USTC Alumni Foundation conducts alumni interviews for all of us to exchange ideas on how to build USTC into a world-class institution, and to help ourselves excel at our chosen professions. As such, USTCAF doesn't necessarily endorse all statements made during the interviews.
Interview with Tony Chen--by LIU Zheng (June 2000)
Zheng Liu: The question everyone would like to ask is: How did you decide to go to law school in the middle of the Ph.D program?
Tony Chen: I wanted to break out of the ivory tower of the academic and get into the bigger society in the US. I wanted to learn more about the system of this country, curiosity is a big part of my decision-I wanted to understand how this country is run and meet with people from different areas and levels of this society. What I found out was that going to law school and becoming a lawyer is a very good way to achieve my purpose. This country, more so than any others, was founded upon the rule of law. Every rule comes from and goes back to the Constitution.
L: You spent three years in Harvard Law School, would you please tell us your law school experience?
C: My law school experience is quite eye opening and enlightening. They teach students with real-life cases, so students get to learn how the law is applied to regulate the economic, political, and social life, pretty much every aspect of life in this country. With case study, we learned how lawyers argue their cases and how judges analyze factual situations and apply the law to different circumstances. These are things one does not learn from outside of law school. It was definitely eye opening for me.
L: This is what you learned. The other important part of your law school experience would be how you felt. Was it very difficult at the beginning? Did you make friends? At the end, besides law, what else did you gain?
C: One important aspect is that the type of students, especially American students who go to law school are quite different from the type who go to graduate school. I mean a lot of students come from liberal arts background, families of political or economical influence, and from all sorts of professions. I had a classmate who was a Navy Seal, another whose mother was a Federal Appellant Court Judge, one from a prominent political family in Taiwan, and others who were journalists, professional dancers and musicians. There are more people from all corners of the society in comparison to my circle at graduate school. My class had 550 students; you can always find classmates of common interest whatever interest you have. For example, I co-founded the Harvard Chinese Law Association with some classmates. That was a lot of fun. We invited scholars from China, universities, and law firms to give seminars. We had a lot of social activities together, which made the stressful law school life a little bit easier.
L: So I would conclude that you also gained a lot of social skills?
C: I got to interact with people of very different backgrounds, that improved my social skills.
L: What was the hardest part of your law school experience?
C: Nothing particular in mind.
L: Then could I say that our alumni should have all the relevant skills to go to law school?
C: I would agree. The study of law is pretty much an analytical process. Our alumni all have the analytical ability. One difficulty faced by most foreign students in analyzing legal cases is a lack of sufficient background knowledge. A lot of cases involve very specific social context; foreign students do not understand the context very well. In terms of the analytical and language skills, students from USTC won't have any problems.
L: After law school, you worked for a private law firm for almost 6 years. Many of us have learned from fictions, movies, and "rumors" that law firms really push their associates to work day and night, trying to squeeze every single drop of sweat out of them. How did you cope of with that?
C: There certainly is some truth to it. These days law firms are run more and more like a business. Partners (owners) constantly watch the bottom-line. Of course, the atmosphere in law firms differs. Some pushes their associates very hard and some are more considerate. In some law firms, associates have to work 14-hour days for weeks in a row. Quality of life was one of the factors I considered in choosing the law firm where I worked. I do not have much to complain about my work there. The work was very interesting, I worked hard, but I wouldn't call overwhelming or intolerable.
L: After six years, you moved into a pharmaceutical company. How did you make that decision?
C: That came from my desire to learn more about how business is run and I was looking for opportunities to gain experience in playing significant role in the management of business. When I worked at a law firm, I worked in a very specialized professional area and people came to me with very specific inquiries. I had a lot of experience in the area, that is the positive side. The other side of the coin is that my exposure to other aspects of law and business is quite limited. In a company, attorney's role becomes a lot broader. One gets involved in business deliberation and strategic decisions. One's consideration becomes both legal and business analysis. To me, that is very interesting.
L: After the pharmaceutical company, you moved to an Internet start-up. That seems to be a bigger change than your first move.
C: From one industry into another, it does seem to be a big change. I had to learn a lot about the Internet. However, from legal and business management point of view, similar issues of law, about patents, trademarks, and copyright laws, are involved with both jobs. The business management experience I gained working for the pharmaceutical company is readily applicable.
L: I have noticed that you have been involved in a lot of work related to China, especially in intellectual property law area. Could you tell us about it?
C: When I went to law school and then started practicing law, there weren't many students from China, especially those with science and engineering background, practicing intellectual property law. I thought there was an opportunity for me to make some meaningful contributions to institutions in China. Also, there are a lot of high-tech start-ups in the U.S. are founded by people like us, from China. I want to provide intellectual property advice to them. As years went by, I found that these institutions and companies are increasingly looking for advices in this area. Therefore, I started to write articles, give seminars, organize conferences, and visit universities and institutions in China. In some cases, I became legal counsel to businesses and organizations.
L: Overall, you've had a very smooth and successful career ever since you entered the legal field. Do you have any suggestions for alumni and Chinese students who are thinking of this career track?
C: When you go into legal field, or any other profession, in this market economy, you always want to find your competitive advantage and build your competitive advantage. That is the way to build a successful career in this country. For me, I had a very good science education at USTC and in graduate school and, I found it advantageous for me to go into patent law to make use of my expertise and knowledge in both biotech and the legal field. Such a combination gives me a competitive edge. Helping and working for institutions in China and start-up companies founded by Chinese is another natural extension of my background.
L: Currently, you are the VP and General Counsel of Colorstamp.com. Would you please introduce the company to us?
C: Certainly. Colorstamp is a marketing infrastructure service company for businesses. For consumers, Colorstamp offers incentives for people who use the web. We have integrated incentives into the most popular activities on the web, such as e-mail and web search. When consumers use Colorstamp to search for information on the web, they will not only get the best search engine (we have the biggest and the fastest search engine), but also rewards measured in colorstamps. Colorstamps is a type of electronic currency. When consumers use Colorstamps e-mail and other services, they will accumulate colorstamps, which they can redeem for goods and services. Internet business can use Colorstamps to attract consumers to their websites and to keep consumers there.
L: It sounds very exciting. A lot of new ideas are combined together here. You and the two founders, Victor Shi and Alex Zhang, are all USTC Alumni, have you ever heard of USTC Overseas Alumni Foundation? Do you have any suggestions for our work?
C: I just learned about it. I know the Foundation helps our alma mater to raise funds to help needy students and also to reward students for academic excellence. These are all very worthy causes; alumni help out alma mater and each other. I hope the Foundation can keep us updated on what is going on at USTC and give us chances to get involved with the school in a more interactive way. I am very eager in finding out what other alumni are doing in the Internet field. We can help each other to succeed.
L: This is exactly what we are doing here, collecting information and interviewing successful alumni. Eventually, we hope to build a database of alumni in different fields, it will be accessible by all alumni to help one other to succeed. This is what AF is doing to help alumni, what do you think Colorstamp can do to help AF's work?
C: For example, we can provide a search engine for the Foundation. Actually, we did help some business and non-profit organization to raise fund. We have the best search engine for people to find out information about their classmates, etc.
L: Thank you very much for your time, suggestions, and information about Colorstamp. I will pass your information to the appropriate person in the Foundation to see what our Foundation and Colorstamp can do for each other.
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