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Supermom, Chinese-Style

Vivia Chen

January 10, 2011

Amy_chua_2007 I just read Amy Chua's article ("Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," which is excerpted from Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) in The Wall Street Journal, and I'm still gasping for air. A law professor at Yale Law School, Chua (pictured right) is an überachiever who's hell-bent on raising her kids to be at least as accomplished as she is. 

Chua seems to delight in playing up to the stereotype of the pushy, academically obsessed Asian mom. So much so that I thought (for a moment) that she was pulling our legs. But she's serious. She starts by listing "some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa (Lulu), were never allowed to do":

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the number one student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

Wow. I thought my Chinese parents stressed academic achievement, but they were wimps compared to Chua. For one thing, they allowed me to watch TV (I emigrated from Taiwan, and learned English by watching sitcoms). The only time they curtailed my TV viewing was when I failed math in fourth grade, and my father (who was a mathematician) cut the wire to our TV set. It was a traumatic moment.

By seventh grade, I became an A student (okay, A-minus) and eventually went to college and law school. I have a respectable resume, but nothing like Chua's. And maybe that's because my parents didn't adopt Chua's draconian ways.

Chua would probably say that my parents got lazy--and caved in to Western influences. She cites a study of American mothers and Chinese immigrant mothers, in which almost "70 percent of the Western mothers said either that 'stressing academic success is not good for children' or that 'parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun.'" But "roughly 0 percent" of the Chinese moms shared those sentiments. Moreover, Chinese mothers thought "academic achievement reflects successful parenting," says Chua, noting that they faulted parents for "not doing their job" if their kids didn't excel.

Chua's article has ignited countless debates about child-rearing methods. Asian Americans, in particular, are dredging up stories of their own pressured childhoods. The blogger of Every Six Minutes, a Chinese American who recently quit her associate job at Davis Polk, told me that she felt sorry for Chua's daughters because they were being raised like "two dolphins confined in a kiddie pool." Most of my Asian American friends think Chua will drive her kids nuts.  

Everyone is worried about the kids, but what about the poor parents? Really, do working parents--especially the moms--need any more pressure on the homefront? Isn't it enough to make sure your kids are clothed, fed, and nurtured while holding on to an outside job, without having to whip them into mini-geniuses?

The type of parenting that Chua advocates is exhausting and emotionally draining. Take the time her 7-year-old-daughter Lulu struggled with playing "The Little White Donkey " on the piano. Frustrated, Lulu threw a series of temper tantrums, pleading to quit. After threatening to take Lulu's dollhouse "piece by piece" to the Salvation Army unless she mastered the piece, and fighting with her husband about the ordeal, Chua says:

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.

Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

Chua calls the Donkey episode "a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style."

Whatever. All I can say is that Chua's gig at Yale Law must be pretty cushy. How else would she have the energy and time to micromanage her kids? (Her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, is also a tenured professor at Yale Law; he was named as a faculty "hottie" by Above the Law in 2006.)

Personally, I am getting in touch with my inner lazy American. Which reminds me: It's time to park my daughter in front of the TV, then arrange her sleepover--not at my place, but at her friend's house--so that I can get a break.

 Related post: Monsters-R-Us, Les Femmes Fatiguées, When Mom Disses Your Work.


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Photo: Larry D. Moore


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i wonder how children from different races in china relate

Funny how in interviews she acts like she didn't do any of this & that the book was taken out of context or blown out of proportion. How about when she rejected her daughter's mother's day card because it 'wasn't her best' & the kid defended her, saying, 'it wasn't my best & I was busted'. Give me a break. And she's so against western stuff, yet it looks to me like she's clearly had double eyelid surgery.

Further on Chua as a Chinese surname . . .

My wife, a gyn surgeon, hails from a family of intellectuals and professionals in Shanghai. She has four sisters and three brothers. Among those eight are six of their children between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-six. Chua as a Chinese surname is unknown to them all.

Bilingual speakers at the consulates in New York for Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia all have told me the word chùa – with a grave – (= temple) is Vietnamese. A trilingual speaker at the City Campus Mahayana Temple at 133 Canal St in Manhattan has told me that the word chùa is common in Buddhist use but is not Chinese. In the illustration of the attachment hereto, the word for “temple” emblazoned is transliterated into pinyin as si or shu. http://www.mahayana.us/ But, again, I have it on the authority of my Chinese family that “chua” – at least as it’s pronounced in the nations subjoined to China and in English – is definitely not a Chinese word or name.

