History of STL

The deep and mutually reinforcing relationship between economic modernization and legal modernization was a fundamental predicate of the vision of China advanced by Deng Xiaoping at the time of his ascendancy to leadership in 1978 and again at the time of his visit to Shenzhen in 1992. The work of economic historian and Nobel Laureate Douglass North supports Deng’s vision: “How effectively agreements are enforced is the single most important determinant of economic performance.”

Today’s leaders, too, understand the mutual dependency of economic and legal modernization, especially in the context of a new generation economy built upon knowledge and technological innovation. As Guangdong Provincial Party Secretary Hu Chunhua observed during his August 29, 2014 visit to Shenzhen and Qianhai, “We must learn from advanced ideas and rules in the world, thereby we can strive for innovation in policy, institutions, finance, land management, commercial adjudication, and management of international arbitration tribunals. We must strive to create a commercial environment of marketization, institutionalization, and internationalization.” Mayor Xu Qing has expressed similar sentiments on numerous occasions: e.g., “The earlier a city improves its legal environment, the more likely it is to secure a competitive advantage.”

These are precisely the principles behind the 2007 proposal of Dr. Hai Wen, one of China’s leading development economists and the immediate past Chancellor of Peking University’s Shenzhen Graduate Campus, to establish an innovative graduate-level professional law curriculum in Shenzhen that would (i) educate top university graduates about different legal traditions and systems and thereby promote the new policies and practices necessary to facilitate successful cross-border trade and international relations; (ii) contribute to the creation of a Chinese legal profession equipped to serve China’s increasingly sophisticated domestic economy and to compete successfully on an international scale with dominant American and British law firms; and (iii) provide domestically in an affordable way the graduate-level professional legal education top Chinese students traditionally only were able to seek abroad at great expense. Chancellor Hai’s pioneering idea was to import to Shenzhen the best professors, teaching methods and content of American legal education, and to combine these with the graduate-level China law curriculum for which Peking University is internationally renowned, thus creating for the first time anywhere a truly transnational professional program of legal education.

China’s State Council agreed with Chancellor Hai and authorized Peking University to create a law curriculum in Shenzhen offering for the first time in China -– and for the first time anywhere in the world — an American-style Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, taught in English, alongside a China law Juris Master (J.M.) degree, taught in Chinese. The following year, Peking University’s new School of Transnational Law (“STL”) admitted its first students. The University appointed Jeffrey Lehman, a former president of Cornell University and dean of the University of Michigan Law School, as STL’s Founding Dean.

As described below, STL’s growing resident faculty today rivals those of the best law schools in the world. No institution of higher education in China has done more to engage high-level experts from abroad. The collaborations between STL faculty and their international counterparts are helping to make Shenzhen the hub of a worldwide network of elite legal scholars and institutions. The research output of STL scholarship is influencing policy discussions in Shenzhen, China and abroad. STL’s library promises to serve as a resource for legal research and services equipped for the global engagements of Shenzhen’s strategic industries of importance.

Additionally, even though STL is still young, its graduates already hold positions of importance with leading employers in Shenzhen, elsewhere in China and throughout the world, who value STL’s cutting-edge program and growing contribution to a legal profession prepared for China’s future industries and ever-expanding role globally. China’s best and brightest students are vying for admission; their potential for future leadership is great. Foreign students, too, are selecting STL in increasing numbers, thereby advancing Shenzhen’s and China’s strategic interests and friendships as these graduates return to positions of leadership in their home nations.

STL’s fundamental contributions (i) to the creation and ongoing education of a sophisticated legal profession for Shenzhen, (ii) to the legal infrastructure necessary to support and sustain Shenzhen’s economy and emerging industries of strategic importance, and (iii) to Shenzhen’s internationalization as the hub of a global network of high-level legal scholars and institutions, are not merely speculative; they are the foundation of STL’s very existence. These are the purposes for which STL was established and these are the goals STL is pursuing and achieving.

