Law and Harmony: An In-Depth Look at China's First American-Style Law School
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Law and Harmony: An In-Depth Look at China's First American-Style Law School


Globalization has increased the demand for a global legal infrastructure, but a single worldwide legal system is unlikely in the foreseeable future. A better focus of discussion is what a "reasonably harmonized" global legal infrastructure might accomplish. One major goal is the facilitation of the legitimate interests of individuals and corporations who wish to transact across borders. Clients working across borders wish to be served by lawyers with different types of substantive knowledge, but with common analytical skills, common relationship skills, and a common understanding of what it means to be a lawyer. The demand has already led to rapid changes in the global practice of law; most significantly, the emergence of multinational law firms.

The growth of multinational law firms leads to the question: what are the essential skills that should define a transnational lawyer? A lawyer should be a problem solver, one who is adept at criticizing and synthesizing legal argument, but also one who is skilled in communicating and in assessing and influencing the perspectives of the recipient of the communication.

American legal education in the twentieth century excelled in teaching legal principles, but significant progress is required to maintain its superiority in the twenty-first century. American legal education can, and should, learn from overseas experiments.

On October 22, 2008, the Peking University School of Transnational Law ("STL") was dedicated at University Town in Shenzhen, People's Republic of China ("PRC"). The ceremony was attended by jurists from around the world, including Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court. STL is mainland China's first Western-style law school. Over the course of the program, the students are thoroughly trained in both Anglo-American common law and civil law systems of Western Europe.

The training at STL compares with that of the best American law schools in terms of the subjects taught and the training and experience of the professors. In addition, STL students have the advantage of a background in "li", the Confucian ethical code which emphasizes collective harmony and the primacy of interpersonal relationships. In the Confucian vision, social harmony rather than justice is the symbol of the ideal society. Ideally under Confucianism disputes are settled according to what is best for social functioning and interpersonal relationships, rather than in terms of legal rights.

The combination of skills practiced at STL has the potential to create a new "breed" of lawyer. If the hallmark of the transnational lawyer in a global economy is the ability to not only critique legal argument, but also to effectively communicate and influence the perspectives of the recipient of the communication, the students at STL should be well-positioned for success.

This article takes an in-depth look at STL, based on the author's firsthand knowledge acquired while serving as a Visiting Assistant Professor during STL's first year of operation. It compares STL with Chinese, transnational and U.S. law schools to conclude that STL students - with their training in Western critical legal analysis and transnational skills, as well as their heritage of valuing interpersonal relationships and compromise - are uniquely positioned to join the ranks of transnational lawyers. It also considers what U.S. law schools might learn from STL.

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