After participating in a program unique to the St. Mary’s University School of Law,Andrew Fields and Joshua Sisam will be offering prospective employers something they hope few law graduates will have – first-hand experience living and doing business in China.
“I have always wanted to focus in the area of business law,” said Sisam, a May graduate. “I believe that it’s impossible to work in the field of business law without having some level of knowledge of the global market. It would be like claiming to be an economist without ever taking macro-economics. Other than the United States, which in the past few years has lost a lot of momentum, China is the new ‘big man on campus.'”
Fields, a third-year student, believes his experience will bring similar benefits during his future career. “I spent two years in Beijing working and studying Chinese. When I returned to the U.S. and began applying to law schools, looked at law schools across the country for international law programs, and was ecstatic to find one in my own backyard,”Fields said. “I knew this program would give me an experience unrivaled by other law schools in Texas, and it would build knowledge and experience that would better prepare me for a career in international law and government.”
Fields and Sisam are among the 50 St. Mary’s School of Law students who participated in the first two classes of the St. Mary’s Institute on Chinese Law and Business. The students set up residence on the campus of Beihang University in Beijing for a five-week immersion in Chinese culture, law and business. Unique to the St. Mary’s Institute is the internship program. In addition to coursework, students compete for internships at some of China’s largest law firms. This summer Chinese agencies and private industry internships were added to the offerings, due to St. Mary’s China connections. One student was placed at Mary Kay Inc. in Shanghai, under the guidance of Nathan Moore (J.D. ’92), chief legal counsel.
Another St. Mary’s graduate, Cao Jian (LL.M. ’02), an international business lawyer in Guan Tao Law Firm, hired three students from the summer program as interns in his Beijing firm. Students Bethel Zehaie and Jasmine Brown worked for Jia Ping, a Chinese human rights lawyer who runs a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that monitors how China handles international funding to fight AIDS and HIV. The students will continue to work for Jia remotely using e-mail and Skype after they return to the U.S. Jia attended law school in China, but was taught by St. Mary’s Professor of Law and China program co-director Vincent Johnson when he taught in China as a Fulbright Scholar in 1998.
The fledgling Institute has already become a draw for students interested in China’s expanding global economy. Kirsten Ruehman, a 2011 graduate, earned her undergraduate degree in Chinese languages and cultures at the University of Kansas, and lived in China for more than a year,even taking her first law class in China.
“While working for the Austin Asian American Chamber of Commerce, I learned how big a demand there is for people knowledgeable about doing business with China,” Ruehman said. “St. Mary’s is the only law school in Texas – at least when I applied – to have any classes on the law of China, let alone an entire program devoted to doing business with China. The China Institute at St. Mary’s is going to do much to help fill this growing need in Texas.”
The program includes five classes which introduce participants to lawyering in China, including an introduction to
Chinese law taught by St. Mary’s Professor of Law Chenglin Liu, which seems to be a student favorite.
“Professor Liu did an incredible job teaching us about the history of the Chinese legal system and how it has evolved to be the legal system it is today,”Fields said. “As an American, it can be very difficult to understand the vast government of a country just as large as ours.”
Fields remarked that Liu’s course is one of the most interesting of his law school career. “The vagueness of the Chinese government was largely demystified in his class and I would encourage any law student with an interest in Asia to take this course,” he said. “China is too great a nation for an international law student not to have a basic understanding of its legal system.”
Ruehman agreed. “I have taken many courses on China and usually they are either biased largely in favor of the Western perspective or in favor of the Chinese perspective. Professor Liu’s class was perhaps the best at removing the biases and giving a well-balanced picture of the Chinese legal system,” she said.
During the session, students take field trips to the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission, a world-renowned commercial arbitration agency, and the China Patent Office’s State Intellectual Property Office, one of the busiest patent authorities in the world.
Still, there is time for sightseeing. Students toured The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, Beijing’s Olympic sites and, of course, the Great Wall, all the while soaking in the cultural divide.
“From the menus in a restaurant, to the brands in a store, to the colloquialisms and tact in an everyday exchange, there is nothing similar,” said Fields. “Being in an exciting new country while learning about that country and its laws, which directly affect American businesses, is fascinating.”
Students noted the differences in food and everyday life, but the camaraderie with the Chinese people and their fellow students are standout memories for most.
“The awe of the Great Wall of China,the natural beauty of the Summer Palace and most importantly the warmth and friendliness of random Chinese people including the staff at my internship employer, King and Wood, were my favorite experiences,” said Francis Nathan, an evening law student and recent graduate,who interned at China’s largest law firm while in the program last summer.
While Nathan interned at the King and Wood Law Firm in 2010, Fields and three others worked at the Jun He Law Offices. Fields was transferred to Jun He’ Shanghai office to work full-time after completing the course work.
“Among the most interesting aspects of the internship was learning the cultural differences in Chinese law versus American law,” Fields noted. “Four thousand years of both stability and turmoil in China have led to a largely similar system that is vastly different when viewed between the lines and from the roots.”
Students observed that the vast social disparities in doing business range from the time spent building relationships to the treatment of contracts.
“I believe the Western attorney who wants to be successful in Asia should be required to understand such cultural differences and St. Mary’s China program is an excellent opportunity to help the American law student dive into the Chinese legal system,” said Fields.
Along with the summer program and internships, the Institute on Chinese Law and Business also includes a faculty exchange between St. Mary’s and Beihang University. Johnson will direct Guo Dong,a Beihang University doctoral student,this fall. The two will work on a mass tortlitigation paper comparing the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and the British Petroleum Compensation Fund to that of China’s tainted milk compensation fund. A Beihang University faculty member, Gao Qi, will also be on St. Mary’s law campus from September to January to conduct research.