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STL 15 anniversary series: Professor Matthew Stephenson: Embrace Uncertainty

Matthew Stephenson is Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, where he teaches administrative law, legislation and regulation, anti-corruption law, and political economy of public law. His research focuses on the application of positive political theory to public law, particularly in the areas of administrative procedure, anti-corruption, judicial institutions, and separation of powers. Prior to joining the Harvard Law School faculty, Professor Stephenson clerked for Senior Judge Stephen Williams on the D.C. Circuit and for Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. He received his J.D. and Ph.D. (political science) from Harvard in 2003, and his B.A. from Harvard College in 1997.

The article is an exclusive interview with Professor Stephenson, as a part of Peking University School of Transnational Law's fifteenth anniversary.

Q1: You once mentioned that you were interested in studying Mathematics, but ended up majoring in East Asian Studies. In your postgraduate years, you pursued a J.D. degree at Harvard while also working towards a Ph.D. in Political Science. Could you share with us the stories behind the choices you made during these different stages of growth?

As is true with many people, what I ended up doing for my career was not what I envisioned doing when I was a child, a teenager, or even a college student. In my own case, my path was determined in many ways by failure - by my inability to master certain skills. When I was very young, I thought I might want to become an engineer and attend a school like MIT to pursue such a career. But I learned, particularly during my senior year of high school, that I was just not proficient enough at mathematics for that to be realistic. I had thought I was quite proficient in math until I was about 16 or 17 years old, but then, like many people, I suddenly started struggling. So I realized it was not going to be something I could pursue as a career.

Right around the same time in my high school American History class, I read a quite long book about American foreign policy during the Cold War, and I became very interested in international politics and international relations. At the time, in the early 1990s when I read the book, I had the sense that the US-China relationship was going to be one of the most important international relations issues in the 21st century. It turns out I was right about that. So, when I was at Harvard College, I decided to major in East Asian Studies instead of political science or economics or something more general. I thought it would be particularly important to learn about China, and I envisaged becoming a China specialist.

But, as was true with mathematics and my dream of becoming an engineer, my dream of becoming a China specialist was hindered by my inability to master an essential skill - the Chinese language. I studied Chinese for three years in college, and after I graduated I lived in Beijing for a full year studying Chinese, and yet my Chinese proficiency never got better than being "马马虎虎" (so-so). When I was living in Beijing, my Chinese was good enough that I could get around, have simple conversations, talk to people in stores or restaurants, but it was not sufficient for me to be a specialist. Now I've forgotten almost all of it.

Yet one thing led to another. In college, because I was interested in China, I had the opportunity to take a seminar at the law school on China and international and foreign law. I was really impressed with the law students and the quality of their discussions, and that got me thinking for the first time about maybe going to law school. Also, around that time, there was a lot of discussion about how cooperation between China and the US could be built on the rule of law. Despite there being many conflicts over things like trade and human rights, there was a sense that China and the US would share an interest in building or strengthening the rule of law in China. That really captured my imagination and I thought, "Okay, maybe I'll go to law school. I won't be a China specialist since I don't have the language skills, but I can build on my knowledge of China to develop a general expertise in the field oflaw and development." Not specifically China, but I could think about the rule of law generally, especially in building the rule of law in developing countries. So I went into my graduate degree in political science and my law degree with that in mind.

Again, as often happens, my interests drifted. I took a class in law school on administrative law and found it fascinating. I got pulled into that, and at the beginning of my academic career, I found myself focusing mainly on administrative law and separation of powers issues, not really on development issues and China issues.

My path was somewhat circuitous, and one can never predict the directions that life will take. What reconnected me with China was an invitation to teach American Administrative Law at Tsinghua University, and it was as a result of that visit that I later had the opportunity to visit STL.

The lesson here for you and other young people is that although of course you should think ahead and try to build a foundation for what you want to do in the future, you also need to remember that the path is not always straight. You can't necessarily plan out where you'll be in 10 or 15 years. It's also true that things you thought you had abandoned might turn out to be useful.

For me, I thought I had completely abandoned my interest in mathematics. I didn't take any math in college. However, when I got to graduate school and started studying political science, I realized that I was interested in game theory, and I had to relearn some math. While I was working as a law professor, I believed I had left my interest in China and China issues. As it turned out, I developed a later career interest inanti-corruptionand had the opportunity to go to STL, leading me to reengage with those issues. You just never know.

