Alvina Wong Hou first learned the value of education from her maternal grandmother. Like her grandmother, Hou grew up in a traditional Chinese family, in which women and girls often received different treatment from their male counterparts.
“My grandmother is almost ninety, and, to this day, she’s illiterate,” Hou says. “She asked her parents for the chance to go to school and was told no because she was a girl. Growing up, she would always tell me that I was so lucky to get to go to school.”
Her grandmother’s story motivated Hou to become the first in her family to attend college and later pursue her law degree. “Seeing that incremental increase in the ability to advance over the course of just three generations has encouraged me always to keep pushing and to keep looking for opportunities to learn and grow,” she says.
That remains true in the context of Hou’s current role as associate general counsel of litigation and investigations at biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences. She has had ample chances to challenge herself in her five-plus years at Gilead, during which time she has not only spearheaded complex cases, but also come into her own as a collaborative leader to her team and partner to the business.
After graduating from Berkeley Law in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, Hou started her career as a visiting attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco.
“I represented primarily monolingual Chinese immigrant families in housing rights as well as immigration cases,” she says. “Being able to help individuals who didn’t speak English felt natural to me because it was similar to what I had done for my parents growing up. It also showed me early on in my career that I could leverage the educational opportunities afforded to me to make a real difference in someone’s life.”
Hou went on to specialize in complex commercial litigation and white-collar criminal defense at Winston & Strawn LLP, where she practiced for some seven years before joining Gilead. Although she represented clients in different industries at the firm, she credits her extensive training with enabling her to make a successful shift in-house.
Hou currently manages a variety of litigation matters and investigations that see her collaborating closely with outside counsel and key business partners across legal, commercial, and research and development. Her interactions with the latter have made her all the more passionate about her work, including a mass tort case that she has been litigating since the very start of her tenure at the company.
“That case has been a big project of mine,” Hou confirms. “It has been a passion to uphold Gilead’s research and development and the critical role it plays in treating and preventing HIV for millions of people.”
She has played a crucial part in driving litigation strategy throughout her time at Gilead—a fact that she believes speaks to the nonhierarchical company culture. “I was told right away to jump in during meetings. From the beginning, it was expected that I could make a difference in and take ownership over the matters I was assigned,” she says. “At the same time, I can’t do this job on my own. I have to rely on partnering with the business and others in order to come up with the strongest position for our cases, and I take the same approach with my team. I encourage them to share their opinions because that’s how we get the best output.”
Hou also offers encouragement to peers outside the office, as a mentor to first-generation law students at Berkeley. “I was very self-conscious when I first started law school and people would talk about their parents or other relatives being lawyers. I started to wonder whether I deserved to be there,” she admits. “Hopefully, that narrative can change for others.”
Hou shares lessons with her mentees based on her own experiences as a first-generation attorney, but her advice applies more broadly as well. “Don’t let anyone make you think that you can’t do something,” she urges. “I haven’t worked with other litigators who look like me or who have a similar background, but I’ve come to realize that as long as you put in the hard work and the dedication, somebody will eventually see the value in that.”
Hou also cites the importance of finding a workplace that values authenticity and continuous growth and development, like Gilead does. For her part, Hou remains as committed as ever to learning—and to honoring and living out the dreams of her maternal grandmother in the process.
“Because my grandmother is still alive, there’s a constant reminder for me not to take these opportunities for granted,” Hou says. “And I tell my daughter the same thing. She’s only seven years old, but I want her to dream big and to grow up knowing that she can do amazing things.”
“To every case, Alvina brings a rare combination of sheer intellectual firepower and strategic instinct. Razor sharp, pragmatic and totally unflappable, Alvina is a pleasure to work with and makes everyone else around her better.”
—Josh Rosenkranz, Partner
“Alvina Hou is an exceptionally strategic, intelligent, and diligent lawyer and business partner. Her relentless commitment to understanding every facet of a litigation, coupled with her unwavering dedication to furthering Gilead’s mission and business objectives, truly set her apart.”
—Bart Williams and Susan Gutierrez, Partners