Perhaps Chinese speakers of languages other than Wu or Mandarin, from elsewhere on the Mainland, may have an informed knowledge on this point of nomenclature countering what I’ve sent to you here.

The faces of both father Leon Chua http://www.eecs.berkeley.edu/~chua/ and daughter Amy Chua http://www.leighbureau.com/speaker.asp?id=268 are textured similarly to reflect a family origin, at least within the previous handful of Chua generations as likely more south than Mainland China; although within fluid populations, this is speculative. Honestly, though, that part of the world is such a mixed bag of all its ingredients that . . .


André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
Formerly Bass Trombonist
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

Why is the art of music required to endure the ill-informed antics of such inartistic imbeciles as Amy Chua? Her lust for fame as an old-fashioned stage mother of either a famous violinist (yet another mechanical Sarah Chang?) or a famous pianist (yet another mechanical Lang Lang?) shines through what she perceives as devotion to the cultivation of the cultural sensitivities of her two unfortunate daughters.

Daughter Lulu at age 7 is unable to play compound rhythms from Jacques Ibert with both hands coordinated? Leonard Bernstein couldn’t conduct this at age 50! And he isn’t the only musician of achievement with this-or-that shortcoming. We all have our closets with doors that are not always fully opened.

And why all this Chinese obsession unthinkingly dumped on violin and piano? What do the parents with such insistence know of violin and piano repertoire? Further, what do they know of the great body of literature for flute? For French horn? For organ? For trumpet? Usually, nothing!

For pressure-driven (not professionally-driven!) parents like Amy Chua their children, with few exceptions, will remain little more than mechanical sidebars to the core of classical music as it’s practiced by musicians with a humanistic foundation.

Professor Chua better be socking away a hefty psychoreserve fund in preparation for the care and feeding of her two little lambs once it becomes clear to them both just how empty and ill-defined with pseudo-thorough grounding their emphasis has been on so-called achievement.

Read more about this widespread, continuing problem in Forbidden Childhood (N.Y., 1957) by Ruth Slenczynska.


André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
Formerly Bass Trombonist
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

Professor Chua is a woefully ill-informed parent, one ignorant of just what is happening in some parts of education in America. Fully confident in her presumed success as a writer with an editorial staff at Penguin shadow boxing for her and unapologetically wearing her signature plastic smile for public appearances, the Lawyer Chua is trying to persuade and convince; on both counts controversially, but with enough negative reactions to cause her subsequently to attempt a dilution of the intensity in her initial self-congratulatory tirade by latterly asserting that her writing is merely one person’s experiences of some trying times in motherhood. To gain working points among the Old-Boy network, the prime lubricant of Yale, Professor Chua initially claimed that she is a Tiger Mom as Chinese maternal type; Fierce! When that showpiece veneer didn’t sit well with mothers who are the real thing, i.e., mothers from China, this faux cat altered the validity of her claim to violence by stating that she is a Tiger Mom because she was born in 1962, a Year of the Tiger. That a tenured Professor of Yale can – must? – openly justify her self-classification with superstitious underpinning should provide anyone what is needed to draw a conclusion about the level of intellect afoot in Yale Law School. Professor? Indeed!

Any of Chua’s public statements of the purposes of her work evolve to fit the tenor of the evolving criticisms directed at it. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/10/amy-chua-tiger-mom-book-one-year-later_n_1197066.html It has passed, in her own words, from (1) practical handbook for parenting to (2) tongue-in-cheek (whatever that’s supposed to mean), to (3) memoir, (4) satire, (5) parody, (6) “a coming of age book for parents” (7) “the book is about a journey”; and who knows what else as she makes the rounds of the book circuit trying to snare yet more unsuspecting purchasers into her net. That she can, without blushing, class a single work with such a range causes me to wonder what kind of grade she got at Harvard for her command of the English language. She’s Trollope (the author), Pope (the author), The Wicked Witch in Hansel und Gretel and Gullible’s Travels all penned together into one oversized Pamper. Anyone who can’t read the monetary cynicism driving the kaleidoscope of this whole Tiger Mom scam and its spurious, unproven claimed insights into parenting, with variant latter-day reflections by the author herself, deserves to have paid full retail price for this book.