Q2: Could you please share some stories in your law school? What was the academic environment like at law school? What did you find is the most intriguing part of your law study? Could you share with us about the most impressive story in law school?

I believe the academic environment at Harvard Law School was generally quite good. The people were very intelligent. Mostly, it was a very intense academic environment, but I didn't perceive it as unpleasantly competitive or cutthroat. I know sometimes people watch movies like The Paper Chase or Legally Blonde, and they get an impression of Harvard Law School, in particular, as a place where people are mean and hyper-competitive. There might be some individuals like that, but that wasn't my experience. I felt that if there was any competition, it was more of people competing with themselves.

If I had any criticism of law school, it would be that after having spent two years in my Ph.D. program, starting law school felt somewhat like going back to high school in certain ways. In a Ph.D. program, especially by the end of the first couple of years, that atmosphere is very different. You have a very small group. Everyone wants to be a scholar in academia and people are really interested in studying material for its own sake. The discussions and the relationships with faculty members are more like peer-to-peer relationships than hierarchical relationships. But in law school, you have an assigned seat, you have a locker. It's a far more formal environment. And I also felt that there was more focus on getting to the next thing. As is often the case in American high schools, where so much emphasis is placed on crafting a strong resume to secure admission into a reputable college, law school seemed to foster a similar focus on developing an impressive resume for the purpose of landing a favorable clerkship or a position at a prestigious law firm. I found this aspect less appealing.

But overall, I did find the academic environment, especially after the first year, to be very good. This was mainly because the people were so smart and so thoughtful, and I just really like academic environments.

During my first year of law school, I recall feeling as if I was being stretched in new directions, which was both challenging and exhilarating. Having excelled in my undergraduate program at Harvard College and spent two years in Harvard's political science department for my Ph.D. program, I thought I was pretty smart.However, in law school, I found myself thinking, “Oh, wow. I never really thought about that before.” Things began looking different in a good way, and I needed to learn how to approach material differently.

Maybe the biggest difference between my Ph.D. program and my law school program lies inthe approach to reading.In my Ph.D. program, there was a ton of reading, like eight or nine books every week, but the approach to reading was more about skimming to grasp the main idea. When I got to law school and saw how short the assignments were - 20 pages, 30 pages for a class - I initially thought, "this is nothing." Then, I realized that the way I had to approach the reading had to change because the reading was so much denser. I couldn't skim. I had to read everything carefully. And I needed to learn how to read it as a law student, which didn’t always come naturally. I would underline the passages I thought were the important parts of the case. Sometimes, I found myself underlining a lot. And I remember one time in my Civil Procedure class, the professor, at the end of our lengthy discussion on a topic, said, "So, you see, the most important sentence in the case is..." and then she read it. I looked down at my page and it was the only sentence I had not underlined. I thought, "I really need to figure this out."

In terms of the experiences that I had in law school, it's hard to pick the most impressive one. I've encountered many professors who were truly inspiring and thoughtful. I also had the opportunity to participate in a moot court competition. Even though we lost in the finals, which was disappointing, it was a great experience. The wonderful bonding with my teammates and the challenge it presented were memorable. Working on the Harvard Law Review wasn't necessarily always fun day to day. There was a lot of tedious work, like checking citations of professors' articles. But overall, being on the articles committee and debating legal scholarship with my classmates there was a very positive experience.

Q3: You clerked for Senior Judge Stephen Williams on the D.C. Circuit and Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. Could you share some stories from your time as a clerk? In what ways do you think your clerk experience influenced your teaching and research?

I had very good experiences clerking for both Judge Williams and Justice Kennedy. It's very interesting to have the opportunity as a clerk to get a sense of what goes on behind the scenes - the process of how judicial opinions get written. Judge Williams had three clerks and Justice Kennedy had four clerks. It's quite small compared to a law firm, which are huge organizations where, especially if you're a junior associate, there are so many layers between you and the partner. Judges' chambers are so small that you have a lot of direct interactions with the judge and feel a great sense of responsibility.

