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Faculty Spotlight: David Chen Helps His Students Achieve Their Full Potential

David Chen, adjunct professor at Seattle University School of Law, approaches law with an open mind and admirable curiosity — not just for how he can use it in a practical sense to achieve financial and career-first results, but how he can use the law to find and create a meaningful, balanced life. His goal is to teach students how to do the same.

Learning How the Legal System Works

David was born in Hawaii to first-generation immigrant parents from Taiwan. But his memories began once they moved to Seattle, where his parents opened a restaurant. He specifically enjoyed his time spent interacting with everyone who came by, and was granted the opportunity to learn from diverse perspectives. These early conversations, “Definitely piqued my interest in law and how the system works; especially as an immigrant, you don’t understand American jurisprudence.” 

This curiosity led him to attend Western Washington, then Seattle University to earn his law degree. He graduated at the height of the recession, leading him to empathize with those who are graduating or looking for schools today. “Regardless of the antecedents or characteristics of the economic times, a lot of people feel uncertain about their direction and long-term futures — and I did, too.” After a wide range of work experience, he now serves as General Counsel at Central City Concern, a nonprofit corporation committed to helping people create meaningful, long-term change.

David Chen

An Alum’s Experience at SU

“I really appreciated Seattle U. It had such a strong social justice core, it was very thoughtful about its methodology, and it interwove the required ABA standards with what it took to make change within a system.” He applauds their commitment to teaching him, and all their students, how to develop strategic, deliberate approaches to complex problems and how to use that law degree in a myriad of ways. 

He notes that being a first-generation immigrant with no legal background, “It was a great learning environment to really think about learning not only from an objective ‘get the degree and get the job’ perspective, but also, ‘what am I really learning and why?’” The liberal arts lens created thinking patterns toward striving for good outcomes within varied spaces.

An Informed Teaching Philosophy

David sincerely respects the teaching process. “I think the thing that’s been most valuable in teaching is using that opportunity to pull back from our daily decision-making and ask, ‘does that impact the way I think? Does that inform the meaning of my life?’” He then imparts that wisdom to students. Their opportunity to learn grants important certifications, achievements, and more from a career development perspective, but finding profound meaning through the study is the deeper prerogative. 

He suggests students consider their education in the context of Japanese “Ikigai,” which depicts the harmonious intersection of four cornerstones: your passion, what the planet needs, what brings you a fundamental ability to meet your physical and material needs, and what you are good at. For David, that means prioritizing his family while also being able to say, as he can with confidence, “I love my job.”

How to Choose a Law School

Along these lines, he explains that it is extremely important to understand the values, history, and methodology of the institution you want to join. He offers his alma mater as a prime example; “Seattle U is special because it is inquisitive about the world, as well as what social justice is.” He applauds the excellent curriculum, but also thoughtful decision-making in both online and in-person programs. “They are trying to impact positive world change through inductive reasoning, strategic planning and thinking, and ultimately orientation towards finding passion through what you’re learning. That’s my favorite part of teaching at Seattle U.” 

David is in the perfect position to extend trustworthy advice, having been through the program himself before serving as a professor. “You’ll never end up where you planned to be,” he warns, “but if you pick choices based on value, you’ll always end up happy where you are. Students should make a decision not based on ranking or name, but the value that this type of education can bring to your life.” 

Helping Students Achieve Their Full Potential

It certainly seems like David could teach a whole class in career planning. He admits that, “One of the most enjoyable updates I get from students is that they switched careers based on our classes, or were promoted to a job they previously didn’t think they were qualified for.” 

He laughs and adds, “I’d like to encourage them by saying that I don’t think I’m qualified for what I do, but here I am. That’s what teaching is all about: finding ways to help students, in whatever arc they find themselves, achieve their full potential and have options aligned with how they want to impact the world.”

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