“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it.” http://bettymingliu.com/2011/01/parents-like-amy-chua-are-the-reason-why-asian-americans-like-me-are-in-therapy/

Stamp collecting, fishing, lazing about on a summer day, science club, Brownie Scouting, baseball, birthday parties, church annual picnic, kite flying, visiting relatives, kissing, jumping rope, student council, insect classification . . . Away with this woman! “Fun” must be one of the more overused, misunderstood words in the American lexicon. Chinese parent = The Model Minority? In China?

“I’m happy to be the one hated.” http://bettymingliu.com/2011/01/parents-like-amy-chua-are-the-reason-why-asian-americans-like-me-are-in-therapy/

“If I could push a magic button and choose either happiness or success for my children, I’d choose happiness in a second. http://amychua.com/

That’s it perfectly stated in Tigerese: Either / Or; not both. Amy Chua is a chameleonic con artist. PT. Barnum certainly was right, one “. . . born every minute!”

Amy Chua has never lived in China. Her understanding of its culture, that is, the culture as it’s truly lived by the indigenous people in their dailyness, then must be that of the tourist. Here perhaps is one view of a China she may or may not have seen.

http://bbs.tiexue.net/post_5057209_1.html [Each of the four pictures can be enlarged for clearer viewings.] In what likely is Nanning, the capitol of Guang Xi region, the boy was caught stealing money to pursue his addiction in Internet gaming. (This is a common problem in China, especially among adolescent boys. http://playnoevil.com/serendipity/index.php?/archives/1076-China-continues-focus-on-Internet-Addiction-Reading-the-Tea-Leaves.html) As punishment his father has publicly stripped off the boy’s clothes, lathered him with some unstated brown caking (which I shall discretely hope is mere mud), bound his hands behind his back, and then pulled him on his back and buttocks by one foot for disgrace through a very-public area of the city.

On contemporary corporal punishment in China:

A third of them [child respondents] said corporal punishment negatively affected their personalities, causing them to become introverted and depressed.

Legal experts cited by the paper said China should ban corporal punishment in its marriage laws to protect children from physical and psychological harm and to protect the rights of minors.

They blamed the common occurrence of corporal punishment in China on the traditional belief that children were a part of their parents, not individuals. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-12/07/content_397964.htm

The routine beatings allegedly given to child gymnasts in China are no different to the corporal punishment that was once part of daily life in English public schools, according to the head of the Olympic movement.

Mr Rogge said he believed that if physical punishment is being used to train young athletes in China, then it is likely to be confined to sports such as gymnastics and swimming, where the age of competitors is much younger than in the other Olympic sports. What is not known is how widespread the practice is. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/1504716/Chinas-abuse-of-its-athletes-is-no-different-to-Britains-public-schools-says-Olympics-chief.html

“It was a pretty disturbing experience. I was really shocked by some of what was going on. I know it is gymnastics and that sport has to start its athletes young, but I have to say I was really shocked. I think it’s a brutal programme. They said this is what they needed to do to make them hard.

“I do think those kids are being abused. The relationship between coach and child and parent and child is very different here. But I think it goes beyond the pale. It goes beyond what is normal behaviour. It was really chilling.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/2368416/Olympics-Pinsent-upset-at-Chinese-abuse.html

Anyone who thinks the Chinese are a race of genteel pacifists who, collectively, design their lives to awaken every morning wiser than they went to bed the night before is a candidate for some serious awakening of his own. As a whole person Amy Chua is a type; she is not an aberration.

Now, for one question I have not seen asked anywhere. . . Does Professor Chua play a music instrument? If so, let’s hear some of it. If not, from what sources has she gathered her standards about music technique and style and how they might be taught to a very young child who has shown no particular affinity for any instrument? Can she play any music from what she has demanded from either of her two daughters? Can she play simultaneously triplets in the left hand and duolets in the right? Can she perform, even modestly, http://www.alfred.com/samplepages/00-16734_01~02.pdf, the composition she has demanded her post-toddler daughter play with assurance?

There can be no doubt that Professor Chua likes violence, so long as it’s not directed at her, the core definition of a bully. She has said recently that there are parts of the world in which some of her parenting techniques might be considered child abuse. I do wish she could be persuaded to name (1) which some of those parts of the world are, (2) just which parenting techniques she is referring to, and (3) why she believes those same techinques should not be defined as child abuse in her home state of Connecticut.

How did such a reprehensible woman obtain a position so high up on the feeding chain with so little prior experience in law education?

HUSBAND, faculty of Yale Law School since 1990 : Jed Rubenfeld
WIFE, faculty of Yale Law School since 2001 : Amy Chua

As the lawyers may put it, Let the evidence speak for itself. The Tiger Mom has made it on her own claws.