You also get a sense of how different judges operate. At the Court of Appeals level, it was fascinating because Judge Williams' chambers were right next to the chambers of all the other judges in theDC Circuit.I had many friends who were clerking for other judges on the same court and the ways those judges organized their chambers and their work styles were so different from Judge Williams, even though they all had basically the same job. It was very interesting to see this.

When I clerked, especially at the Supreme Court, I found it useful to remind myself occasionally of what an amazing, unusual experience it was, not necessarily for its future benefits, but for the sake of the experience itself. I had the unique opportunity to be present behind the scenes, observing how Supreme Court cases were being decided. Just after graduating from law school, I had access to information that otherwise, I would never have been privy to.

I got some ideas for research and teaching from clerking. I teach a few cases in my classes that I was involved with as a law clerk. But mostly, the benefit of clerking was just having the experience as part of my life, not because it prepared me for something else.

This is what I tell students who ask me about the possibility of clerking. They ask questions like, “Should I apply for a clerkship? Will it help me in my legal career?” My answer is - well, perhaps a bit, but that’s not the main reason to do it. You would likely gain more valuable practical preparation if you spent those one or two years working as a lawyer rather than as a clerk. But life isn't all about preparing yourself for the next thing. I've held my current job for 18 years, and I hope, if my health permits, I'll keep it for several more decades. The clerkship was the something that I did for just a couple of years, but it allowed me to have this truly unusual experience. That really is the main reason for doing it.

Q4: After finishing your clerkship, you chose to return to Harvard to teach. What motivated your decision to pursue an academic career and join Harvard Law School?

I often tell my students that when you're in school, including law school or graduate school, you're not only learning the material you're studying but also learning more about yourself. You're learning what you like, what you are good at, and what brings you satisfaction. And one of the things I learned about myself, from my own school days—since my undergraduate years, and especially during my time in graduate school and law school—is that I love school. Whenever I had the opportunity to write my senior thesis in college or research papers in graduate school, I immensely enjoyed it. Although I didn't have many chances to teach and wasn't sure if I'd enjoy it, I assumed that I probably would.

I began to consider an academic career during my senior year of college and my year abroad in China, but I wasn't sure. However, after the first couple of years in graduate school and moving into law school, I became increasingly certain that this was what I wanted to do.

So, after I graduated with my JD and Ph.D., I applied for academic jobs, and I was very fortunate to receive an offer from Harvard. I also had offers from one or two other places, but Harvard was the best fit for me. My mentors here greatly encouraged me, and I received a lot of support. I grew up in the Boston area and with my family was still living in the area, and I also liked the idea of being close to them.

Those factors led me tochoose Harvard Law School. I don't regret the decision at all. I feel that, for me, I made the perfect choice. I have friends from law school who have become very successful lawyers and have had exceptional careers. But I think that, for me, the academic environment is a much better fit. I am thrilled to be a professor, to have the opportunity to write research papers, teach students, and engage in those activities.

Q5: After many years of teaching and researching, how do you think your understanding and knowledge of the law has changed compared to when you were studying in law school?

In terms of my intellectual approach to law, I don't believe it's changed much, even though I undoubtedly know more now than I did previously. My way of thinking about law or legal issues changed a lot in graduate school and in law school, but I don't believe it's changed substantially during my time as a professor. I've encountered new ideas and had different things to contemplate, but mybasic frameworkororientationtowards law hasn't shifted significantly.

I'm more conscious now than I was then about how complexthese issues are and how many different ways there are to think about them.Therefore, I think I'm less critical than I used to be of people who approach legal issues in a way that's quite different from how I approach them. We’re all thinking about big, complicated, hard questions, and different people approach those questions differently, but we can all make a contribution.

I've also become more conscious of the importance of maintaining one's moral center and not losing sight of what is good, right, and true. I do think that all of us, and lawyers and law professors especially, should be able to view issues from all sides and consider the best arguments from all these different perspectives.But there's a risk that in learning to contemplate issues from all angles, you can lose your moral center.I think I'm more acutely aware of this now than I was when I was younger.