STL’s Innovative Program of Legal Education

STL is still young, with only four graduating classes to date, but it already has captured the attention of the world’s leading law firms, companies, government offices and universities. Leading Chinese and multinational law firms that employ STL graduates include Fangda Partners, King & Wood Mallesons, Junhe, Kirkland & Ellis, Shearman & Sterling, Paul Weiss, Simpson Thatcher, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, DLA Piper, Morrison & Foerster, and others. Leading Chinese and multinational companies that employ STL graduates include Huawei Technologies, Tencent, Baidu, Walmart China, China National Development Bank, PWC Shenzhen, General Electric, and others. Leading government offices, nonprofits and NGOs that employ STL graduates include the Qianhai Equity Exchange, the Supreme People’s Court, the South China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission, the United Nations Refugee Agency, CIETAC and others. STL graduates pursuing academic careers have been accepted into advanced degree programs at several of the world’s most elite universities, including Harvard, Yale, Science Po, College of Europe and others. Post-graduate placement of STL graduates is nearly 100 percent and their trajectory for leadership is strong.

The worldwide interest in STL results from STL’s unique and innovative program of legal education. STL’s dual degree J.D./J.M. curriculum offers unmatched depth in complex corporate and regulatory topics, commercial and international dispute resolution, and comparative legal traditions taught by an exceptionally distinguished multinational faculty. Increasingly, STL’s curriculum also offers supervised real world practice experience. Students in STL’s new Small Business Entrepreneurship Clinic, for example, will advise emerging Shenzhen businesses on the wide range of business organization, intellectual property, and other regulatory and personal issues that typically accompany the ramp-up effort of new businesses.

The true value of the J.D. degree for STL students, however, includes far more than simply learning the content of different areas of American law. The true value lies in acquiring the skills that make for great lawyers, jurists and leaders of any nationality: rigorous analytical thinking, the ability to see all sides of an issue, the ability to solve complex problems creatively, and the ability to persuade.

STL students acquire these skills because of the unique method of instruction used by STL’s preeminent multinational faculty: serious, reflective study of actual cases accompanied by intensely interactive class sessions in which professors question and challenge students, day after day, about the cases they read. “What are the facts in this case?” “What if the facts changed [in a particular] way?” “What if the facts changed in [a different] way?” “Would the outcome still be the same?” “Why or why not?” “What if the rule of law were different [in a particular way]?” “Would the outcome then change?” “Why or why not?” “Do you agree with the outcome?” “How would you argue for the losing side?”

Following are some actual observations of STL students with respect to this method of instruction:

“The study of American law is something new and unfamiliar to me, unlike any schooling I’ve ever been through before. The professors use the Socratic method here; they call on you, ask you a question, and you answer it. At first, I thought it was inefficient – why didn’t they just give a lecture? But I soon learned that it was not just an efficiency matter, but a way to educate yourself. Through professor’s questions, you learn to teach yourself. And through this method of questioning, answering, questioning, answering, they seek to develop in you the ability to analyze … the professors train the mind.”

“What attracts me about STL is what students gain from the learning process – the ability to analyze complicated problems instead of just remembering facts.”

“The most attractive part of STL for me is your teaching method which is concentrated on motivated thinking, instead of forced feeding. … Professors will not say yes or no to any answer, they ask students to think in wider and deeper ways.”

“The most important thing I learned [at STL] is: help each other learn. This is very different from what I was taught in our education system. In Chinese education system, we have to compete with each other stressfully, everyone wants to be in the top and most of the time we exclude others from our own new ideas and achievements. In 10 days at STL, I and my roommates helped each other read cases, we exchanged ideas, … we solved problems together as a team and we learned new things faster and efficiently … From what I have experienced at STL, I am impressed by the team spirit …”

“[T]he Socratic Method and moot court left me with the deepest impression. I got a better understanding of the differences between STL and traditional Chinese law schools – initiative, critical thinking are greatly emphasized at STL. Although it is true that the four years of learning at STL will be challenging and demanding, … [I have learned] that studying law can be interesting and thrilling.”

