Mai Chen

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Mai Chen
Personal details
BornTaipei, Taiwan
Spouse(s)Dr John Sinclair
OccupationConstitutional and administrative lawyer

Mai Chen is a New Zealand constitutional and administrative law expert, Managing Partner of Chen Palmer Public and Employment Law Specialists, Professor (adjunct) at the University of Auckland School of Law, Director of BNZ and best selling romance author. She is Chair of New Zealand Asian Leaders and the Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business. She is married and has one son.

Early life[edit]

Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Chen immigrated to New Zealand with her family at the age of six in 1970. Hers was the first Taiwanese family on the South Island of New Zealand[citation needed]. She studied at Otago Girls' High School, where she became a head girl, dux.

Education and scholarships[edit]

Chen attended the University of Otago (New Zealand) and graduated with a Bachelor of Laws Honours degree (first class) in 1986. She was admitted to the bar in the same year. Chen was awarded several scholarships, including the William Georgetti Scholarship granted by the New Zealand Governor-General, the Sir Harold Barrowclough Scholarship and the Butterworths Travelling Scholarship. In 1987 Chen was awarded the Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship to study at Harvard Law School. Chen graduated with her Master of Laws from Harvard Law School in 1988 and won the Irving Oberman Memorial Award for the best Human Rights thesis at Harvard Law School[citation needed]. Her thesis was on the Treaty of Waitangi. Following Harvard Law School, Chen was awarded the Ferguson Human Rights Fellowship, a scholarship granted by the Harvard Human Rights Programme to be a Fellow at the International Labour Office in Geneva working on United Nations' Women's Convention and the ILO Indigenous Peoples Convention.


Chen interned at the United Nations' International Labour Office in Geneva in 1988. In 1989, Chen took up a lectureship at the law school at Victoria University of Wellington, and wrote her first book on the discrimination of women under the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. In 1990, she chaired a government review on the Policy of Excluding Women from Combat, and in 1992 she became the youngest senior lecturer in Law in New Zealand at that time[citation needed]. In 1993, she co-authored Public Law in New Zealand with former Prime Minister Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC, which was published by Oxford University Press. In 1994, Chen became a lawyer at Russell McVeagh, but left after one year to co-found Chen and Palmer.[1]

Chen Palmer[edit]

In November 1994, Chen set up the law firm Chen and Palmer alongside former New Zealand Prime Minister Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC. Chen bought out Sir Geoffrey Palmer when he left to head the Law Commission. In 2013, Chen opened an Auckland office after failing to make headway in her first attempt. Chen Palmer has been a market leader in the private practice of public law[citation needed]. Chen Palmer won the Best Boutique Law Firm in 2010, and Best Public Law Firm in the New Zealand Law Awards from 2007-2011, and 2013, and was a finalist in the Employment Law Awards in 2011. Chen Palmer was one of New Zealand's first boutique law firms and was Australasia's first "Washington-style" law firm specialising in legislation and public policy[citation needed].


In April 2015, Chen was appointed to the Board of BNZ (Bank of New Zealand),[2] one of New Zealand's largest banks. Chen is also an Adjunct Professor at the Faculty of Law at the University of Auckland.[3] Prior to this, Chen was an Adjunct Professor in Commercial and Public Law at the University of Auckland Business School. Chen has also sat on the Securities Commission of New Zealand, the Advisory Board of AMP Life Limited (NZ), the New Zealand Board of Trade and Enterprise's Beachheads Programme, the Asia New Zealand Foundation, the Royal NZ Ballet Board and on the Wellington Polytechnic and Victoria University of Wellington Councils. She was President of the Harvard New Zealand Alumni Association (NZ) for ten years[citation needed]. Chen sits on the New Zealand Law Society Public and Administrative Law Committee.