There’s a quote that I like, which doesn't necessarily pertain to intellectual development, but it’s on a related idea and it deeply resonates with me. The great Rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel is reputed to have said, “When I was a young man, I admired clever people. And now that I'm older, I admire kind people.” I relate to it a lot. I feel like when I was younger, I really liked being around smart, intellectually sophisticated people who could make rigorous, intellectually sophisticated arguments. And I still do, both at Harvard Law School and at STL. But as I've gotten older, it has become every clearer that basic kindness, decency, and having one's heart in the right place is much more important. The kind of person that I find I admire a lot more these days is not necessarily the person who is the smartest or can make the cleverest argument, but the person who does the right thing, even if they can't necessarily fully articulate the reasons.

Q6: You pursued both a J.D. and Ph.D. degree while studying; you ensure a high teaching quality while conducting academic research; you are always full of energy in class. In your busy state, how do you always maintain such high energy levels?

I try to present an energetic face to my STL students and my other students. I attempt to bring my energy to the classroom as much as I can. But I certainly don't think that I always have energy for everything, especially as I get older.

It helps if you're really excited about what you do. I think that it gives you a lot of energy.I really enjoy classroom teaching, especially when I introduce theories of statutory interpretation to first or second-year students. I feel like the class itself brings a lot of energy. In regard to writing projects, one of the advantages of being a professor is that for the most part, I get to choose my own projects. I try to pick things that I'm excited about, and that I really want to work on. Writing a long paper becomes significantly easier when the topic truly intrigues or excites you.

So, I think that to the extent that I have been able to do a lot of things, it's because I've had the luck and the freedom to be in a career where I enjoy most of what I do. Not every aspect of my job brings me joy. I have certain administrative duties that I don't particularly like. However, conducting research, writing papers, teaching classes, interacting with students, advising student papers, and providing feedback to my colleagues on their papers – these are activities I truly enjoy.

Q7: You mentioned that you thoroughly enjoy teaching at school and spending time with your students. In your opinion, what is the greatest joy that interaction and communication with students brings to you?

What I really enjoy about students is the energy and enthusiasm they bring to the class, precisely because they're discovering things for the first time. This connects to what I said before about my own experience in law school. I entered law school thinking I was quite bright, yet often I felt as if I was suddenly seeing things in a new way that I had never considered before. My brain was being stretched. It was challenging, but incredibly exciting. As I've grown older, this type of experience has become less frequent. I've seen more and I've learned more. These days, it's less common for me to encounter genuinely surprising new ideas in law and legal issues.

However, in a classroom, when I'm teaching, I can sometimes feel the students' energy as they discover new ideas for the first time. It's as if I get to relive my youth through my students. I witness bright young people grappling with difficult problems. While it's rare for a student, especially in a first-year class, to say something I've never heard before, it's their first time having that thought, making those connections.That's what makes it exciting for me. Having the opportunity to spend time with young people who are making these discoveries makes me feel young again.

Here's another aspect that gives me a lot of energy from teaching: being able to compare students at the beginning and end of their journey, observing the progress they've made.

I recall feeling, at the end of my first semester of law school, that I was in a vastly different place, intellectually, than I had been just three months prior. When I finished law school, I felt similarly transformed compared to where I had been when I started three years earlier. Both at Harvard and in STL, I sometimes have the opportunity to see students right at the beginning of their legal education and then also see them further along. Seeing the change is very satisfying. Sometimes, I feel like I may have played a small part in it, which is personally satisfying. Even when I don't think I had much involvement, it remains fulfilling to see young people mature intellectually so much in such a short time.

Q8: During your education for the J.D. degree at Harvard Law School, what part of the education had the most profound impact on you?

In terms of educational approaches, I would saythe so-calledSocratic methodmade a deep impression on me, and that's one of the reasons I use it in class. As an undergraduate, I had classes where there were discussions, certainly in seminars. Occasionally, I would have a class where a professor would ask a question to see if a student wanted to answer it. But I hadn't really encountered the old school Socratic method before - the one that goes like, "Mr. Stephenson, if you were the lawyer for the petitioner, how would you have answered this argument?" I didn't necessarily enjoy it when it was happening to me. There are certain things for which the Socratic method is not appropriate. But for teachinglegal argumentationandanalysis, I thought it was incredibly effective. I liked the degree of energy and sometimes stress that it brought to the classroom.

