Preparing for the Sinicization of the Western Legal Tradition: The Case of Peking University School of Transnational Law
32 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2016 Last revised: 4 Feb 2016
Date Written: November 20, 2015
This essay was presented at a November 20-21, 2015 Asia Law Institute symposium at Shanghai Jiao Tong University on Legal Education in Asia: From Imitation to Innovation. The symposium was co-sponsored by National University of Singapore Faculty of Law.
The essay is about a law school whose mission presumes that (i) the U.S. and U.K. law firms that today dominate the worldwide market for complex cross-border legal services are subject to being displaced; (ii) the prevailing view of the inevitable worldwide harmonization of law around Anglo-American principles and the Western legal tradition is mistaken; and (iii) the world only now is beginning to experience the growing influence of China and other non-Western traditions in multinational business transactions and disputes and in shaping the practices, laws and principles by which they will be governed going forward.
The mission of the law school is to contribute to the growth of a Chinese legal profession capable of supplying the sophisticated legal services and leadership essential to the advanced, internationalized economy and civil society emerging in China and of competing ably and successfully with the foreign-based multinational law firms that currently dominate this work. The key to the law school’s success is a combined post-baccalaureate Juris Doctor/Juris Master program taught by a distinguished multinational faculty that blends American and China law curriculums and meaningful exposure to EU law with rigorous case study and interactive Socratic questioning. The law school is Peking University’s School of Transnational Law (“STL”) in Shenzhen, China.
The popular perception of STL upon its establishment in 2008 was essentially the opposite of what we just have described: STL was seen as an elite American law school in China whose faculty was composed largely of visiting American scholars and practitioners and whose singular ambition, apart from the placement of its graduates in leading American law firms, was full accreditation by the American Bar Association (“ABA”). As STL itself stated in its submission to the ABA in support of ABA accreditation of foreign law schools, one of its principal goals was to prepare Chinese law students “to be American lawyers.”
This is the story of how this unique law school in China evolved into a leading law school for China, establishing new standards for global legal education rather than simply following old ones. Part I discusses the early years of STL and its pursuit of ABA accreditation. Part II explores the realignment of STL’s priorities in the aftermath of the ABA’s decision not to accredit foreign law schools and in light of legal and economic developments under way in Shenzhen, the Pearl River Delta, China and the rest of the non-West. Part III examines the implications of the realignment for STL’s China law Juris Master curriculum; Part IV the growing synergies between STL’s China law and American law curriculums; and Part V the expanded notion of “lawyering skills” required by STL’s innovative curriculum. Part VI concludes with an explanation of why ABA accreditation of STL isn’t necessary after all.
Keywords: legal education, China, ABA, western legal tradition, sinicization, harmonization, East-West, Asia, Pearl River Delta, legal profession, legal services, transnational, global, international, comparative
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