Law graduates facing bleak job prospects

Updated: 2015-02-10 15:14

By Cao Yin(China Daily USA)

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Number of degree programs rises, but some experts say the training doesn't match reality

Li Xiaoxiao, a law student who will graduate with a master's degree from Fudan University this year, is not as passionate for the major as she was when she selected it seven years ago.

"I have sent more than 100 resumes on the Internet since September, but I've received no reply," said the 25-year-old, who currently works as an intern at a Shanghai law firm.

Li sees her hunt for employment as something like finding a needle in a haystack. It will be hard to stay at the law firm at the end of her internship, let alone become a prosecutor or judge - jobs that require strict qualification examinations.

"I never thought a law major, which is regarded as a hot major in the country, would be such an embarrassment in actually finding a job," she said, noting that she spent seven years pursuing her degree.

Several legal industry insiders said law degrees became hotter since the central government placed an emphasis on the rule of law last year and began pushing nationwide judicial reform. The market is thirsty for judicial talent, they said.

Only three universities offered a law degree in 1977, but the number has roared to 630 out of the total 2,500 colleges and universities, according to, China's largest education portal.

"Our judicial development requires new talent, especially in international law and foreign commercial law. Improvements in the legal environment are the reason programs have been set up at more universities and colleges across the country," said Yi Shenghua, a criminal lawyer.

But the employment picture is not rosy. There's a gap between the programs offered and the real world, said Yi, who has provided career guidance for law students since 2010.

In a report released last year on college graduates, law majors were included in a list of those with high risk of unemployment and low salary prospects. Law even dropped to the bottom in more than 10 provinces, including Fujian.

Deng Yong, a law instructor at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, said that current degree programs are out of step with the market.

"The legal education that students are getting at universities is far from what the industry demands. If nothing changes, the awkward employment situation will become serious," Deng said.

Few prospects

Li, the Fudan student, specializes in administrative law. She has become more anxious since beginning work as an intern at a law firm about a month ago.

"What I am doing at the firm is dealing with specific cases, such as company mergers. The basic legal thinking I learned at school seems a bit general for the work," she said.

In her class of about 200 graduates, less than 20 percent have job offers, she said.

"We chose the major because we were interested in it. Then we found we're not so fond of the job availability at the end," Li said. "But after several years of study, it seems there's no turning back."

She received her bachelor's degree three years ago from East China University of Political Science and Law but decided to pursue an advanced degree at Fudan on account of the gloomy employment picture.

Now, many universities have created a law major, and all students can take the judicial and civil exams - "which means law graduates have few advantages, and everyone has a finger in the pie", Li said.

Increasing numbers of students have pursued a bachelor's degree in law, with the total reaching about 80,000 in 2012, according to

Yi, the lawyer, said the sharply increasing number of law graduates is both good and bad.

"The good is that the major gets high attention. After the country's leadership emphasized judicial reform and highlighted the rule of law, the legal environment started improving," Yi said.

But there's a downside for graduates. For example, salaries for judges and prosecutors are small, yet the number of cases they handle in a year is big, which cools the interest of some law graduates, Yi said. He added that the number of judges and prosecutors will be reduced further under the reforms, which means some experienced insiders will switch to being lawyers.

"A stable judicial job, including work opportunities in undeveloped areas, such as legal aid providers in a county, is not as attractive for most students as being a lawyer with a good income," he said.

Reality gap

For those with the chance to be employed by a law firm, salaries at the beginning are also not great, "as they must be lawyers' assistants at first, researching and learning how to handle specific cases," Yi said.

The current impractical legal education deserves some criticism, he said.

In career training lectures at law schools, Yi tells students that the legal theories they are learning are not necessarily what's found in actual practice. He used his own assistants as an example, saying they sometimes had no idea how to search for judicial materials or how to talk with litigants in their first working year.

Liu Xing, a senior official at the Beijing Dongcheng District People's Procuratorate, said about 100 graduates apply for jobs as prosecutors every year, but only 15 are hired.

"The newcomers should be copy clerks at first, but some of them sometimes are not qualified for this simple job," Liu said. "They have legal background, but what we need is someone with combined majors."

For example, a law graduate with medical knowledge can deal more easily with cases related to hospitals, he said.

"In other words, our law education in universities hasn't been geared to reality for a long time, and most students have little time for internships at legal organs," he said.

He prefers the approach of Taiwan to law education. Law school students are required to put what they learn into practice during their four years of university study, he said.

"Being an intern for several months isn't enough to understand judicial work, let alone to follow specific legal cases," he said.

Deng, the teacher at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, said that while the number of universities offering law majors has risen sharply in recent years, most offer nothing unique.

"Some teachers who are qualified lawyers intend to share practical cases with their students, but the details of cases they are handling sometimes can't be disclosed," he said. He suggested that each law school select a specific branch of law as its specialty.

"For example, laws dealing with medicine or that aim to solve medical disputes are the key course at our university," he said. "Our students can be both legal consultants for medical bodies - including hospitals and medical supervision organs - and lawyers specializing in medical cases."

Law graduates facing bleak job prospects

 Law graduates facing bleak job prospects

After Zhang Tianyi (left) received his master's degree from Peking University Law School in June, he started his own business, two noodle shops in Beijing's central business district. A handful of other law graduates across the country, facing a challenging employment environment, have also become entrepreneurs. Luo Xiaoguang / Xinhua

(China Daily USA 02/10/2015 page6)