SGB Attorney Spotlight: Chen-Chen Jiang

Jun 20, 2023

Chen-Chen Jiang’s passion for working with underserved communities initially drove her toward a career in teaching. After graduating from college, she joined Teach For America in Detroit as a kindergarten teacher and later became a teacher coach, which she describes as one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of her life.

As a teacher in Detroit, the grit and resilience that her students and their families showed despite their challenges inspired Chen-Chen. Being a proud immigrant herself, she empathized with other underrepresented communities. Advocating for her students in the classroom eventually motivated her to transition to a career in law. She hoped to learn how the law—a system that too often benefits only those in power—could be used to fight the systemic issues obstructing these youth and their communities.

This mission brought her to Harvard Law School, where after earning her Juris Doctorate magna cum laude and serving as a Skadden Fellow, she joined SGB to continue wielding the law as a tool that’s accessible for all, not just the privileged.

Read our conversation below with Chen-Chen as we learn more about her and what she’s accomplished during her career.

Why are you passionate about law?

CJ: The law is a powerful tool that incites amazing change if we wield it in the correct way. Law influences every aspect of our lives, including how we live day-to-day and how we as a society hope to live in the future. Unfortunately, the law is often a tool that’s only accessible to the privileged. I’m passionate about flipping that dynamic, shifting the power of the law, and finding ways to make the law work for all. My personal background as an immigrant and seeing how difficult these systems, including our legal system, is to navigate heavily inspired me to incite change for others.

Tell us more about your background and your experience as a teacher.

CJ: I was born in Shanghai, China, and followed my parents to upstate New York after my dad came to the U.S. to attend graduate school. I’m the first in my family to pursue law, but before that, I began my career in education.

After college, I joined Teach For America in Detroit. There, I saw first-hand how poverty and oppression challenge youth, their families, and their communities in ways that are often overlooked. It was one of the most difficult experiences of my life, but also the most rewarding. The resiliency that these students and their families showed was remarkable, and advocating for their interests in the classroom motivated me to advocate for them on a larger scale.

Being a teacher prepares you for anything in life, including transitioning to law. It taught me management skills, day-to-day advocacy, and other strengths that every lawyer needs. And most importantly, it taught me the importance of authentic relationship-building with those you serve, listening to their needs and proposed solutions, and partnering with them to achieve those goals. I hope to bring that humility to every case.

What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve been given by a mentor?

CJ: During law school, I was struggling to pick an area of law to focus my career, as I was passionate about both education law and litigation. My clinical professor asked me a great question: why pigeonhole yourself into one form of advocacy? She encouraged me to pursue multiple avenues, not just one, and gain more experience along the way.

She taught me to look at a legal career not through the lens of what path to take but what problem I ultimately want to help attack. If that problem is the final target, you don’t shoot at it with just one arrow. You gather many arrows—each representing a different form of advocacy that may require different skills. She encouraged me to “add arrows to my quiver.” And she was right: Different problems require different solutions, and as lawyers, it’s our responsibility to our clients to ensure that we’re well-equipped to address their unique circumstances.

What drew you to practice at SGB?

CJ: I moved to Seattle for my partner’s job and clerked with Judge James L. Robart on the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. Eventually, I joined TeamChild, a state-wide civil legal aid organization where I advocated for young people to tackle issues obstructing their access to education. It has always been critical to me that my work focuses on utilizing existing systems to shift power to those who are traditionally (and intentionally) left out.

SGB’s values and mission align with that. During my time at TeamChild, I met SGB’s Lindsay Halm. I expressed to Lindsay that I wanted to gain experience in litigation, and three years later, I joined SGB. I resonate with the passion with which SGB fights for individuals who may not always have access to quality representation, and I enjoy collaborating with the team here to serve our clients together.