This deeply interactive method of instruction contrasts sharply with traditional legal education in China, where classroom instruction typically involves one-way lecturing to large numbers of students, often hundreds at a time. There traditionally has been little or no student-teacher interaction in the classroom, and the pedagogical emphasis has been on theory-centered courses and rote memorization rather than on skills-centered courses and problem solving.

Some of this focus reflects the fact that China is largely a civil law system, and Chinese law professors traditionally have viewed lecturing and written examinations as better suited to the mastery of complex statutes. Nonetheless, leading Chinese law scholars today are concerned that the lecture and written examination method alone produces only a superficial understanding of the complexities of law, and neglects essential skill development with respect to legal interpretation and application.

Accordingly, these scholars are calling for reform of Chinese legal education in favor of teaching techniques that emphasize (i) creative problem solving, (ii) comparative and transnational perspectives, and (iii) the skills of lawyering. In this respect, STL is leading the way, appointing to its faculty Chinese law professors who are pioneers in this movement and who are creating J.M. courses and methods of instruction that preserve essential civil law content while emphasizing these important additional dimensions of the practice of law.

STL’s Multinational Faculty of Leading Scholars

STL has been remarkably successful in recruiting leading scholars from around the world to its distinguished multinational faculty. As noted, STL’s Founding Dean was a former president of Cornell University and dean of the University of Michigan Law School. STL’s current dean was Founding Dean of Penn State University’s Schools of Law and International Affairs, a former professor of law at the University of Illinois, and a former partner of the leading international law firm, Morrison & Foerster.

STL’s full-time resident faculty includes world-renowned scholars of international trade law, food safety policy, public international law and private dispute resolution, along with leading and emerging scholars of investment treaty arbitration, capital markets, securities regulation, comparative corporate governance, Chinese legal history and philosophy, Chinese environmental regulation and administrative law, China civil law, and several other important fields of law. Members of STL’s resident faculty previously have held distinguished academic appointments at University College London, Erasmus University, Hong Kong University, Peking University (Beijing), Max Planck Institute, University Aix-Marseille, and other leading institutions worldwide. STL’s regular visiting faculty includes distinguished scholars from Harvard, Stanford, NYU, King’s College (London), Georgetown, and other leading research universities, along with distinguished high-level jurists and lawyers from around the world. As one of STL’s students recently exclaimed, “Studying at STL is like studying abroad in China!”

An important reason why STL has been so successful recruiting leading faculty and students is the attractiveness of a city as accessible, progressive, and economically and culturally dynamic as Shenzhen. Shenzhen’s attractiveness also helps qualify STL as a preferred host of international conferences, such as the “Ninth International Workshop for Young Law Scholars,” which STL hosted in 2013 along with co-hosts the European Law Journal and the College of Europe (Bruges) and which brought promising young law scholars from around the world to Shenzhen.

In addition to recruiting world-class scholars to Shenzhen, STL scholars also serve effectively as academic ambassadors for Shenzhen abroad. During the past two years alone, STL scholars have been invited to present keynote addresses and lectures at the Global Universities Summit in Moscow; a high-level EU-China Relations Conference at the Bibliotheque Solvay in Brussels; a multinational conference on International Legal Ethics in London; the ICC Asia-Pacific Conference in Seoul; a special meeting in Antalya of Turkey’s Court of Cassation, Constitutional Court and High Council of Judges and Prosecutors; the ICC-Palestine Conference in Ramallah on a new Israel-Palestine Centre for International Arbitration; an American Society of International Law Conference in Washington, D.C. on China-Africa Investment Treaties; the European Law Faculties Association Annual Meeting in Warsaw; and several other similar high-level academic and diplomatic symposia. During the same period, STL scholars served as invited lecturers and panelists at leading universities around the world, including National University Singapore, University of Tokyo, the University of Chicago, Moscow State University, Kyoto University, Max Planck Institutes, College of Europe (Bruges), European University Institute, Cape Town University, Science Po, Xi’an Jiaotong University, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Peking University-Beijing, and many others. One STL professor co-chaired a meeting of the Institute for Transnational Arbitration that included high-level representatives from over thirty nations. Another is a guest blogger on an international law faculty web site visited by thousands of legal scholars daily.

