June 01, 2013

International Conference Promotes Legal Ethical Education in China

June 2013

From March 16–17, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) partnered with the China University of Politics and Law to host an international conference on the state of Chinese legal ethics in Beijing. The conference, which was attended by more than 50 legal professionals from China, the United States, Hong Kong and South Korea, was organized to promote participants’ awareness of legal ethics and its importance to the rule of law.

Jen Leung, ABA ROLI’s deputy country director in China, opened the event with remarks on the history and importance of legal ethical education in the United States and encouraged participants to share their ideas and experiences. Participants included representatives from the All China Lawyers Association, the National Judges College, the National Prosecutors College and local justice bureaus from more than 14 Chinese provinces.

Professor Lawrence Hellman, dean emeritus of the Oklahoma City University School of Law and member of the Professionalism Committee of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, gave an in-depth presentation on the challenges faced within the American legal system in retraining legal professionals to behave ethically in their everyday work, long after they have graduated from law school and passed the bar exam.

During discussions, participants suggested that legal ethics be a stronger part of the curriculum in both law schools and in academies for law enforcement officers. They also said that ethics trainings should continue throughout a legal professional’s career.

Professor Judith McMorrow, former chair of the Professional Responsibility Section of the Association of American Law Schools, discussed the logic of the adversarial legal system. She said that conceptualizing legal ethical rules as a tradeoff between the prosecution and defense assists in ensuring the rights of all stakeholders are understood and respected.

A substantial portion of the second half of the conference focused on teaching methodologies. Dr. Richard Wu of the University of Hong Kong discussed the impact of teaching legal ethics through experiential and reflective exercises, such as the practice of assigning externships accompanied by reflective journal assignments or screening law-related movies in class with students debating the ethical issues raised. To demonstrate the use of role-playing activities and hypothetical case analysis in teaching legal ethics, McMorrow and Hellman led an exercise based on an environmental case.

Participants said that the discussions and practical exercises helped them understand that the role of educators is to build their students’ awareness of legal ethics and to instill the right thinking process in them. This “is truly an enlightening moment for me,” said one of the participants. “After observing the demonstration, I realize that the point of using interactive methods to teach classes is not to provide students with all answers but to inspire thinking and discussion among students, and for them to be able to come up with solutions when facing legal ethics dilemmas in their future careers.”

The Chinese Ministry of Education designated the conference as the first international legal ethics conference to ever be held in China.

To learn more about our work in China, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.