The Rise and Fall of Chinese Legal Education
62 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2012 Last revised: 27 Apr 2013
Date Written: August 8, 2012
Over the past three decades, legal education in China has boomed. Numbers of law students and schools have increased exponentially. Legal education has become standardized at universities throughout the country. Prominent legal academics have emerged as public voices for political reform.
But Chinese authorities now perceive flaws in these trends. A flood of law graduates faces dismal employment prospects. Schools remain uniformly focused on academic research rather than practical skills. And the liberal orientation of many faculties is at odds with new conservative Party views on legal reform.
In response, officials are remolding legal education. They are reducing numbers of law students. They are pushing law schools to differentiate themselves from each other. And they are increasing political content in classrooms.
This Article analyzes both the expansion of legal education in China and its impending retrenchment.
China’s difficulties are not entirely unique. In both Latin America and Japan, efforts at rapid reform of law schools have foundered. And in recent decades, the United States has experienced unsustainable, credit-fueled growth in the cost and structure of legal education.
This Article argues that the current bubble in Chinese legal education is largely the result of state policies pursued since the late 1990s. These pushed the rapid expansion of university legal education through the use of one-size-fits-all target evaluation systems. But they have detrimentally affected the quality and direction of legal education in China.
As a result, authorities are reviving educational practices from the 1980s, that themselves have roots in the 1950s. Chinese legal education may be returning to its own past, rather than converging with foreign models.
This Article also contends that legal education can serve as the canary in the coalmine for understanding the direction of political and legal reform in China. The ability of conservative Party authorities to politically remold legal education may indicate whether their influence has already crested or if it will continue to expand yet further.
Last, this Article argues that Chinese developments will directly impact the efforts of American legal educators to address their own financial problems. Efforts to blindly ramp up recruitment of Chinese LLM students may be unsuccessful as a long-term strategy to solve the current problems confronting U.S. law schools.
Keywords: China, Chinese, law, legal, education, legal education, reform
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