STL’s distinguished faculty and visitors, together with their very active international engagements, effectively represent an unparalleled multinational “think tank” available to the government of Shenzhen and other regional institutions as a resource for high-level policy discussions, white papers, international colloquia, and educational programs.

STL’s Outstanding Students

STL’s students are among the best and brightest in China. In order to be eligible for admission to STL, PRC students must have (i) earned exemption from China’s national graduate school entrance exam by virtue of being one of the top few graduates of one of China’s top-tier universities, (ii) scored at least as high as the PKU “cut score” on the national graduate school entrance exam, which is the highest cut score in China, or in a few instances, (iii) achieved a score on the Law School Admissions Test, or “LSAT,” to compensate for a slightly lower cut score.

Additionally, before being offered admission to STL, students within one of these three academically elite groups must survive a rigorous in-person interview by STL faculty that tests each candidate’s English language proficiency. Chinese students admitted to STL are poised for international leadership from the moment of their admission.

These qualities help explain not only the post-graduate employment of STL graduates, but also the success of STL students while in law school. In 2013, for example, STL’s Jessup International Law Moot Court Team was the China National Champion. The same year, STL’s Vis International Arbitration Moot Team was the China National Champion, winning an all expense paid trip to the Vis International competition in Vienna, Austria. STL students participate in eight different international moot court competitions along with teams from leading law schools throughout the world, and the performances of STL students in each have been exceptional. STL students also established and now edit the Peking University Transnational Law Review, an English language journal with worldwide readership devoted to publishing scholarly articles about transnational law topics. Several Transnational Law Review articles already are receiving international acclaim. Finally of note, almost forty percent of STL’s J.D./J.M. students study in exchange programs between STL and leading law schools abroad.

STL has established a post-graduate LL.M. (Master of Laws) degree for foreign students who already have a first degree in law and who already may be practicing lawyers in their home nations. STL’s LL.M. program enrolled its first students beginning in Academic Year 2015-16. The worldwide prestige of PKU, the opportunity to live in Shenzhen, STL’s English language curriculum, and STL’s unique depth in Chinese law and transnational law has attracted leading lawyers and law students from around the world. As has been the case for decades at the best American law schools, STL’s LL.M. graduates likely will return to positions of leadership in their home nations accompanied by heightened familiarity with and affection for Shenzhen and China, thus advancing over time the global interests of Shenzhen and China as well as of STL and PKU.

The Relationship Between STL’s Educational Program and Shenzhen’s Emerging Industries of Strategic Importance

In many ways, STL’ s J.D./J.M. program of legal education is designed precisely to supply the legal services upon which China’s new economy depends: (i) complex problem-solving across disciplines; (ii) sophisticated legal services for emerging industries in biotechnology, information technology, energy, financial services, and arts and entertainment; and (iii) lawyers capable of contending knowledgably and comfortably with China’s rapid internationalization.

As illustrated in STL’s course descriptions, STL’s curriculum, like most law curriculums, tends to be organized by broadly defined societal problems. For example, STL offer courses in corporate governance, intellectual property, law and biotechnology, Internet law, dispute resolution, real estate transactions, law and medicine, antitrust, and so forth. This problem-based organization draws naturally and heavily on other disciplines. Many law courses, for example, are enriched by economics-based inquiries, others by applied sciences, others by cultural or area studies, others by psychology and industrial behavior, and so forth. This natural multidisciplinary inquiry intrinsic to law courses is supplemented in a university setting by the ability of law students to enroll in relevant non-law courses (within appropriate credit limitations), by the enhanced ability of the law school to recruit professors from other disciplines to contribute to the law curriculum, and by the relative ease with which joint appointments of multidisciplinary faculty may occur.