One last question: Who prevents Professor Chua from sitting on a toilet or eating a meal when, at any given moment, she is vexed beyond her capacity to complete an academic assignment or any other professional obligation within the proper time allocated for its completion?

André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
Formerly Bass Trombonist
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

QUESTION: “What’s ten thousand lawyers at the bottom of the sea?”
ANSWER: “A good start.”

Continuing to follow the saga of what may be one of the more outrageous examples - and there are similar examples aplenty! - of the child abuses of Amy Chua, lawyer, she has famously outlined in great detail in her scabrous parental update posing as a handbook of distilled wisdom, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I think it timely and prudent to provide a healthy, humane counterpoint by way of a much different kind of example of adult guidance to a young stranger. To wit:

In May 1954, M. Paul Claussen, Jr, a 12-year-old boy living in Alexandria, Virginia, sent a letter to Mr Justice Felix Frankfurter in which he wrote that he was interested in “going into the law as a career” and requested advice as to “some ways to start preparing myself while still in junior high school.” This is the reply he received:

My Dear Paul:

No one can be a truly competent lawyer unless he is a cultivated man. If I were you I would forget about any technical preparation for the law. The best way to prepare for the law is to be a well-read person. Thus alone can one acquire the capacity to use the English language on paper and in speech and with the habits of clear thinking which only a truly liberal education can give. No less important for a lawyer is the cultivation of the imaginative faculties by reading poetry, seeing great paintings, in the original or in easily available reproductions, and listening to great music. Stock your mind with the deposit of much good reading, and widen and deepen your feelings by experiencing vicariously as much as possible the wonderful mysteries of the universe, and forget about your future career.

With good wishes,

Sincerely yours,

[signed] Felix Frankfurter

From THE LAW AS LITERATURE, ed. by Ephraim London, Simon and Schuster, 1960.


I knew that a Paul Claussen had been a major figure (1972-2007) in the Office of the Historian of The United States Department of State in Washington, with an abiding interest in The Great Seal of The United States. http://diplomacy.state.gov/documents/organization/101044.pdf An obituary of Dr Claussen is on page 47 in http://2001-2009.state.gov/documents/organization/86414.pdf and http://www.thefreelibrary.com/M.+Paul+Claussen,+history's+friend%3A+office+of+the+historian+suffers+a...-a0167843232

So, wishing to determine whether or not the elder Claussen was, indeed, the boy writing to Justice Frankfurter in 1954 I wrote to his former colleague at State. The reply follows.

----- Original Message -----
From: PA History Mailbox
To: 'Andre M. Smith'
Sent: Saturday, January 07, 2012 10:11 AM
Subject: RE: Chris Morrison

Dear Mr. Smith,

Copied below is the response I received from one of Paul Claussen’s long-time colleagues here in the Office of the Historian.

Yes it is. The young Paul wanted to be a lawyer and so decided to write Felix Frankfurter (I can't open the link but my memory says it was Frankfurter) and ask for his advice. Frankfurter evidently was taken with his letter and wrote back at length…Frankfurter of course kept a copy and the text of the letter has been published in collections of Frankfurter's writings.

Please contact us of you have any additional questions.

Best regards,


Christopher A. Morrison, Ph.D.
Historian, Policy Studies Division

U.S. Department of State
Office of the Historian (PA/HO)


Dr Claussen did follow the advice of Justice Frankfurter. And he came out of that advice none the worse for it. The world is much bigger, richer, more tolerant, and more laden with opportunities than the blinkered view of Amy Chua would have her daughters and fellow fear-laden mothers without Ivy League tenure believe.

For a very well-balanced alternative to the mania - and it is nothing less - to which the many Chuas of the world subscribe, read the refreshingly informed reports on http://orient.bowdoin.edu/orient/article.php?date=2009-12-04&section=3&id=2, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/09/28/china, and http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/10/16/liberalarts

Alternatively read more of the Amy Chua prototype . . .

By Tom Paxton

Humankind has survived some disasters, I'm sure.
Like locusts and flash floods and flu.
There's never a moment when we've been secure
From the ills that the flesh is heir to.
If it isn't a war, it's some gruesome disease.
If it isn't disease, then it's war.
But there's worse still to come, and I'm asking you please
How the world's gonna take any more?

In ten years we're gonna have one million lawyers,
One million lawyers, one million lawyers.
In ten years we're gonna have one million lawyers.
How much can a poor nation stand?