Regarding a specific subject, my administrative law class changed my life. I had a vague understanding of what administrative law was and I'd heard people say it was a class you ought to take. But I didn't really know what it was. I took it in the spring semester of my second year in law school. My professor was Elena Kagan, who is now an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and was a relatively recent hire at Harvard Law School after spending some time in the White House. That class blew my mind. More than anything else, it shifted the focus of my studies to administrative law. When I started my career, I became an administrative law scholar, and that decision resulted directly from that class.

Interestingly, the two influences I've highlighted are linked. Justice Kagan, who was then Professor Kagan, used a particularly aggressive version of the Socratic method. It was an exhilarating class, one that changed my life.

Q9: STL is the only law school in China that offers an American Common Law Juris Doctor degree (J.D.). What do you think are the distinctive features of the J.D. program in STL?

My impression is that there are twodistinctive features of the J.D. program in STL.One distinction was that it is a postgraduate law program, as opposed to an undergraduate law program. To my understanding, the norm in China, like in most other countries, is that foundational legal education is generally pursued at the undergraduate level. However, a J.D. is different. The U.S. follows the graduate school model for law school, and STL adopted this. Another aspect that made the STL J.D. unique was the label of J.D. itself, which signified that students were learning a significant amount of American or Western law. Despite being a law school in China for Chinese students, the curriculum incorporated U.S. law.

Now, let's talk about the first aspect: it's a postgraduate degree programPersonally, I find this to be a good feature of the J.D. approach to law school. It's a strength in American legal education and, I believe, is also advantageous in China. Let me explain why I believe it's beneficial.

First, I think that the students in a postgraduate program tend to be moremature, bothintellectuallyandemotionally.Also, I think that one gains more from studying law when one possesses broader knowledge about other areas. Law, after all, pertains to the regulation of human relationships and the management of economic and business affairs. It relates to political issues and so forth. So, when you're 17 or 18 years old, even if you're exceptionally bright for your age, there's a great deal about understanding law and what it means to be a lawyer that you might not yet grasp.

Law is profoundly interdisciplinary, both in its practice and in its study. In a J.D. program, you get some individuals who may have studied law formally or informally as undergraduates. However, you also get many people who have studied other fields and can bring this knowledge to their law school classrooms. You get students with backgrounds in economics, history, philosophy, politics, natural sciences, engineering, computer science, and more.They can use these perspectives in the study of law and share their insights with their classmates. When I teach at Harvard Law School, and we’re discussing some issue involving, for example, the interpretation of an immigration statute, I’ll often have students who say things like "I worked on Capitol Hill for the last couple of years, " or "I worked for an immigration organization," or "I did my senior thesis on refugee policy," or even "I was actually a computer science major, and I can imagine how you can design an algorithm to address this." All this discussion comes into the classroom in a J.D.-style program, which I believe is very positive for the study of law.

Another point I'd like to mention is that J.D. programs, especially those at elite U.S. schools, incorporate a mix of practical law classes along with more philosophical, theoretical, and interdisciplinary classes. The primary objective of law school is to prepare you for practice, but we also encourage you to consider law from perspectives you might not ordinarily explore in practice. J.D. programs aim to maintain a balance between the practicality-oriented courses and the broader, more philosophical, or theoretical courses. There is a unique educational philosophy that, I believe, is inherent in a J.D. program, a philosophy that STL has tried to introduce into the Chinese context.

Q10: What do you think is the most important skill for law schools to teach? Or what do you think is the most important training that needs to be emphasized in law school?

Answering this question is tricky. I do have an answer for the most important skill that young lawyers need to have. The reason it's tricky is that it's not actually something that law school directly teaches, and I'm not sure it's something that law school could teach effectively. That skill is writing - the ability to write clearly in an organized fashion and to convey complicated ideas or concepts in a way that's intelligible and easy to follow.

There are other important skills too. But if I had to pick just one, I would say the most important skill that I wish more law students had when they enter law school - and that I've heard firms and other employers say they really wish more law graduates had when they leave law school - is high-quality legal writing skills.

Now, this is not something that all law schools can teach very well. At Harvard, we have a legal writing program. I know that STL also has a writing program. These programs are good and important, but if you don't acquire writing skills before law school, it's somewhat difficult to teach at that point. So, the advice I would give to law students is tofind opportunitiesto practice and develop your writing skills.

