Amy Ooi, the youngest of seven children, heard her neighbor’s piano through an open window and was captivated. Her mother found a way to pay for a piano and weekly lessons, but Ooi was the one who poured her free time into practicing classical music. That dedication and focus paid off when Ooi earned a ten-semester scholarship from an American university.
As a young adult, Ooi boarded a plane from her home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to perfect her craft at the collegiate level. She then earned her master’s in music theory and ethnomusicology from the University of Arizona and continued as a doctoral candidate and teaching fellow at the University of North Texas.
In 2007, Ooi saw her dream of becoming a music professor dissolve as lawmakers and administrators responded to the global recession by slashing budgets for fine arts education. Ooi decided it was time for a change. She went to Barnes & Noble, bought an LSAT prep book, and read it during winter break. She took the test in February and applied to law school in April. That July, just seven months after Ooi first considered changing career paths, she was accepted to the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.
As Ooi studied torts, contracts, legal methods, and other topics, she realized something surprising—a background in music theory prepared her for success as a 1L. “Music and law both reside in worlds of patterns, motifs, trends, and rules. Crossing over from one world to the other can be seamless,” she says. “Dissecting the scores of symphonies was practice for interpreting areas of the law.”
It was clear Ooi had made the right choice. Although during her legal studies, Ooi imagined a career in transaction law, her first position in private practice was with a Texas law firm specializing in employment litigation. Employee whistleblowers from a for-profit trade school approached her firm with allegations against their organization, and soon, hundreds of students came forward with complaints. The school, they alleged, enticed lower-income students to apply for federal loans and grants, all the while knowing that their programs would not provide the students with the credentials necessary to effectively pay the ensuing debt.
The school hired the prestigious DC law firm where Supreme Court Justices Kagan and Kavanaugh once practiced to defend the qui tam action. Fresh out of law school, Ooi found herself across the table from formidable opponents. Still, she persevered, and her clients prevailed, winning a multimillion-dollar settlement.
In 2014, Ooi joined SettlePou. She credits five years in the firm’s commercial litigation group with honing her professional skills. “In my case, being at a smaller firm, like SettlePou, pushed me to the next level,” Ooi explains. SettlePou is where everything “clicked,” as Ooi put together all the pieces of her education and experience. Ooi’s mentors encouraged her to acquire skills in products liability, contract disputes, probate, and financial services.
Amy Ooi spoke to Modern Counsel from her Kessler Park home in Dallas, Texas, as she prepared to cochair the annual National Forum on Residential Mortgage Regulatory Enforcement & Litigation, hosted by the American Conference Institute. As the mortgage industry prepares to emerge from its biggest challenge since the 2008 housing crisis, Ooi believe it is more important than ever for in-house and industry lawyers to network and learn from subject matter experts in the quickly developing areas of COVID-era legislation, forbearance programs, disputes with bankrupt debtors, fraud, and other relevant topics.
During this time, Ooi served as outside counsel for Caliber Home Loans. When the national mortgage lender approached her about an opening in-house, she jumped at the new opportunity. Now, as vice president and associate general counsel, Ooi manages a large litigation caseload that spans all fifty states.
Supervising a multistate legal operation is a welcome challenge, as Ooi ensures she stays well versed on laws, rules, and regulations that vary from state to state. To succeed, she relies on a strong internal legal team and a network of capable outside firms to scrutinize local laws and craft nuanced strategies.
Organizing and updating changes in state laws and related data is critical in an industry where strict compliance is often necessary. Ooi credits her years in music theory, which trained her to memorize information and recognize patterns, for her success in this arena. Instead of music scores, she now reads charts, graphs, and spreadsheets to stay sharp in her field. “I take pride in how organized I am because we can’t afford any mistakes.”
With the world emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic and many borrowers facing financial difficulty, the future remains uncertain, and whether there will be an uptick in legal issues is unclear. “I feel for so many homeowners who have been harshly impacted by the ongoing pandemic and fear eviction,” Ooi says. “Caliber strives to keep each customer in their homes by being flexible and using available resources whenever possible.” In keeping with this goal, her team reviews spreadsheets, rechecks state laws, huddles with external firms, evaluates the merits of emerging suits, and develops the most appropriate responsive strategy.
For Caliber Home Loans, 2021 will be an important year, and Ooi is ready for what lies ahead. “All my varied experience is coming together in the right way, and I feel like I’m uniquely prepared for this time,” she says.
Practicing law doesn’t mean Ooi no longer practices the piano, however. Ooi believes that balancing a taxing legal practice with personal time spent doing what she loves brings out the best in her, both as a legal practitioner and as an individual. “Playing music is no longer my homework,” she says. “I can truly enjoy turning on an album or sitting down to play a piece myself.” Whether it’s Mozart or mortgage law, Ooi strives to hit all the right notes.
Locke Lord LLP:
“As outside counsel, we have worked with Amy on many cases over the years. She is smart, responsive, organized, and knowledgeable about the financial services industry. We always enjoy working with Amy.”
–Rob Mowrey, Partner