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Scholars contrast American, Chinese legal systems

Panelists and experts explored the intricacies of the Chinese legal system and contrasted it with American law at a conference held this past weekend at the Law School. The event, titled “Law and the Chinese Transformation,” was co-hosted by the Rock Center for Corporate Governance and the China Law and Policy Association.

Panelists from Chinese and American universities debated and disagreed on the degree of universality between legal systems in different countries. (Courtesy of Ke Jiang)

Following opening remarks by Larry Kramer, dean of the law school, a panel convened to discuss legal education in China and the U.S. with administrators and educators from well-known law schools in both countries. Panelists discussed pedagogical changes at their schools in response to growing interdependence between the two countries.

William Treanor, the dean at Georgetown Law School, spoke about initiatives there to educate students for global practice. Such initiatives included broader offerings of courses in Chinese law, giving academic credit for language courses, hosting speaker series on Chinese culture and expanding exchange programs with schools in China.

Weixing Shen, the vice dean at Tsinghua School of Law, added that Chinese law schools are responding to growing legal market interdependence by offering courses in common law as well.

“Decades ago, we didn’t teach courses in tort law,” Kramer said. “We taught courses in California tort law. Only as growing consistency emerged across the states, were we able to teach principles of tort law that would allow students to take these principles and understand tort law in each state.”

Kramer remarked that this trend might continue across international borders, paving the way for increasing universality in legal education.

However, Li Guo, the assistant dean at Peking University Law School, argued that interdependence would not bring about standardization of legal education across both countries.

“One thing we will not do is eliminate our current bachelor of laws program,” he said.

Remarks by the audience pre-empted the topic of the following panel on the rule of law in China.

For audience member Michael Moore, general counsel at Fujitsu, the event sparked a lingering question.

“Will increasing interdependence and convergence in legal market and education lead to China adopting a precedent-based common law system?” he asked.

Although Moore was hesitant to say that much progress in rule of law could be achieved without significant change in China’s political system, he was optimistic about reforms that are occurring in non-politically sensitive sectors.

The panel on U.S. and Chinese legal education was followed by a keynote speech by Condoleezza Rice, political science professor and former U.S. secretary of state, who spoke on recent trends in U.S.-China relations over the past decade.

When asked to comment on the biggest prerequisite for China’s further progress toward the rule of law, Rice said, “China’s leaders need to learn not to fear its people.”

The speech was interrupted by two members of the audience who stood up and protested against decisions of the Bush Administration regarding the Iraq war, calling Rice a “war criminal.” The protestors were escorted out of the conference room by security guards.

In an interview with The Daily, second-year law student Michelle Yuan, co-president of the China Law and Policy Association, said her motivation for organizing the event stemmed from students’ job interview experiences.

“We realized that a lot of firms in the valley have Chinese ties,” Yuan said.

Yuan noted that firms were interested in going to the Chinese market or wanted to develop relations with China.

“So when we put together this conference, we knew that it would appeal to a lot of law students,” she added.

In fact, Yuan observed that the approximate 400 registered participants were evenly split between law students, attorneys and local company representatives.

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