The world shook with dread of Attila the Hun
As he conquered with fire and steel,
And Genghis and Kubla and all of the Kahns
Ground a groaning world under the heel.
Disaster, disaster, so what else is new?
We've suffered the worst and then some.
So I'm sorry to tell you, my suffering friends,
Of the terrible scourge still to come.

Oh, a suffering world cries for mercy
As far as the eye can see.
Lawyers around every bend in the road,
Lawyers in every tree,
Lawyers in restaurants, lawyers in clubs,
Lawyers behind every door,
Behind windows and potted plants, shade trees and shrubs,
Lawyers on pogo sticks, lawyers in politics!

In spring there's tornadoes and rampaging floods,
In summer it's heat stroke and draught.
There's Ivy League football to ruin the fall,
It's a terrible scourge, without doubt.
There are blizzards to batter the shivering plain.
There are dust storms that strike, but far worse
Is the threat of disaster to shrivel the brain,
It's the threat of implacable curse.
In ten years we're gonna have one million lawyers,
One million lawyers, one million lawyers.
In ten years we're gonna have one million lawyers.
How much can a poor nation stand?
How much can a poor nation stand?

André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
Formerly Bass Trombonist
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

I think it's easy to take cheap shots at Chua, but it's hard to argue that the average American child needs less discipline, less direction or less respect for others.

It might seem amusing to mock her (her "cushy job" and "hottie husband"), but harder to actually consider the points being made in a non-defensive way, without trying to paint yourself as the "cool mom" who prefers three martini playdates?

p.s. It seems ironic that an Asian-American female who went to Williams (fulfilling a fantasy of Chinese parents everywhere) would paint her parents as laissez-faire and herself as moderately motivated.

Here is NMA TV's take on Amy Chua: Western moms vs. Chinese moms


Perhaps because my mother was born in NY and not the China of our ancestry, I escaped what I can only imagine is the uncreative, rigid, pressure-filled existence of Cha's daughters.

There might not be a lot of over-achieving women raised by Chinese mothers who are able to comment on this blog or the WSJ article…. because we’re all too shell-shocked from CM-PTSD (“Chinese Mother – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”). I hear there’s a burgeoning specialty amongst psychiatrists who make a good living only treating women with CM-PTSD.

My 13-year-old son read the excerpt, and his instant comment was: "How are these kids ever going to get a job if they've never learned how to get along with people?"

His second comment was that Chua's treatment of her kids bordered on child abuse.

Admittedly, I'm a lazy Western mom who hasn't been permitted to even SEE his homework since third grade. But somehow he's managed to consistently be the top student at his school, win speech, science and other contests, play sports after school, sing in a choir, and - oh yes - have a LIFE, with many friends. He even - gasp - watches TV. Trash TV.

And he still speaks to me about important things going on in his life (though now with a "teen tone" that I'm told won't go away for a few years).

He's not perfect, nor am I as a mother, but I know I won't be the main topic of his therapy sessions 20 years from now, either.

The anon commentator is correct. The Every Six Minutes blogger's last job was at Simpson Thacher. She had worked at Davis Polk before that.

I think the blogger from Every Six Minutes was at Simpson Thacher, not Davis Polk.

Just saying, since you're on the AmLaw and everything and your readers probably care about dumb things like firm names.

I am sure that every psychiatrist in New York is licking his chops waiting to get a call from Chua and her non-Chinese husband to fix the damage that they are doing to their daughters.

As important as it is to do well in school, it is just as important to enjoy one's youth. I suspect that Chua's daughters will never forgive her for ruining their childhood.

It's better to be well-adjusted and to be a B+ to A- student than to be afraid to come home with a grade lower than A.

Besides which, if Chua is so steeped in Chinese tradition, why did she marry a Jewish man? But, I digress.

Time for a remake of "My Monster Mom" this time starring Amy Chua and her terrorized and abused children instead of the Filipino family...

At least Connecticut has strict gun laws... :/

Here's something to consider. One of my daughter's friends, also adopted from China, was asked how she was similar to/different from the Chinese kids who populate her new school, Bronx High School of Science. (Her anglo parents are massage therapists.....) Not so different, she said, except they don't like their parents and don't talk to them.

My daughter--such potential--dropped out of piano at age 11. Oh well. I guess I have to find fulfillment for myself some other way. I've signed her up for tennis.

Vivia: One thing's for sure - I'd rather sit next to you than Chua at a dinner party. :)

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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