Lorraine Akiba has the bearing of a lioness, strong and regal. Her rapid-fire speaking style hints at her prowess as a trial attorney. If strength of character were inherited rather than earned, Akiba would say she got it from her mother, Dr. Florence Iwasa.
"My mom was a kibei nisei, a second generation Japanese American visiting Japan for her education," Akiba says. "While there, World War II broke out and she couldn't leave. She experienced the bombings and food shortages, but because she was American, her neighbors were suspicious." After her return, her mother became one of the state's first female Japanese physicians. "My mom had a unique way of looking at things," she says. "She saw no barriers for me as a woman."
Politically active and community oriented, Akiba's parents sparked and encouraged their daughter's interest in pursuing law. "I saw that the law and legislative changes could open up opportunities for people that were previously beyond their scope," she says.
After completing undergraduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley, Akiba earned her law degree at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in 1981. Since then, she has accomplished much. She spent 13 years with Cades Schutte Fleming & Wright as an associate attorney and then partner, served under former Gov. Benjamin Cayetano as director of the Hawai'i Department of Labor and Industrial Relations from 1995 to 2000, and completed a three-year term as chair of the Hawaii Democratic Party. Since 2000, she has been a partner with McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon LLP.
Although she's always ready for a good legal challenge, Akiba says litigation is grueling. "I can't think of anything more demanding than being a lawyer," she says. "It's adversarial at times and really takes a toll."
To relieve the stress, she pursues an avocation that is equally challenging: competitive ballroom dance. "Some use meditation to clear their mind," she says. "For me, it's dance. When I'm concentrating on steps and technique, it frees my mind from the stresses of work. It's aerobic, keeps me flexible, and is refreshing and fun." Akiba competes nationally and internationally and has won awards, including first-place trophies at the annual Hawai'i Star Ball and the Baile Deportivo in Costa Rica.
To maintain her competitive edge, she takes lessons with professional ballroom coaches and attends four classes weekly in jazz dance and ballet. "The many seniors who dance with their ballroom clubs every weekend at the Ala Wai golf course palladium are a testament to the very good health effects of dance," she says. "And thanks to the city's Parks and Recreation Association, social dance classes are available to everyone at a very reasonable price."
Akiba is also learning to golf, but says she feels awkward at the sport. "It takes a lot of patience and practice, so for me, I think it's more of an exercise in character development." Her introduction to the green came through her affiliation with other HMSA board members.
Our board members are professionals concerned with giving back to the community, she says. "Unlike other boards, we're not compensated, so the kind of person who serves on the HMSA board is very civic-minded. I take my own commitment very seriously." One of the key things HMSA does is to educate its members and the community about health care and the importance of taking responsibility for one's health, says Akiba. "If we can prevent more people from smoking, getting diabetes or becoming obese, we won't have to deal with the manifestations of those diseases."