At the same time, law and legal inquiry are becoming increasingly science-dependent. Dispute resolution today regularly involves scientific proof and counter-proof and extended testimony and evaluation by expert witnesses. Regulatory and policy decisions of great importance to the environment, to our health, and to security hinge more and more on questions of cutting-edge science and technology. Industries unknown to the world only a decade ago today exploit the advances of basic research in the biological sciences and information technologies, and this development, in turn, has given new dimension and prominence to the law of intellectual property. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences recently published a report declaring “A Convergence of Science and Law.” This title captures nicely the rich intermingling of these fields that STL’s curriculum increasingly works to promote, and upon which Shenzhen’s economy increasingly depends.

Finally, the internationalization of law and law practice is the reason STL was founded. The world has now experienced well over two decades during which geographic and political boundaries no longer constrain in significant ways the flow of commerce or the practice of law. Transnational law practice is commonplace; new legal practices are beginning to emerge as a result of accommodations among different legal traditions; and developing nations and cities the world over are moving rapidly to provide a legal infrastructure capable of promoting the next generation of economic growth. These trends demand that legal education increasingly equip new lawyers with a deep appreciation and awareness of different legal traditions, different commercial practices and expectations, different cultures, and different notions of truth and justice. STL and Shenzhen are the forefront of these changes.

This program of legal education equips STL graduates with the abilities prized by leading law firms, companies, government offices, and nonprofits everywhere: superior analytical and critical thinking capability across a variety of industries and disciplines, outstanding advocacy skills, deep cross-cultural awareness, and exceptional leadership potential. As a result, STL is playing a key role in the reform of legal education throughout China, and in supplying the highly sophisticated legal professionals essential to the complex multinational transactions increasingly characteristic of industries of strategic importance to Shenzhen and the Greater Pearl River Delta (e.g., biotechnology, information technology, Internet, energy, financial services, and arts and entertainment).

STL Research Influences Policy and Society

Although still young, STL already is well known in China for research that frequently bears directly on policy issues and initiatives under consideration by the Chinese government. For example, Vice Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhang Jianguo, recently presented two members of STL’s resident faculty, Founding Dean Jeffrey Lehman and C.V. Starr Professor of Law Francis Snyder, with commemorative crystal balls in appreciation of their research and scholarship, respectively, regarding higher education in China and food safety policy in China.  Emeritus C.V. Starr Professor of Law Peter Malanczuk, an internationally acclaimed scholar of public international law and private commercial arbitration, serves on the Council of the South China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission and on the Advisory Committee to the Shenzhen Municipal Government on the Internationalization of Shenzhen. Distinguished Professor from Practice Thomas Yunlong Man serves as an advisor to the Supreme People’s Court with respect to the creation of Uniform Provisions of Evidence.

The research of other STL professors with regard to financial services regulation, securities regulation, intellectual property and comparative corporate governance is having a similarly influential effect on policy and business practices in Shenzhen, Qianhai and elsewhere in the world. STL professors recently have published scholarly articles and monographs about these topics in leading legal journals published by Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Northwestern, Virginia, Peking and New York Universities and by Oxford and Cambridge University Presses.

An example of STL’s research collaboration with scholars at other leading academic institutions worldwide is STL’s new Institute for the Study of the Legal Profession and Legal Institutions in China, which represents an ongoing collaborative effort by leading scholars from STL, Hong Kong University, Georgetown University, the University of California-Irvine, and Cape Town University.

Guangdong Province is unique in China insofar as affiliations between Mainland and Hong Kong lawyers are permitted here that are not allowed elsewhere. Shenzhen and Qianhai are unique in their bold approach to developing legal institutions necessary to promote economic development in a region of multiple legal traditions and international influences (an example is the Shenzhen Municipal Court’s recent initiative to include Hong Kong citizens on Shenzhen juries considering disputes involving Mainland and Hong Kong parties). STL’s Institute for the Study of the Legal Profession and Legal Institutions in China will systematically track, maintain and publish, as a repository for international research and publication, longitudinal data pertaining to four aspects of the economic and legal integration under way in Shenzhen-Hong Kong and the Greater Pearl River Delta:

  • the organization and forms of affiliation of law firms as the market for legal services adapts to the unique blend of civil law, common law, Chinese traditions, and Communist government characteristic of this region;
  • the different conceptions of professional responsibility and ethics that might emerge among lawyers in the region as a result of these different influences;
  • the attributes of legal institutions that emerge to accommodate the different legal and business practices and traditions characteristic of the region; and
  • the role and impact of legal institutions in the ongoing economic integration and development of the region.

