Beloved STL Faculty Discuss How to Achieve Academic and Professional Success in Chinese Law with Students

On May 29th, the Student Services Office and the Student Union of Peking University School of Transnational Law (STL) invited five Chinese law faculty members and Assistant Dean Charly Zhang to participate in a symposium aimed at addressing students’ concerns on studying and applying Chinese law and internship arrangements. The panel was comprised of Professor of Law Hui Huang, Associate Professor Weifei Sun, Assistant Professor of Law Shaowei Mao, Assistant Professor of Law Fei Cao, Postdoctoral Researcher Yifeng Wu and Assistant Dean Charly Zhang, each sharing advice gleaned from personal experience on developing a career in the Chinese law field.

Assistant Dean of STL Charly Zhang

Students were so enthusiastic about the coming insights from the faculty that the room was full even before the symposium started.

To open the symposium, Vice Dean of STL, Professor Shaowei Mao shared his expectations for students of STL and his understanding for STL’s position to be an awesome platform for producing satisfying employees for the legal market. He said he believes the key strength of STL is not only the Chinese law instruction and the related knowledge, but the way professors think and how they convey their ideas and reasoning. The faculty want STL to be a unique law school that can combine Chinese law and US law well. The four years of training will be effective for each student.

Vice Dean of STL, Assistant Professor of Law Shaowei Mao (center)

The opening words were followed by a Q&A session. The Student Union of STL collected questions from students and read them to the panel members for their advice.

Some students asked about course planning and book recommendations. Almost all the professors said that these should depend on the personal identity and goals of the student; they can’t recommend books or teach them how to plan the courses before they know what the interests of the students are. Students are encouraged to know themselves first, and then they are able to clarify the areas they like and narrow down the questions for professors to give specific advice. This was a good lesson for all: that we need to give sufficient background information when we want advice from others. Professor Sun also thinks that the development of analytical skills deserves more attention. He suggested enrolling in more academic seminars that focus on a small area intensively.

Associate Professor Weifei Sun (center)

Another curious question raised by students is how to give themselves a solid legal foundation. For this question, Professor Mao highly recommended self-study. He said strong brain power can only be created by the students themselves. These efforts are quite significant because students can’t understand how to apply the law without a sharp mind. Critical foundational skills can only be acquired through understanding and internalizing classic cases and texts. What’s more, it’s this foundation that will be the most valuable thing for our future study and career, because we will apply it to actual practice. 

As long as you study hard, no matter how easy or hard the courses are, you will benefit a lot. Even course that are not the most charming impart useful experience from those lawyers’ practices and connections. Professor Huang added that she understands that it probably won’t be so easy for students not majoring in law to grasp the basic ideas of some laws. But, she strongly urges students to read recommended materials first. In this way, professors won’t be forced to read and give detailed reviews of the textbooks for students and they can be more creative and give students more inspiration by teaching the contents as they wish. She explained it’s impossible for the professor to cover all the materials, so students will learn more and find they gain more knowledge by exploring materials further with the methodology given by the professor. Professors also suggest a way to test whether our knowledge is solid, is whether or not you can think of a good example to explain the issue you want to address. Students should remember that the concepts they encounter are used to solve actual questions and that they can differentiate the concepts by various case types.

Professor of Law Hui Huang (left)

There are also some students who like reading academic papers but find them hard to digest. Mr. Wu thinks it will be better for those students to read academic papers more often. Because even for professors themselves, they won’t expect to catch all the essence of one paper with one take. If students still can’t figure it out after reading many times, then professors are welcome to their questions and are willing to discuss with them. Additionally, if the academic books are too hard to read through, it’s always better to start with a readable textbook or an encyclopedia.

Postdoctoral Researcher Yifeng Wu (center)

Professor Cao also shared her insight on how to understand the structure of a branch of law. She said students can actually begin with a great textbook that’s easy to digest. However, here is the tip: students don’t need to read it through the whole book, because normally there aren’t so many topics that one will find interesting. Also, you will easily feel frustrated when you can’t finish it within the planned time. But it’s important that students read those fundamental textbooks constantly whenever they encounter any questions.

Assistant Professor of Law Fei Cao

For the internship related questions, Assistant Dean Zhang gave some advice based on his observation. He told students that the best time to start an internship is the summer vacation after the second year. Only when students have prepared themselves with a solid legal foundation will they learn more through practice. This was a shared consensus among all the professors. Assistant Dean Zhang also assured students that STL will try to provide as many internship opportunities which arrive at the right time as possible. Another essential thing for all the students to remember is that they need to have a healthy body. Legal study is not everything in law school, students also need to cultivate themselves to be reliable and be responsible and know how to interact with others well.

Time flies, nobody noticed that the meeting had continued for nearly four hours, way beyond the scheduled two hours. This enlightening symposium ended with a thunder of applause, and hopefully all of us can try our best to pave our own career path and make the world a better place.

Written by Gloria Deng

Photos by STL Student Union