ASU Law’s youngest-ever graduate goes above and beyond

A brunette woman in a black blouse smiles for the camera.

Charmaine Chui is the youngest-ever graduate of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University at age 19.


Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

At just 19 years old, Charmaine Chien-Yu Chui will become the youngest graduate in the history of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University when she crosses the stage in May to receive her Juris Doctor.

The Los Angeles native, who grew up in Alhambra and was homeschooled by her mom, graduated from California State University, Los Angeles at the age of 16 with dual degrees in psychology and criminal justice before deciding to come to law school. She entered ASU Law with the prestigious O'Connor Honors Fellowship and earned the Thomas Tang Scholarship from the Arizona Asian American Bar Association at the end of her first year; she leaves with the distinction of earning one of the highest number of pro bono hours in her graduating class: 182. 

Even though Southern California is home to several law schools, Chui said choosing ASU Law for law school was a no-brainer. 

“When I was applying to law schools, I knew I wanted to attend a school where I could get to know my professors and would not be stuck in giant lecture halls as a student ID number,” she said. “The smaller class sizes at ASU Law meant that I always felt welcome talking to my professors. Additionally, the Washington, D.C., program convinced me to commit to ASU. I'm so glad to have been able to enjoy the community of a ‘smaller’ school while still having access to the courses and externship opportunities that allowed me to pursue a public service career.”

Chui took advantage of plenty of experiential opportunities during her three years at ASU Law, including externships at the U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Arizona, Central District of California Bankruptcy Court, Arizona Court of Appeals and the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism in Washington, D.C. After she graduates, she will take on her new role as a judicial law clerk at the Arizona Supreme Court with Justice James P. Beene. 

As busy as she was throughout law school, Chui said she always reminded herself that she was a whole person and not solely a student. She encouraged other law students to do the same. 

“It can be so easy to fall into the mechanical grind of law school,” she said. “Hold onto the reasons that motivated you to attend law school and continue advocating for the causes you're passionate about. Don't lose yourself to the casebooks.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the law?

Answer: I initially planned to become a forensic psychologist at university, where I was part of a research lab that primarily studied eyewitness identification procedures and juror bias. Listening to my professor talk about the various trials he testified in helped me realize that the legal issues were really what interested me. My Introduction to Criminal Law class, taught by a judge who was a former prosecutor, solidified law school as the next step for me. After that realization, pursuing my interest in criminal law throughout law school came naturally. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU Law — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: My experiences have shown me the importance of clear and accessible communication. The goal is almost always to help someone else understand your position, and the easiest way to do that is to opt for simplicity whenever possible. It was a welcome change after being entrenched in a field where students were almost encouraged to speak and write complexly at the cost of clarity.

Q: What about advice for those considering ASU Law?

A: My time at ASU Law has firmly convinced me that it's always possible to have an amazing experience as long as you actively pursue the opportunities that interest you. I would strongly encourage any student to take advantage of the various experiential learning opportunities and extracurricular activities the law school has to offer. Meeting friends from different law schools also highlighted the importance of understanding the culture of a law school before committing to the school. I'm very glad I picked a school with a welcoming and supportive environment.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Being in Washington, D.C., for my final semester has reminded me of how much I value reliable public transit. I loved taking the metro in Taiwan and Hong Kong when I was growing up. Public transit opens up so many opportunities for people to pursue their careers, engage with the community and access resources like health care and educational programs. I think the benefits of a reliable transit system could help combat other societal issues and support underserved communities. Additionally, as a person who dislikes driving, I love being able to explore the city without having to worry about parking, gas and one-way streets.

Q: What does graduating mean to you and your loved ones?

A: We're all very excited! I'm the first in my family to attend law school. I never considered becoming an attorney when I was younger, and I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to pursue my dreams. I wish my grandparents were able to be here for graduation, but I guess I'll just have to bring my regalia back to Taiwan the next time I visit!

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