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UCLA Pacific Basin Law Journal

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Going Barefoot in the Middle Kingdom: A Preliminary Study of the Strategic Choices of Non-Licensed Weiquan Lawyers in Modern China


This article explores the phenomenon of unlicensed, “barefoot” weiquan lawyers in China. Although these unorthodox lawyers play an integral role in the protection of rights in China’s legal system today, surprisingly little academic literature has been devoted to their study, and knowledge of what they are like and how they operate is limited. In light of this, eleven unlicensed weiquan lawyers from various parts of mainland China were selected for in-depth interviews. I discovered that despite the separation of the interviewees from the state, they were no more aggressive or radical than their licensed counterparts. Although they often employed extra-judicial methods in addition to legal methods, the interviewees emphasized the need to stay within the framework of the law. In addition, contrary to the expectation that unlicensed weiquan lawyers are comparatively lacking in legal competence, several interviewees often employed sophisticated and technical legal arguments when advocating in court. Based on these observations, this article concludes with preliminary comments on the role of barefoot weiquan lawyers in China’s legal system and future developments for the profession.

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