In the early days of the pandemic, nightly at 7 p.m., clangs, whistles, claps, and cheers rang out from windows and balconies overlooking deserted city streets. It was a quintessentially New York way for residents to thank front-line workers who risked their own safety in service to others.
One of those selfless servants was Frederick Chu, a paramedic with New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Looking back on those nights at the height of the public health crisis, and on his longer career in emergency medical services, Chu can trace a through line to his decision to become a lawyer.
“I think the number one reason I decided to go to law school from EMS was I noticed that a lot of patient complaints could have been more adequately addressed by law, or law-adjacent fields,” he says. “For example, a number of our patients were simply looking for a meal or a bed for the night, and would call 911 so they could have a sandwich or a place to sleep for a few hours. I also had many patients who were trying to get a green card. They generally distrusted and feared utilizing public services despite needing medical attention. A lot of these issues were circular, especially when only addressed by the healthcare system. I came to the conclusion that it would take reworking policies and regulations to finally break the cycle and get patients sustainable, long-term help.”
As he embarked on his law school search, the cost of a legal education was one of Chu’s biggest concerns. So, he was delighted when St. John’s Law offered him a full-tuition Sui-Wah Li Lou Memorial Scholarship, which the late New York City businessman Peter Lou established in 2018 to honor his wife, who predeceased him. “The Lou Scholarship has given me the opportunity to be the person I know I’m capable of being,” says Chu, adding, “It’s allowed me to live out a potential I had previously believed would only remain a potential.”
Animating that potential, Chu excelled academically as a 1L, earning a spot on the St. John’s Law Review. Throughout that challenging first year, he continued to work as a paramedic. “St. John’s took a chance on me,” he shares. “That impacted my experience as a law student by reminding me that I should always give back to the community.” Guided by that altruism, Chu is advocating for the greater good this semester as a student in the Refugee and Immigrant Rights Litigation Clinic, one of several clinics the Law School runs in partnership with legal services providers across the city.
As he continues to thrive at St. John’s Law, Chu looks forward to tapping ongoing opportunities to build his legal knowledge and skills and make his mark in the profession. “Asian Americans continue to be underrepresented in the legal field, especially at the highest levels,” he notes. “My lived experience is intertwined with the Lou scholarship’s aim of breaking down historical barriers many Asian-American students face. The work I do, in and out of St. John’s, was only made possible by the scholarship, and I put everything I can into that work, knowing that it will demonstrably prove that those from non-majority communities are more than just capable. We can bring non-traditional, creative solutions for many of the problems our society continues to face that have yet to be addressed by the law.”