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Duke Law in China

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By Frances Presma

The Law School celebrates more than 20 years of education and engagement, and looks to the future

Dragon Boat

LI XIAOMING ’90 is the managing partner of the Beijing office of White & Case, with a practice focused on general corporate and structured finance, and mergers and acquisitions. His clients include international enterprises with business interests in China, as well as Chinese corporations operating in the global marketplace. Currently representing a Chinese bank in extending finance to the purchasers of Chinese telecom equipment, Li is wrapping up a series of transactions in Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Bangladesh, after which he will handle transactions in Poland, Russia, and France.

Li’s thriving international practice is a testament to his legal skill as well as evidence of what China is today: a global economic powerhouse. Yet when he enrolled at Duke Law School in 1987–grabbing an "irresistible offer" of a full scholarship equivalent to 10 years worth of his salary as deputy secretary general for China’s arbitration commission–Li’s choice of study met with some condescension from Chinese students in other Duke schools, expressed during their Saturday morning soccer games.

"Their assumption was that only underachievers would study law, because all the smartest were in the sciences. They assumed that if I planned to go back to China, the law was useless," Li explains.

He admits to sharing their skepticism. More than a decade after the end of the Cultural Revolution, China was still making its first moves towards a socialist market economy, and its legal infrastructure was in its infancy. In 1982, when Li received his undergraduate degree, only about 80—90 lawyers graduated in all of China. There were no private law firms until 1984. And it would not have been the inclination of most Chinese to engage lawyers at that time in any event.

If they had a problem, they would probably go to their boss, or to the government authorities, and they would seek a political, as opposed to a legal, solution. A legal way of solving problems was not available. Courts were not equipped to solve civil disputes.

Today, Li, says with a laugh, "the Chinese love going to court. They are more litigious than Americans." There’s no shortage of representation either; Li estimates that there may be as many as 2,000 law schools in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). As for his own success, Li attributes it largely to that "irresistible" opportunity of a scholarship to attend Duke.

great wall of china"Without Duke Law School, I would not be who and where I am today."

Li, a life member of the Law School’s Board of Visitors, hosted a reception for fellow alumni, faculty, and their families at his new Beijing office on June 9 to kick off their 10-day tour of his country. Organized to mark 20 years since the first Chinese law student graduated from Duke, the tour celebrated the outreach, initiatives, and achievements of Law School alumni and faculty in China over that period. In addition to taking in such marvels of ancient China as the Great Wall and the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian, the Duke Law contingent got a first-hand look at China’s current prosperity: construction cranes dotting the landscape, state-of-the-art office buildings and four-star hotels transforming the skylines of Beijing and Shanghai, new cars crowding the roads. With a conference at Tsinghua University exploring issues relating to intellectual property protection, corporate governance, and investing in China, the tour offered an in-depth look at where China is today, and the opportunities and challenges that exist in law and legal education.

"The trip was absolutely fascinating," says Board of Visitors member Candace Carroll ’74. "We not only learned about China’s rich history, but a great deal about China as she is today." Board of Visitors Chairman Peter Kahn ’76 agrees.

For the Law School it was a wonderful way to strengthen our existing partnerships in China with law schools and law firms, and hopefully establish new ones, all with the goal of enhancing our academic scholarship, research, recruiting, and placement in the region.

For the Board of Visitors it was an excellent opportunity to evaluate our international programming up close. And more generally for the alumni, faculty, and family members who participated, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to begin to understand a society we know little about, and do it with a group of spirited friends from Duke."

Since 1985, dozens of lawyers have graduated from Duke Law School who now practice in China, or who have strong professional–and personal–ties to the PRC. They include partners with large international and domestic Chinese firms, such as Li, who have enjoyed extraordinary success. To name just a few who took part in Duke Law School’s summer events: Ma Hongli ’89, managing partner of Jun He Law Office in Shanghai, China’s largest domestic firm (which also hosted a reception for the Duke Law group); Danian Zhang ’89, the managing partner of Baker & McKenzie’s Shanghai office; Winston Zhao ’88, the managing partner of Jones Day in Shanghai; and Zhang Xuebing ’98, the managing partner of Beijing’s Zhonglun Jintong and one of China’s leading real estate and property development lawyers. Alumni who practice internationally with strong connections to the PRC include Xianping Wang ’91, whose Alexandria, Virginia based firm, Garfinkle & Wang Associates, is integrally involved with China’s aviation and energy sectors, among others; Yan Xuan ’87, vice president of corporate and business development for Oracle Corporation; and Kenji Kuroda ’89, founding partner of Kuroda Law and Patent Offices in Tokyo, whose Shanghai office was recently opened by Sumiko Kayano ’01.

Duke Law graduates with ties to the PRC also include academics and policy-makers. Professor Gao Xiqing ’86, who this year received the Law School’s International Alumni Award, and who returns annually to lecture at Duke, has been a particularly influential reformer–a key figure in China’s development as a capital market and now, as vice chairman of the National Council for Social Security Fund, in charge of managing his country’s pension reserves. (See profile, page 22.)

"We are very proud of our Chinese graduates, who are leaders in the legal system in China, helping to shape the course of this ambitious country in a positive way," says Duke Law School Dean Katharine Bartlett.

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