China’s Growing Legal Professionalism

I’m often asked about the growing professionalism in China’s legal system. Though (in my opinion) they still have a long way to go to match our legal guarantees for individual rights, corporate protections and protecting intellectual property (among other issues), there is no question that since the 1990’s, there have been enormous strides in reinstituting the “rule of law” (and not just the whims of the Party) in this economic system.

Here’s an article written a few years ago by two students at the University of Wisconsin Law School which documents this rapid change. It points out the recent evolution of China’s economic revolution and the accompanying legal system they’re developed in just a few short decades to allow themselves to “rejoin the world” and more fully integrate their economy intothe established international legal system.

You can read the full article by clicking HERE.

For my purposes in this blog, I’ll just restate a few of their conclusions:

1.  The consequences of increased professionalization in the Chinese legal system are numerous and positive. Developments in education and certification have produced greater interest in legal employment and bolstered numbers that were once nearly nonexistent. In 1990, the total number of undergraduates studying law in China was 35,000.  By the millennium, the 240 universities with law departments were graduating nearly 20,000 annually.

2. The number of practicing attorneys in the country first rose slowly, from only 2,000 in 1978 to over 22,000 in 1992. In 2002, 110,000 lawyers were working in 9,000 law offices in China. 

 With the reforms of the 1990s, however, the number has increased more quickly. In 2002, 110,000 lawyers were working in 9,000 law offices in China.

3. Changes in legal education and certification have also strengthened the qualifications of these legal actors and advanced the provision of legal services over the past decade. With greater professionalization, Chinese lawyers today enjoy the legitimacy to play a larger role in the drafting of new legislation and regulations. The Supreme People’s Court routinely consults attorneys during the drafting of new regulations and official explanations of existing provisions. Officials in the Court’s research office recognize that,“[a]s a growing, vital force in the judicial circle, the opinions of practicing lawyers are very important” to the Court.

4. The small number of trained legal personnel in China (however) emphasizes the continuing need for attention tothe legal professions. Reforms thus far have promoted a high degree of competency among new legal professionals, but the Chinese government must continue to encourage bright young students to pursue legal study and provide assistance to ensure that enough candidates meet the requirements. Recent statements indicate that government leaders are aware of the need for more lawyers, judges, and procurators. The Chinese government has set a target of 200,000 qualified, practicing lawyers by the year 2010,and the Ministry of Justice has indicated a need to increase this number to 300,000. 5. The future of the Chinese legal system depends on the ability of Chinese policy makers to follow through on this goal.

Courtesy of


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