Monthly Feature: Get to Know... Clifford G. Tsan

April 1, 2018

“In my own small way, I want to do what I can to make the world a better place.”

Spend a minute or two with Clifford Tsan, and he will quickly engage and win you over with his quiet intelligence, his wide ranging yet intimate perspective, and his genuine concern. Subtly charismatic, Cliff will strike you as someone you’d want on your team. 

What differentiates Cliff from other talented younger attorneys is how he uses his perspective and keen perceptions to understand his client’s position, as well as those of his adversaries. “As a lawyer, I need to be open-minded to understanding someone else’s viewpoint, even if I don’t agree. Understanding where the other side is coming from, even if it’s antithetical to your own beliefs, can be the key in finding a way to defeat the opposition or resolve a conflict. While sometimes my clients’ interests are not compatible with whom they’re fighting, most of us are just trying to succeed. I advocate for my clients and hope to help them make good business decisions.” 

Over a decade at Bond, Cliff has made a tremendous impact as a litigator and change agent within the firm. He has served as a co-chair of two of the firm’s newest and most rapidly evolving practice areas; E-Discovery and Information Management, and Cybersecurity and Data Privacy. “These groups were created when we realized that the industry was changing. Being competitive wasn’t enough. We wanted to be among the first to establish those practice groups and take on a leadership role.” While Cliff wouldn’t claim sole credit for the formation of these practice areas, he had the foresight to twice identify these emerging opportunities and move the firm in that direction. 

Cliff is perhaps most proud of his role as the firm’s first Diversity and Professional Development Leader, a position that he created and advocated for the firm to adopt. “It’s important to send a consistent message, both within and outside the firm that demonstrates a true commitment to diversity and inclusion. Every firm may say it, but I wanted to show our commitment by appointing a diversity officer who was a member and willing to spend time on diversity initiatives. We wanted a centralized, partner-level person who had the resources, credibility and buy-in of the other members. 

“Diversity extends from our recruiting efforts at law schools to supporting our associates and members so that they can succeed to the best of their ability, all of which better serves our clients. My role helps us focus on our primary goal of celebrating and enhancing diversity within the firm and helps us effectively partner with bar associations, law schools, community, and business groups in joint efforts to increase diversity within the legal profession.”

The professional development component allows Cliff to make a significant investment of time in each associate, including mentoring, training, opportunities to present and network, and for client development. 

Cliff has been exposed to many different perspectives throughout his life. Of mixed Chinese/Caucasian heritage, Cliff grew up in the relative conservatism of the Chicago suburbs and got a taste for the legal profession during pre-law activities in high school. His next stop was Stanford University, where he majored in English. “I was drawn to literature, and creative writing in particular, but I realized that I needed to have a practical career path more viable than writing.” Cliff continued to engage with the law through a pre-law course taught by Stanford Law School faculty and a summer internship with the San Jose public defender, both of which were key experiences that led him to Columbia University Law School. 

“I didn’t really have much choice or exercise great foresight, and I was very lucky,” Cliff admits. “I graduated from high school at 17, went straight through college, then law school and as a new lawyer at age 24, I joined Becker Glynn, a small Manhattan firm as a litigation associate. Looking back, it was great to spend my 20s in New York. Working for a smaller firm got me more experience more quickly. I was single and able to work hard and find out who I was through that process.”

Finding himself included meeting his future wife, and when expecting their first child, moving to Central New York and joining Bond. 

“I think a lot about the world that my three kids are going to have. I don’t see myself becoming politically active—at least not in terms of running for office, but I definitely want to be more involved in local-level efforts to make it better for everyone to find common ground.”