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LWI Lives - April 2020

Nicole Chong: Sitting at the Intersection of Legal Writing and Robotics

  • Allison Ortlieb
    Assistant Dean for Academic Operations; Senior Professional Lecturer Legal Writing, Full-time
    DePaul College of Law

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One wouldn’t normally associate legal writing with robotics, but there’s a nexus between the two disparate fields in the  person of Nicole Chong. Nicole, Associate Dean and Professor of Legal Writing at Penn State Law, stumbled into the intersection of these fields about two years ago, thanks to her 15-year-old son.    

Nicole’s son, David, is a member of a FIRST Tech Challenge competitive robotics team, Flex Force One, which is organized through the Centre County 4H program in Pennsylvania. While a substantial portion of the competition focuses on the technical aspects of how the robot was built and what its skills are, another portion of the competition requires teams to submit various reports and papers regarding the build. The competition also requires the team to do a presentation on their robot. Enter Nicole Chong. 
Nicole started as a parent chaperone with the team, just one of her son’s many activities. Before long, she discovered that the team could use her coaching in preparing their paperwork and presentations. These skills are not all that different from those needed for oral argument. Although Nicole may not know anything about robots, she does a think or two about oral arguments. 
Nicole was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and through her education and work, she has lived in many of the state’s regions. Nicole is from Johnstown, not far from State College, where she lives now. Nicole attended Grove City College, near Pittsburgh, for undergrad. She majored in business, but threw her family a curve ball when she announced that she was going to go to law school after college.  Law school came as a surprise to her family because she was a “really shy kid” until about 8th grade. She became more outgoing in high school than she had been previously, but law school did not seem to fit with the Nicole her parents knew. 
Nicole attended The Dickinson School of Law of the Pennsylvania State University, where she concentrated her studies on commercial law and some family law.  Her first job out of law school was with a small, 12-attorney firm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There, her practice focused on commercial law and family law. After three years, she made the jump to big law, accepting a position with Klett Rooney Lieber & Schorling (now Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney) in Philadelphia. Her practice at Klett Rooney focused on large-scale commercial litigation and appellate practice. Nicole made the move to teaching shortly after the birth of her son. 
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Nicole describes herself as a bit of a homebody. She is an avid reader of fiction, especially action novels—think Tom Clancy, but she has no particular favorite writer. She prefers to jump around to many authors. She also prefers to check books out of (Chong continued from page 2) 
the library to buying them. She now has a Kindle, though, and is excited about the possibilities with having such a portable library. When not reading or bike riding with her family, Nicole spends considerable time as many of us do: playing chauffer to David. 
When David joined Flex Force One at the start of eighth grade, Nicole did not imagine it would grow into a family affair. The robotics season runs from September through February, unless your team is lucky enough to get a bid for the world championships, which takes place at the end of April in Detroit. Flex Force One competes in the division for students in grades 7-12, although the oldest kids on Flex Force One are in 9th grade. Teams compete against other teams in the state in from December to February. Teams that are successful in these competitions can earn their way to compete at the state championships in early March. For teams successful at the state level, they can compete against teams from across the globe at the world championships. 
In its inaugural year, Flex Force One received a wild card invitation to attend the world championships. The bid came as a bit of a surprise; the team thought its season was over and had begun disassembling their robot. But when they got the invitation to worlds, they rallied and put their robot back together. The team members and their families traveled to Detroit for the four-day STEM-fest and met teams from Asia to Europe. The Dutch team was a particular hit, as they handed out cheese to their fellow competitors. The Romanian team’s giveaways were not quite as popular:  while the parents appreciated the rum-flavored chocolates, the kids said “they taste weird.” This year, Flex Force One has qualified to compete at the state championships in York, Pennsylvania in March – not bad for a team in their sophomore competition season. Of course, the team is hoping to make it back to this year’s world championships. 
In the off-season, Nicole and her family enjoy summer vacations, especially to the beach. Nicole grew up going to Ocean City, Maryland for summer beach vacations. Since meeting and marrying her husband, Nicole found a new favorite beach vacation: Curacao. In the years the family does not travel to Curacao for a summer adventure, they visit other beaches around the country from Florida to Washington state.   
Nicole’s summertime doesn’t usually last very long; she teaches in the LL.M. summer orientation program two weeks prior to the start of the fall semester. Though the summer may be short, she is fortunate to return to a supportive dean and colleagues eager to share Instant Pot recipes.   
If you would like to contact Nicole (and maybe share your own favorite well-seasoned Instant Pot recipes), you can reach her