Voluntary Work[edit]

Chen founded New Zealand Asian Leaders,[4] connecting top Asian NZ CEOs and emerging leaders with New Zealand companies doing business in Asia to enhance their success to help NZ Inc. She also helped to establish the Pacifica Leadership Academy at BEST Pacific Institute of Education, formerly led by Beatrice Faumuina. Chen also chaired the Advisory Board of New Zealand Global Women, which is a not for profit charitable organisation for top women leaders in the public, private and not for profit sectors which mentors emerging leaders.

In July 2013, Chen also launched, a low-cost provider of templated wills for young people. Chen has done a wide range of pro bono work, including for the Auckland Zoo, New Zealand Endometriosis Foundation and He Huarahi Tamariki (the school for Teenage Parents in Tawa). Chen has also provided pro bono advice to the Bilingual Leo Pacific Coalition. Chen was President of the Harvard Law School Alumni Association (New Zealand) for ten years[citation needed], and was a member of the Royal New Zealand Ballet Board for four and a half years.

From 1982 to 1986 Chen did voluntary work with "street-kids" referred by the Department of Social Welfare, including the establishment of a Modern Dance Group for girls[citation needed].

Honours and Prizes[edit]

2014 Top 10 finalist New Zealander of the Year
2013 Awarded the Business and Entrepreneur New Zealand Women of Influence Award
2013 Awarded the Supreme Judges Panel Award and Professional Excellence Award at the New Zealand Chinese Business Elite Awards
2011 Awarded Next Magazine's Business Woman of the Year
2000 Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Management
2000 Honorary Associate of the Auckland University of Technology
1988 Irving Oberman Memorial Award: Best Human Rights thesis at Harvard Law School. Topic: Treaty of Waitangi and Māori rights
1987 Outstanding Overseas Chinese Scholar. Awarded by the Government of Taiwan, Republic of China
1981 Otago Girls High School: Dux; Head Girl; Best All Round Student
1980 New Zealand Jaycees National Speech Champion (10 years after arriving in New Zealand with no English)

Books and publications[edit]

  • Superdiversity Stocktake: Aberrations for Business, Government and New Zealand, November 2015
  • Public Law Toolbox 2nd edition, LexisNexis, 2014
  • Transforming Auckland: The Creation of Auckland Council LexisNexis, April 2014
  • "A Public Law Toolbox Perspective on the Ombudsman's Role After 50 Years" (paper presented to the 10th World Conference of the International Ombudsman Institute, 14 – 16 November 2012, Wellington)
  • Bridled Power, Unbridled Passion, Harlequin, June 2012
  • Public Law Toolbox, LexisNexis, March 2012
  • "Post-settlement implications for Crown/Maori relations" in Nicola Wheen and Janine Hayward (eds) Treaty of Waitangi Settlements, Law Foundation and Bridget Williams Books, 2012
  • "Scoping Paper on the Privacy Act 1993", prepared for Hon Margaret Wilson, Associate Minister of Justice, April 2001
  • "Discrimination in New Zealand: A Personal Journey" in Adrien Katherine Wing (ed) Global Critical Race Feminism An International Reader (New York University Press, New York, 2000) 129-140
  • "The Reconfiguration of the State and the Appropriate Scope of Judicial Review" in J Boston (ed) State Under Contract (Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 1995)
  • "Law and Economics and the Case for Discrimination Law" in The University, Ethics and Society (Combined Chaplaincies at Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, 1995)
  • Mai Chen and Rt Hon Professor Sir Geoffrey Palmer Public Law in New Zealand: Cases, Materials, Commentary and Questions (Oxford University Press, Auckland, 1993)
  • Government Review of the Policy Concerning Women in Combat: Report of the Working Party on Women in Combat (1990)
  • Women and Discrimination: New Zealand and the United Nations Convention (Institute of Policy Studies, Wellington, 1989)


Chen has written over 100 articles[citation needed].


  1. ^ "Mai Chen | Chen Palmer - New Zealand Public Law Specialists".
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External links[edit]