn something about the school, the company or the person ahead of time.
2. Mind your manners. There is no substitute for good etiquette! Send thank you notes when someone takes the time out of her day to write you a letter of recommendation, meet with you or interview you. E-mail does not count. A handwritten, heartfelt thank you goes a lot further than you’d imagine.
3. Pay attention to detail. Proofread, proofread, proofread! Have someone else review your resume and cover letter. Practice your interviewing skills. Have a great handshake, not a limp fish.
4. Make sure your actions mirror your words. It’s important to have values congruence. That includes not only how you behave in person but also on your social media and behind closed doors. Your character matters.
5. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Make sure it’s a good one.
6. Learn to hustle! The most successful people I know understand the importance of hard work and networking. There is no such thing as luck except the kind you make for yourself by being better prepared and more willing to work than the next guy.
7. Have a positive attitude and count your blessings. When you have a good outlook on life, you’re better able to see the possibilities instead of the obstacles.
8. Be flexible and adaptable. Life will throw you curve balls. The test is how you handle them.
9. Be kind.
10. Pay it forward.