The way you phrase the question -“the most important skill for law schools to teach”- is not quite the same as“the most important skill for law students to cultivate.”I think, in terms of teaching, it's not quite writing, but rather the analytical skills that we try to emphasize. The ability to break down a legal problem, to see the strongest arguments on all sides of that problem and understand how to construct and deconstruct those arguments - I think that's the most important thing.

I'd like to connect this with something I mentioned earlier about why I like the J.D. style of education. The goal of law school isn't to teach you the law, as there's too much of it and it constantly changes. No matter which practice area you choose, you'll learn the substantive law in that area far more thoroughly than you ever could in law school.

So, what we need to do in law school is - to use an old-fashioned cliché – teach you to think like a lawyer: to figure out the different points of view on what the law requires or permits in a specific situation; to determine what the strongest legal argument would be for a given position; to understand on what premises that legal argument is based; to consider what a strong counterargument might be; to strategize on how to make that counterargument as persuasive as possible; to identify what resources could be used; and so forth.

That kind of analytical skill is what we try to teach in law school. The writing skills I talked about earlier really involve the ability to do all of these tasks in written form, since the way we ask you to do this orally in class isn't the same as what you'd be expected to do when writing a memo or a brief.

There is a range of other skills that are important to being a good lawyer that we don't teach in law school and that we can't teach in law school. Interpersonal skills turn out to be important, whether it's convincing a potential client to hire you or establishing a good rapport with a negotiation partner. We only teach you a subset of the skills that are important to be a good lawyer.

Q11: J.D. education is a form of "professional education". Could you share your understanding of the meaning of "professional education"?

I suppose the main difference between professional education and a liberal arts education is the fact that, in a liberal arts education, you're expected to learn broadly about various aspects of knowledge or styles of inquiry, and you can apply what you learn to a multitude of fields. As an undergraduate, you might choose a major, but you're not necessarily going to pursue a career that grows out of that major. In a liberal arts education, you’re not being prepared for a specific profession.

In contrast, professional education programs like law school, medical school, dental school, and so forth, are designed to prepare you for specific jobs. It's worth noting that there are many individuals with law degrees who are not practicing lawyers. But the primary purpose of law school is to prepare you to become a member of the legal profession, just as the point of medical school is to prepare you to become a member of the medical profession.

As I said earlier in response to a previous question, this distinction raises interesting issues regarding the design of legal education. It’s a professional education, but the goal isn't merely to teach you the law. The aim is to teach you to think like a lawyer, think critically, and to consider broader perspectives on law and issues of justice. Therefore, I believe in law school, and in legal education generally, we strive to find the right balance between preparing you to be members of the profession and providing you with opportunities to think about aspects of law that may not be encouraged in the same way once you're practicing.

Q12: You mentioned that during your study at Harvard Law School, the so-called Socratic method made a deep impression on you. At the same time, you also use the Socratic Method when teaching at STL. As students, we have felt the enlightenment this teaching method brings to our thinking. What do you think is the most important training objective of the Socratic method? What’s the reason for you to use the Socratic Method in Harvard Law School and STL?

Different people teach in different ways, and some professors use other techniques very effectively. Therefore, I wouldn't want to be misunderstood as saying that the Socratic method is the best technique, and that everyone should use it. I particularly like it for classes such as the Statutory Interpretation class and similar ones. I use the Socratic method at Harvard Law School and STL for several reasons.

First, it creates good incentives for students toprepare well, especially if they're uncertain about whether they're going to be called on. I experienced this myself when I was a student. I did my homework for every class, but for classes that employed the Socratic method, like Professor Kagan's, I would prepare a lot more.

Second, I think that the Socratic method fosters an environment conducive for developing the kinds of critical thinking skills I want to emphasize. The objective of a good Socratic exchange is not to memorize everything from the readings and repeat it back.Instead, the goal is to be able to answer questions or make arguments as though you were a lawyer or a judge. Asking students to do this on the spot is an effective way to encourage them to think in this manner. It promotes what we sometimes refer to as active learning, as opposed to passive learning.

Part of why this method works is because students are unaware if they're going to be called on when a professor asks a question. They often find themselves thinking, 'What am I going to say if I'm called on?'This active engagementis something I aim to cultivate.It also encourages students to listen attentively to their classmates, since they might be asked to respond to a classmate's comment. I value this dynamic in my classes.

