US, Chinese law schools to deepen collaboration

Updated: 2013-05-23 11:09

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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 US, Chinese law schools to deepen collaboration

Wang Xixin, deputy dean and professor of law at Peking University Law School, spoke at the memorandum of understanding signing ceremony held earlier this month. Provided to China Daily

Columbia University law professor Alexandra Carter first visited Beijing in 1996 as a college student. She didn't make it back to the capital city until last week to lecture law students at Peking University.

"The purpose of my visit was not only to give a couple of lectures, but also to explore the opportunity for future collaboration both in [alternative dispute resolution] and in the field of clinical education," Carter said. "Clinical education is a form of learning that's become extremely important at the top law schools here in the US and it's an area that [Peking University] has started and is looking to expand."

Carter spent a week in Beijing thanks to a memorandum of understanding that Columbia University Law School Dean David Schizer and Peking University Law School Dean Zhang Shouwen signed earlier this month to expand opportunities in an already existing partnership.

"The idea is to try to create a framework that allows deepening of collaboration between Chinese scholars and American scholars working on common issues," said Benjamin Liebman, Robert L. Lieff professor of law and director of the Center for Chinese Legal Studies at Columbia.

In 2006, Columbia teamed up with Peking University to offer a reciprocal opportunity for students at the New York-based and Beijing-based law schools to participate in semester-long exchanges. In 2011, the exchange program expanded to faculty to provide professors the option to co-teach a course with a colleague at the host institution, lecture on a topic of interest or conduct research.

"There's a long tradition of American scholars studying China and of Chinese scholars studying the West, but there's not a long tradition of American and Chinese scholars working together to pursue common research questions," Liebman said.

The new initiative will enable cooperation in mutually agreed upon areas of research.

"There's a lot of interest in developing joint research on issues like anti-trust regulations in China and the development of China's courts, but we don't have a specific research agenda going in," Liebman said.

Other possible opportunities include joint publications and hosting joint seminars and forums.

"In my view, the real goal and the strength of this relationship is the effort to work together on common issues," Liebman said. "It's not that we're studying them or they're studying us, but rather we're looking at common questions that face our countries and face the global legal framework together."

Over years, hundreds of exchanges have occurred between the two schools to conduct research, serve as visiting professors, participate in conferences, and advise on developing new laws. Liebman estimated 50 to 60 Chinese scholars are at Columbia annually.

"We have a huge network of people already in China who study here and spent time here [at Columbia], and that's a great resource for us," Liebman said.

Scholars from Peking University Law School regularly partner with the Chinese government, law firms and the business community.

"The legal system today without question has developed more than anyone thought possible when legal reform [in China] started in 1978," Liebman said. "There are a lot of problems continuing to face the legal system, but the speed of change continues to be impressive."

Carter said he was impressed by students' "very insightful" questions, not to mention their command of English. She told the first few students who raised their hands that she could spend an entire semester answering their questions, which pinpointed some of the biggest and most complex issues in the field of mediation today.

"Students asked questions about access to justice and how judges decide which cases got to mediation and which cases go before the judge," Carter said. "This is a topic of much discussion in the US."

Carter said she met with the Peking University Law School dean and vice dean over the week to discuss the Chinese school's priorities and to explore future collaborations that would utilize the mediation program Carter teaches at Columbia.

She also met with other professors and local lawyers to discuss holding a conference on the future of mediation in China and ways in which academics can support the work that the judiciary is doing in this area.

"[Peking University] is a real leader in China," Carter said. "They have some of the very best scholars and practitioners there, so there's a lot of opportunity for joint research and joint teaching that I think is unmatched."

In lieu of pay, the Chinese university covered expenses for Carter's housing and most meals, as well as escorted her around campus and made introductions to help her extend her professional network.

Carter said, "I think the people who are taking this opportunity are doing it because they see genuine opportunities for collaboration with a great institution like [Peking University]."