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An “American” Law School In China. Explanations Sought.

Posted in Legal News

My tiny firm must receive at least ten resumes every day. About a third of these come from students who, even in the best of of times, would likely never be hired as a law firm associate. Go ahead and get mad at me if you want, but those who are in the bottom half of the class from fourth tier ranked or unaccredited law schools are just not going to get hired by a law firm without exceptional circumstances. The United States is producing way more lawyers than jobs. I do not have the numbers on this, but I KNOW this to be true. Just ask Loyola 2L.
And yet (usually with self-generated fanfare) new law schools just keep on coming. Why? I could talk about college presidents wanting to extend their fiefdom (and that would be true), but what it really comes down to is that law schools tend to be very profitable.
I thought of all this today when I read an excellent article on the USC US-China Institute’s website, entitled, “China Legal.” The article is on Peking University’s new school of Transnational Law, which will be awarding United States Juris Doctorate (JD) degrees soon. I hate to be so practical, but with so many Chinese having to return to China without jobs after graduating from US based J.D. programs, I have to wonder whether there will be jobs for the graduates of this school. Will there? And if so, where? Are the Chinese students with United States secured Juris Doctorates who are not getting jobs in the United States getting jobs elsewhere in the world? I really do not know the answers to these questions so I am throwing these out there to those who do.
One correction to the article. It starts out saying that “anyone with a university degree can sit for the bar exam and be eligible to practice law [in China]. That is only somewhat true. Only Chinese nationals (and in some circumstances, Taiwanese and Hong Kongers) can become licensed Chinese lawyers.
What do you think?
UPDATE; In a post entitled, “Transnational Law School,” the Transnational Law blog enumerates the benefits we can expect from this new law school.

  • Timjames

    Gosh it’s a bit of a scathing intro. The U.S. is producing more everything than jobs these days – I doubt if that means the 1/3 sending resumes to you will never find work as attorneys.
    Rankings certainly are important in the cold-hire situation, but experience and connections will easily eclipse that indicator.
    From one third tier law school graduate to the rest of you student readers, consistent hard work is all that is required to achieve your dreams.

  • Frank Rizzo

    Of course there are more college graduates than jobs that require a college education. Just like real estate, higher education is a government-subsidized, debt-fueled bubble. The only difference is it’s significantly harder to “walk away” from an underwater student loan than it is from an underwater mortgage.

  • Blake

    Have you thought of adding a blurb on HarrisMoure.com concerning your hiring practices and needs? I’ve read the entry on how your firm recently selected a new legal assistant, but you must get a ton of emails asking whether you accept resumes from recent grads, whether you hire summer interns/associates, etc.
    Also, have you noticed an increase in resumes from students at top law schools? OCI this year is turning out to be as brutal as everybody predicted.

  • Kim Jong Il

    What is this about Stanford Univ. Law School gearing up to offer US JD students internships with CIETAC? What gives, Dude?

  • lawyer

    I think there are different ways of looking at the opening of new law schools. From the point of view, that everyone that goes to law school plans to be a lawyer, then there are too many law schools. However, in most countries law is studied as an undergraduate degree and many get law related jobs that do not require being a licensed lawyer. As law school is a graduate program in the US, there is an expectation that all will take the bar and try to find work as a licensed lawyer. However, I think that expectation is not appropriate for all who go to law school, as there are government and law firm jobs that pay well but do not require you to be a licensed lawyer, though having gone to law school would be a helpful background. Still there exists a stigma in America that if you went to law school and do not become a licensed lawyer, then you have fallen short of some unwritten expectation. I think our society would benefit from more flexibilty about how a law school degree should be used. (btw, I am working as a licensed lawyer, so this is not coming from the viewpoint of sour grapes. however, i have seen too many classmates chase after the path of the big law firm job when their skills and personality would be put to much better use in other areas)
    Another thing to consider, though law schools are producing more graduates than we need lawyers, the creation of new law schools is still useful to the extent they focus on needed areas of law. Peking University’s new school of Transnational Law sounds like it may be satisfying a needed and useful area of study for new lawyers. Creating better educated lawyers ready to handle new areas of law does not in itself seem to be a bad thing. Perhaps, when new schools with better programs are created, then other schools will have decreased enrollment. Still I admit, it is more likely just to produce more law school graduates. However, it is only the students fault if they cannot figure out that perhaps there are more job opportunities in healthcare or other fields and they are not wise to think a law degree is a guarantee to big bucks $$$ as a licensed lawyer.