Another reason, which might seem a bit strange, relates to individuals' comfort levels with speaking in class. Some people are very comfortable speaking in class, while others are not. I think the Socratic method benefits those who are less comfortable because it provides them an opportunity to participate. I've found that some students, who lack confidence in their ability to engage in these exchanges, are often better at it than they think they are at first. If the class were solely lecture-based or relied on volunteers, these individuals might not participate.Thus, the Socratic method pushes them to confront something challenging. Even if they struggle at first, they often realize that it's something they can handle.I believe this method not only fosters learning but also helps boost students' confidence.

An additional point is that, beyond making arguments and engaging in critical dialogue,lawyers must be capable of performing under pressure, which includes speaking under stress. This is most apparent for litigators, other advocates, or those who often deliver presentations. However, this skill isn't limited to them; I've heard from former students who are transactional lawyers who have been in board meetings where questions such as "Why did we structure the deal this way?" or "Why didn't we consider this other option?" emerge, and the entire room turns to them for answers. Lawyers frequently need to perform under pressure and to articulate clearly and cogently in challenging environments. The law school classroom serves as a relatively safe space to get accustomed to this.

I believe that if students are repeatedly exposed to situations in law school where they're put on the spot and asked challenging questions, and experience the discomfort of not knowing the answer, then when they start their careers as first or second-year associates and encounter a partner, a client, a judge, or anyone else who asks them hard questions, it won't be their first time in such a situation.

Q13: How is the Socratic teaching method specifically used and implemented? How do you think the Socratic teaching method achieves its goal of training students' intellectual skills?

Different professors use the Socratic method in different ways.I try to ask questions that allow students the opportunity to articulate legal arguments, criticisms of those arguments, and their own perspectives.

I sometimes place the student into a role. For instance, you might be the lawyer for the petitioner, and I ask you to make the strongest argument for your side. I then might ask another student to be the lawyer for the respondent, and ask them to make the strongest response to your argument. At other times, I might put you in the role of a judge, or I simply ask for your personal opinion. I want you to be able to perform these roles. As a lawyer, you need to make the best argument you can for your client. There may be times when you don't necessarily agree with your client's position, but you still need to make the strongest argument. You also need to anticipate the strongest argument your opponents will make, whether or not you agree with it.

Moreover, I want you all to think through these issues and decide what you believe the right answer is. Sometimes, you have to make a decision. Someday, if some of you become judges, you'll literally have to make decisions and issue judicial opinions. But even if you're not in that position, I want you to be capable of thinking through what you believe is the better answer to a legal question, not just capable of making the arguments for both sides. You should be able to think through these issues independently. So, this is how I use the Socratic method. These are the kinds of questions I aim to pose, and these are the kinds of things I want students to think about.

Q14: Do all courses in U.S. law schools emphasize the use of the Socratic method? Which courses focus on it, and which courses also combine other teaching methods?

I believe it's more a matter of the professor than the course. Different professors emphasize different things, leading to different teaching styles.

Lectures are much more efficient in conveying information. If I were lecturing, I could cover a lot more ideas in class than if I were using the Socratic method. I have colleagues who primarily lecture and are amazing at it. They are extraordinary in their delivery of lectures and receive extraordinary evaluations.

I also have colleagues whose goal is to create a less stressful, more collegial classroom environment. Therefore, they facilitate discussions, but these are typically volunteer-based. Some professors want to go much deeper with individual students, and they might use panels or assign a couple of students in each class to lead the discussion. There are numerous pedagogical techniques available. I utilize the one to which I responded best as a law student and which I believe is best suited for the specific kinds of lawyering skills I want to emphasize. However, other professors might want to emphasize different things. That's why I think it's great that law schools have pedagogical diversity.Different people teach in different ways, and you, as a student, can figure out which teaching style you respond to best and seek out courses accordingly.

I do believe that the Socratic method, as I use it, is best suited for classes emphasizing legal argumentation and other critical legal thinking skills. For seminars focused on more philosophical or complex issues, a discussion format tends to be more effective. When I conduct seminars, I never use the Socratic method. Instead, I use a more discussion-oriented approach. Courses that teach specific technical skills, such as those involving economic analysis of law, also might not be well-suited to the Socratic method. Similarly, if you're teaching law and statistics, I don't think you can use the Socratic method to teach statistics effectively. In such situations, it's essential to work through problem sets and illustrate mathematical concepts on the blackboard.

