Although she’s now a legal eagle serving as principal counsel, labor and employment for the University of California, there was a time in college when Jennifer Chin wasn’t sure what she was going to do with her life.
“I didn’t set out to be a lawyer at all,” she admits. “I was thinking of going to grad school in psychology, and I think what I’m doing now is a really good blend of being a lawyer and working with more basic social and cultural issues.”
She loves what she does now, but it was never a goal she set for herself. “When I look back on my career, I took a winding path to get here,” Chin explains. “Along the way, I reevaluated what it is that I enjoy spending my time doing.”
After graduating from Stanford and getting her law degree from the University of Michigan in 2000, Chin worked as a law clerk for the US District Court in the Northern District of California under the Honorable Martin J. Jenkins and then spent four years as an associate at the firm Thelen Reid & Priest. But she found she wasn’t getting the satisfaction she was looking for.
“Being a litigator wasn’t a good fit for my personality; I felt like I was fighting with people all the time,” Chin says. “I decided I wanted to go into public service because I wasn’t motivated by the monetary compensation of the career. At the end of the day, I wanted to look back and know it was something I enjoyed spending my time doing.”
So she joined the Oakland City Attorney’s Office as a deputy city attorney and spent the next six years working to help people. “I had a former colleague who was working there who I knew, and she was really enjoying it. We shared the same interests in public service and public policy, so I thought it would be something to try,” Chin says. “I ended up really enjoying it.”
Chin had applied to the University of California, Office of the President, a few times through the years, impressed by the institution’s reputation and appreciating the convenience to where she lived (she grew up in the Bay Area and has been based there since college). She eventually got the call in 2012 to be a part of the labor and employment team.
“They have hundreds of thousands of employees—it’s a huge institution, so being able to work in an environment with the breadth of jobs and roles they have, all the people who make the campuses run; it was just a great opportunity,” Chin says. “No two days are alike, and I like that.”
She works in the Office of the President alongside several other lawyers, and the team collaborates with and supports different UC campuses; each has multiple subject areas of expertise and supports labor relations in working with systemwide labor unions. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with all the different attorneys on campuses and at the Office of the President, so I feel like I’ve learned so much,” she says. “I’m now one of the more senior people in the office, so in terms of institutional knowledge, I feel I’m someone who people turn to when they need the history on a particular policy or how a collective bargaining agreement has evolved.”
In her system-wide role, Chin works with people all through the state of California. When the pandemic hit, things became even more virtual. Still, the job didn’t change too much because a lot of her communication was already through calls.
However, she does admit it feels strange not going into the office and seeing people face-to-face. “A lot of people I consider friends, as well as colleagues, and it’s been a challenge for everyone,” Chin says. “But we’re fortunate we can work remotely.”
The University of California also has its own health system and medical centers, with UC Health being at the forefront of caring for patients, pandemic mitigation efforts, and research. Therefore, the vaccine policy for the system was developed in close partnership with those in the health system and leadership at the campuses, where the policy would ultimately be implemented. In terms of implementation, Chin has worked closely with her UC Legal teammates in working with the campuses in terms of policy enforcement and compliance. The compliance rates with the vaccination policy have been high.
Early on in her career with the university, Chin worked with the campus Title IX Offices, responsible for addressing sexual harassment and sexual violence complaints, and there was a lot of activity in the Title IX space at the time. Although it wasn’t something Chin had a lot of experience in on the education side, she had done plenty of training on sexual harassment prevention when she was at the City of Oakland.
“I jumped right in and felt it was important work,” she notes. “In 2013, the Clery Act was revised through the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and there was huge change in regulations, which resulted in improved policies and training, and how we handle complaints.”
That’s one of the things she’s most proud of during her career, and she continues to make a difference in that work. “I really like what I do,” Chin enthuses. “I enjoy supporting the mission of the university; there are so many ways an educational institution gives back, and I really enjoy supporting those goals.”