  • Kim Jong Il

    I guess that everything’s a scam these days. Why not law school?
    It won’t be long before the entire rotten, corrupt house-of-cards collapses under its own weight of unreality and massive debt. In any event, I’m sure that we’ll be pretending to the very end.

  • Judge Not Reinhold

    Many universities have drama and music departments. Should they stop offering fine arts degrees because so few actors and musicians find paying work in their fields?

  • http://blog.sina.com.cn/beijingfootball b. cheng

    Okay, maybe those around me are unique, but have you really found Chinese with JDs aren’t getting jobs when returning to China? I find that sort of shocking because I’ve yet to meet any. The number of Chinese with US JDs is very small, and those that pass the bar and have a NY or LA license can basically write their own ticket, working for major US law firms in New York, Chicago, or LA but also with the option to work in those firms offices back in China. Also, a vast majority (at least from what I’ve seen) are connected to a firm back in China and have the option of returning to their firm or being able to find an even better one.

  • Kim Jong Il

    It’s probably not a good idea for the older generation to scam the younger generation. Seems like a prescription for moral degeneration. One could end up with cynical Congressmen who don’t read the lobbyist-written bills that they pass, or a President who cynically repeats vacuous slogans like “Yes We Can.”

  • http://www.chinalawandbusiness.com Thomas Chow

    I blogged about the STL last year (twice actually), but even after a year, I still keep asking myself: “Why?” I just don’t see the need for Chinese JDs, not when ABA accredited law schools allow foreigners to do a 1 year LLM program and then qualify for most bar exams, including New York. And those lawyers who come out for LLMs do well on the job market.
    And honestly, there is something to be said about studying American style law in America. I hate dancing around the white elephant, but frankly, if you want to study the history and the mindset behind American law, its simply better done locally.
    I only see this leading to the possibility of degree inflation in the Chinese legal world, if this idea really does catch on.

  • ceh

    Law school certainly is a business. I remember last year there was news about a fourth tier CA school reportedly changing hands (see http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202423172026&rss=nlj). I don’t know if that deal closed, but if the news is true, you can get a whole law school for seven figures…i.e., about 3 years’ tuition for 50-100 students. That sounds cheap!
    The real scam is that incoming students to these schools don’t care to do the numbers to figure out that the odds say they will spend a long time paying off their school debts (don’t forget college loans) with a 4th tier degree. Part of this is the school’s fault, sure, but why should one school be brutally honest about job prospects when its (business) competitors will shamelessly lie? Until they come up with a truth in law school advertising act, the phenomenon will not end.
    All that said, some of the graduates from these schools have no ambition to become some hotshot biglaw associate, and enjoy working in public interest, county prosecutor, small firm, etc. gigs. Money isn’t the only variable in the equation for happiness.

  • Laobaixing

    There are a couple of MBA programs that I know of which market themselves as Western MBA programs – a few of them are wholly established in China, while at least one is in connection with a reputable Western University – the Sorbonne.
    From conversations that I’ve had with a hand full of people in such programs, I see two things at work in this – one is the fact that the limited number of seats in public universities is creating a market for private programs. The other is the perception that a “Western” MBA is somehow superior to the local variety (I’ve heard this from a professor in a top tier Chinese business school, as well as from a friend who planned on going to Slovinia for her MBA. My side of the conversation consisted mainly of, “Yeah, but Slovinia? Really?!?” She wasn’t interested in the relative quality of her Slovinian MBA -and who knows, it might be excellent for all I know – only the social capital of a European degree.)
    I’m not too sure where Beida’s American JD program fits into that trend. I’m assuming if they’re not the top law school in China, they’re in the top 5 – so I doubt is a marketing gimmick. So, presumably they see a familiarity with US law as a necessary component of China’s economy’s growing integration into world trade. If there’s a market for American lawyers to come to China – to help US firms doing business here, and help Chinese firms with their IPOs, etc. why wouldn’t there be a need for Chinese lawyers trained in US law?
    Why not ask a professor at Beida’s law school? I’ll try to do that when I return to China next year – I’m going to be talking to some law professors on unrelated topics, and I have the business card of a Beida Law professor floating around somewhere. If I can remember to think of it I will and email you what he says.

  • http://transnationallawblog.typepad.com/transnational_law_blog/2009/08/transnational-law-school.html Transnational Law Blog

    The Transnational Law School

    Much to my surprise and fascination, Peking University (“Bei Da”) opened a School of Transnational Law in the Fall of 2008 that has a curriculum nearly identical to that of a U.S. juris doctor (JD) program and requires three years of study. Even more a…

  • Ayan Ali

    This school has gone pretty quiet. I heard that politics is preventing it from getting ABA approval, which makes a degree from there pretty questionable.