These developments are likely to foreshadow similar developments throughout China, as well as the increasing influence of China and Chinese traditions on legal services and legal institutions throughout the world. STL’s new Institute for the Study of the Legal Profession and Legal Institutions in China will help advance worldwide scholarly and policy assessments of these important developments.

STL’s Law Library and Information Services

All of the scholarly and teaching activities of STL faculty depend on access to world-class law library and information resources. This is a fundamental expectation of the high-level research faculty who have joined STL. STL students also are dependent on these resources. Teaching advanced legal research skills is a core component of STL’s educational program, and of the acquisition of such skills is key to the ability of STL graduates providing the sophisticated legal services upon which Shenzhen’s and China’s economies increasingly depend.

Creating one of Asia’s most comprehensive English and Chinese language law libraries, consequently, is one of STL’s top priorities. Fortunately, most elements of an essential academic law library collection are available today via access to electronic databases.

STL’s New State-of-the-Art Law Building

Thanks to the support of the Government of Shenzhen, STL soon will occupy a stunning new Kohn Pederson Fox-designed law school building on PKU’s Shenzhen Graduate campus (occupancy expected in Spring 2016). Renderings of the building included on STL’s web site already are gaining notice worldwide, and the architectural statement the forward-looking design makes is clear: STL is China’s most innovative law school in China’s most innovative city. A signature feature of the building will be classrooms equipped with advanced audiovisual telecommunications technology that will enable the completely interactive engagement of STL students, faculty and visitors with other students, educators and leaders throughout China and the world. More information and renderings of STL’s new building are available on this web site.

STL’s new building also will permit the law school to engage more formally in continuing legal education for Shenzhen and regional lawyers, businesspeople and policymakers, which is another aspect of creating a legal infrastructure capable of supporting and sustaining Shenzhen’s and China’s next generation economy. Examples of STL’s efforts in this regard to date include (i) the symposium for regional lawyers that STL and the New York Bar Association co-hosted at STL in 2013 on “Creating a Global Law Office: China and U.S. Perspectives”  and (ii) hosting the Academy of International Investment and Trade Law in July 2015, which STL sponsored jointly with the Macau Foundation and the Institute of European Studies of Macau.

No institution of higher education in China has done more than STL to engage high-level professionals from abroad. STL’s growing resident faculty of foreign and PRC scholars rivals those of the best law schools in the world. The collaborations between STL faculty and their international counterparts are helping to make Shenzhen the hub of a worldwide network of elite legal scholars and institutions. The research output of STL scholarship is influencing policy discussions in Shenzhen, China and abroad. STL’s library promises a resource for legal research and services equipped for the global engagements of Shenzhen’s strategic industries of importance.

Even though STL is still young, leading employers in Shenzhen, elsewhere in China and throughout the world have taken careful note of STL’s cutting-edge program and growing contribution to a legal profession equipped for China’s future industries and ever-expanding role globally. STL graduates are valued highly for their rigorous analytical capabilities, their creative approach to complex problem solving, their capacity to contend with advanced industries, and their facility with transnational engagements. China’s best and brightest students are vying for admission; their potential for future leadership is great. Foreign students, too, are selecting STL in increasing numbers, thereby advancing Shenzhen’s and China’s strategic interests and friendships as these STL graduates return to positions of leadership in their home nations.

Newsletter Sign Up

Peking University School of Transnational Law

Room 410, School of Transnational Law
Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School,
University Town, Xili, Nanshan District,
Shenzhen, China 518055