Traditional with a twist

Law school graduate takes a career path less traveled in law firm marketing

by Jeanine Matlow
Legal News

Unlike countless others in the legal field, Christina J. Chen says she didn’t dream of going to law school. Instead, the new director of marketing for Dickinson Wright was advised to give it a try.
“I was in college and my parents had me on a four year plan, so I had to figure out what I was going to do after I graduate,” says Chen. “I could either move on and find a job or go on and do more school.”

As it turns out, a career counselor thought she might do really well in law school. “I like to read and I like to write and she told me, ‘If you understand Shakespeare, you’ll totally understand law school.’”

So, she took the advice and found it to be a good fit. “I enjoyed it. I was just as driven as other law students, but I knew that I wasn’t really as interested in the actual practice,” she says.

After earning her degree from Wayne State University Law School, Chen would take her education in a non-traditional direction. Upon graduation, she says the economy was bad and the job market wasn’t much better.

“I got some contract attorney gigs and eventually ended up as a representative for Lexis Nexis, which put me in contact with libraries in large law firms in Detroit,” she says.

“One of the librarians liked what I did and told me I was really good at research and teaching, so I began working for her and would become a research librarian. I was not only working in the legal field, but also doing some business and corporate intelligence research.”

Since many librarians began reporting to client marketing officers in law firms as part of a rethinking of the value of their research capabilities and applying it to client development efforts, this led her toward more business decisions and legal marketing.

“I was lucky to have a really great mentor, Joe Melnick who was CMO at Butzel Long at the time,” says Chen.

Her education has been a great asset along the way.

“Being a lawyer definitely helps not only give me credibility, but it also helps me understand lawyers,” she adds. 

Chen and Melnick, who is now president and managing director of KNC Strategies, LLC, a strategy and marketing advisory firm based in Pleasant Ridge, have worked together on two occasions and her work impressed him both times. 

At the first firm, he says, “She did a marvelous job at continuing to restructure the function of the library, enhancing its capabilities to be more focused on business development and client research.”  

In her next position as a business development manager for another firm, Melnick says it was very rewarding to be a mentor for her as she grew her capabilities as part of the team, and ability to strategically impact the firm’s lawyers, practices and clients.

“Her law degree and legal background allows her to interact with attorneys on a ‘peer’ level – she understands the pressures and client demands they face, she speaks the language of the profession and she can add value with strategic insights into their marketing and client service efforts,” he says.

Chen also finds time to lend support to Education is Not a Crime (, which is changing the world, one wall at a time, through street art, social media and a film for the Baha’i people of Iran to have the right to higher education.

“Even though it’s very specific to them, it’s a very universal theme. As a minority group, what their government is doing prevents them from going to college and being educated,” says Chen. 

“They set up an undergrad university virtually, so they’re learning with the help of professors from around the world who are Skyping classes and lessons. They’re getting the education they need and getting diplomas.”

In order to get the word out, the organization has artists creating murals in major countries with the hashtag, #NotACrime that tell their story and often get more attention by being posted on social media. There is also a film that has been shown in parts of the world including Michigan.

It seems like Chen has something of value to offer wherever she goes.

“Her personality is such that she aspires to help others – both in their professional career and as a friend and colleague,” says Melnick. “Tina has a rare combination of talent, curiosity, work ethic, creativity, strategic capabilities and caring about others.”


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