Han C. Choi, who served as Managing Partner of Ballard Spahr's Atlanta Office, led the firm's Korea Initiative, and was respected locally and nationally for his extraordinary work on behalf of Asian American lawyers and students, died March 26, 2018.

Mr. Choi, 52, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April 2017. He was determined to maintain his successful law practice, as well as his active civic and social life, for as long as possible. In the year since his diagnosis, Mr. Choi traveled with his wife, Catherine Abrams, and their three children. He was honored by civic organizations he helped build and grow, assisted clients with their business needs, and—as always—participated in activities that enriched the lives of others.

"I visited Han at his home in Atlanta a few weeks ago and was privileged to spend time with Catherine, and with friends who were at the house assisting with his care," Ballard Spahr Chair Mark Stewart said. "Their deep affection for Han and his family was palpable. One friend said she was honored to give back to a family that had given so freely to others. Han did indeed give the best of himself at Ballard, to clients and colleagues, and to causes important to the firm. And he did so with skill, joy, and vigor."

Mr. Choi's work in Public Finance focused on transactions for highly visible projects in sectors ranging from manufacturing and health care to education, transportation, and housing. "Han displayed a remarkable diversity of skills," said Ballard Spahr Partner Bill Rhodes. As a leader of Ballard Spahr's Korea Initiative, Mr. Choi sought ways to build bridges between Korean businesses and domestic market opportunities.

"Han was a leader, a teacher, a mentor, a friend. He was all of those things in one," Ballard Spahr Associate Stephanie Kim said. "He truly cared about his clients, some of whom became his closest friends. And he listened to others because he didn't believe that his way was always the right way. Even in the most pressure-filled situation, he remained calm and looking for solutions. That had a quiet, uplifting effect on everyone around him."

Service and mentorship were strong values, and Mr. Choi devoted considerable time to activities benefitting the legal profession and his community. He served on the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Georgia and was a Board Member of the Decatur Education Foundation. He was past President of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, and was a founding member and past President of the Korean American Bar Association of Georgia. He served as Regional Governor of the International Association of Korean Lawyers and led the committee that is planning the group's annual conference in Atlanta this fall.

In February of this year, three organizations honored Mr. Choi:

  • The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) Law Foundation partnered with the Choi family to create the Han C. Choi Scholarship to honor a "trailblazer, mentor, and leader who embodies grit and courage in the face of great adversity." Mr. Choi was a member of the foundation's Board of Directors and recipient of its Trailblazers Award.
  • The Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association (GAPABA) announced the inaugural Han C. Choi Mentor Award, which will recognize members of the legal profession who demonstrate "a remarkable commitment to mentoring the next generation of Asian Pacific American attorneys." Mr. Choi had served as a Board Member and President of GAPABA.
  • The American Korean Friendship Society presented Mr. Choi with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Its tribute described him as a cherished and influential leader who was "inspirational, generous, and courageous." 

In tribute videos posted by these organizations, Mr. Choi is shown in photos from childhood forward that highlight the personal attributes for which he was known – his engaging manner and brilliant smile, and the dashing figure he cut. The pictures were overlaid with written commentary. "Han has always rocked that fabulous head of hair and always maintained his sense of fashion & style," one read. "Han is Mr. Business Development: always ready to shake a hand and work a room, but also always lending his support to amplify the voices of others."

"Han was a trailblazer, a mentor, and a role model—not just in Atlanta, but nationwide," said his friend and former partner, Byung "BJay" Pak, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. "He was selfless with his time and devoted much of his energy volunteering for the betterment of the community and mentoring Asian American lawyers. His infectious laugh and everlasting optimism inspired so many to be their best and to strive higher. For me, Han was not just a former colleague, but a mentor, a close friend, and a brother. I miss him dearly."

In early February, Mr. Choi made a remarkable cross country journey that was a measure of both his personal fortitude and the depth of the professional connections he forged. With his wife, Mr. Choi flew to San Francisco to be with his partners for Ballard Spahr's Annual Meeting, a combination of business and social activities spanning three days. Public Finance Chair Emilie Ninan recalls the enthusiasm with which he offered ideas about how to expand the practice in the future. He spent those days visiting with colleagues and—with other members of the firm's Diverse Partners group—built bicycles that were presented to needy children in San Francisco. His presence at the bike-building party was "the joy of the day," partner Tobey Daluz said. At the meeting's closing reception— held at the Asian Art Museum—Mr. Choi and his wife toured the gallery, chatting with colleagues along the way.

Later in February, Mr. Choi, his wife, and their children, Christopher, David, and Hannah, took a vacation to Fort Myers, Florida. On the beach and in a house overlooking the bay, they engaged in simple pleasures—talking and laughing, playing Dungeons & Dragons, snapping photos.

Mr. Choi joined Ballard Spahr in January 2012. One year later, he was named Managing Partner of Ballard Spahr's Atlanta Office, the first Asian Pacific American lawyer to hold that title at a major law firm in Atlanta, according to GAPABA.

"He made history in this community when that happened. He set the bar," said Bonnie Youn, a friend and associate at GAPABA. "He was born to leadership."

Born in Korea, Mr. Choi immigrated to the United States as a toddler and grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. Before becoming a lawyer, he was Special Assistant for Health and Human Services to Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas. Mr. Choi received his B.A. from Northwestern University in 1988 and his J.D. from Emory University School of Law in 1993.

"We were baby lawyers together, just starting out. I didn't have many friends who were Korean Americans and he was so wonderful about introducing me into the community, making me feel welcomed," said Chong Kim, a longtime friend. "We were close friends for many, many years and I literally don't remember hearing one bad word from him. Even when he was in so much pain, he never complained. He thought about others and laughed and looked to the future. He was a truly good person."

Said Ms. Kim: "Han looked for the good things and focused on that. He always told me: you have to find the joy in life. Otherwise, what is there?"

A memorial service for Mr. Choi will be held at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 15, at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, 1328 Peachtree Street, Atlanta, Georgia. Han's family has requested that memorial donations in his name be made to the NAPABA Law Foundation’s Han C. Choi Scholarship Fund or the Decatur Education Foundation’s Han C. Choi Memorial Scholarship.