Profile with My Chi To
My Chi To (Quebec & Merton 1996) is currently a corporate partner at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in New York City. She served as a Law Clerk in the Supreme Court of Canada in 1995 and 1996. She holds an LL.L. and an LL.B. from the University of Ottawa and an M.Phil. in Politics from the University of Oxford.
Rhodes Project: What was the last book you read for pleasure?
My Chi To: I’m reading two very different books right now. One is called Mãn by a Vietnamese-Canadian Author called Kim Thύy. It’s a novel about a Vietnamese woman who leaves Vietnam and lands in Montreal, where the author lives and where I was born. Since I’m half Vietnamese, it makes me think of my family and my upbringing. The other one is called Without Apology by Frederick Calder. Calder was head of an association for private schools in New York. It’s a book about educational policy and it’s really fascinating.
Rhodes Project: What piece of technology could you not live without?
My Chi To: As a lawyer in private practice, I have to say my BlackBerry. As much as I would like to draw a line between work and the rest of my life, it’s not really possible. Having a BlackBerry allows me to not be in the office all the time. It’s invaluable.
Rhodes Project: What inspires you?
My Chi To: People who are passionate about what they do, whatever that may be, inspire me.
Rhodes Project: What distracts you?
My Chi To: The fear of something. Any type of fear is distracting because negative thoughts prevent you from focusing on what you’re trying to do and from enjoying what you’re doing. I try to not let myself be distracted by those types of feelings.
Rhodes Project: What is the best part of your job now?
My Chi To: I love the variety. I come to work and often do not know what my day is going to look like. I typically work on many different projects at the same time for different clients and, in the restructuring world which is my field, things are often very unpredictable. There’s also the intellectual challenge of resolving complicated legal issues, fixing problems, managing projects and people, negotiating and forging consensus among parties with different agendas. It requires a broad range of skills. Finally, as a lawyer, you’re always dealing with people—colleagues, clients, other advisers—building relationships and working in teams. I also love that aspect of my job.
Rhodes Project: What is the most challenging part of your job?
My Chi To: It’s extremely demanding in terms of hours and expectations are very high. Obviously everybody makes mistakes, but there is not a lot of room for error without serious consequences for our clients, and that’s stressful. At the same time, that’s part of the excitement. Being confident in what you’re doing and the advice you’re giving is exciting.
Rhodes Project: What is a piece of advice that has helped you at work?
My Chi To: Take ownership of your career. It is important to thoughtful about where you’re going and why you’re going there and to actively seek out people who can guide and help you along the way. I’ve been lucky since I got the support from various people to get me where I am today, but now I’m much more deliberate in seeking mentors. I am also spending more time mentoring others who are my junior.
Rhodes Project: What do you do to relax?
My Chi To: I don’t have much time to relax, unfortunately… I love cooking and eating. I always take the time to enjoy meals with my family or with friends. I also love walking and being outdoors. I find that relaxing, even in New York City.
Rhodes Project: What brings you the most joy in life?
My Chi To: A lot of different things make me happy and I don’t think I can rank them. I have two daughters and a wonderful husband who are a source of immense happiness. I love to catch a glimpse of beauty in nature and unexpected places. Finally, I get a lot of joy from my friends and from connecting with people – even strangers. Today on my way to work, I walked by a woman wearing a cheerful, pink outfit. I smiled at her and she smiled back. Those interactions make me happy. It’s a collection of all of those things more than one single thing.
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