Q15: Your course on Statutory Interpretation has dispelled some of my misconceptions and biases about common law, making me understand the equally crucial role of statutes and codified law in the common law system. How do you view the distinction between civil law and common law systems?

My colleague, Professor Holger Spamann, is a real expert on these issues, and he once made a point that confirmed a suspicion I've held for a long time: the distinction between common law and civil law is greatly exaggerated and mostly unhelpful as an organizing principle for comparative law.

This distinction is unhelpful for several reasons. One is that people sometimes define the distinction between civil law and common law aswhether the system is based on case law/precedent or a code. However, as I hope all of you know from our statutory interpretation class, the legal system of a country like the United States, which is often considered a common law jurisdiction, is overwhelmingly dominated by statutes. The same applies to the UK, the home of traditional common law. The UK is governed by acts and statutes that are interpreted by judges. Furthermore, many of the countries we categorize as civil law jurisdictions also place great importance on precedent, judicial reasoning, analogy, and so forth. Therefore, the notion held by some that in the United States and the United Kingdom, the legal system revolves entirely around cases and precedents, discovering the law through the process of judicial reasoning, in contrast to places like France and Germany, where it's all about codes, is not descriptively accurate. The reality is much more complex.

The other reason this distinction isn't helpful is that both the terms "common law" and "civil law" have several different meanings. "Common law" could mean judge-made law. It could also refer to a country that has inherited the legal tradition of England. "Civil law" could refer to codes, as in civil law as opposed to common law. It can also refer to civil law as opposed to criminal law. It could also refer to a legal system that's derived from the Roman law system. I don't think it's very clear. So, I don’t love discussing civil law versus common law. I find it confusing.

It could be helpful to discuss legal families or traditions. We could refer to the Anglo-American legal tradition or the Continental European legal tradition. However, framing the issue as common law versus civil law creates a distorted picture of what legal systems look like and how they operate in both so-called common law jurisdictions and so-called civil law jurisdictions.

Q16: What roles do you think statutes play in common law countries?

The role of statutes is central. If we were teaching at a law school in the 19th century, common law would be much more central. But in the 21st century, lawyers in most practice areas spend far more time dealing with statutes, and the administrative regulations implementing those statutes, than with common law.

As an American lawyer, it's important to understand some aspects of common law, not only because it may be the governing law if you practice at the state level, but also because sometimes statutes or other legal materials incorporate ideas or terms that originated in common law. For instance, a recent Supreme Court case involved the interpretation of the phrase “induce or encourage” in a federal statute, and to figure out what that phrase meant, the Court looked at how that phrase was traditionally used in common law. Nevertheless, 21st-century lawyers spend far more time on statutes and regulations. Sometimes they deal with the constitution, which is also a written legal document. Only occasionally will the decision in a case turn on the substantive content of common law.

Q17: You just mentioned that you really enjoy interacting and communicating with students. But from my perspective, education can sometimes be quite a challenging job. To some extent and under specific circumstances, do you ever feel frustrated by students?

Since I started doing this job since 2005, I’ve encountered a handful of individual students who I might describe as difficult, but not many. I would say that at Harvard Law School, in the upper-level classes that I teach which are writing-oriented, I sometimes find myself frustrated by the quality of the writing. However, I don't blame the students so much as their high school and college education.As I said earlier, I feel like students are not being given adequate training in how to do systematic, expository, analytical writing.I'm not talking about fiction or personal narratives, or anything like "this is something that happened to me", but rather objective analytical writing. So, in that context, I sometimes get frustrated.

At STL, I sometimes encounter another source of frustration, which I want to clarify that I don’t blame on students. Sometimes, when I ask a question in class, a student will look down and start flipping through the book and reading passages, hoping that they will read the right section, rather than answering the question in their own words.

I understand and respect that students sometimes feel they know what they're supposed to say, but they're not confident in their ability to express it in English. They try to look up the part in the book and read it, so the English will be correct. But I try to convey to the students that I'm less concerned about the English being perfect and more interested intheir understanding. What's important is whether the student truly understands what they're saying.

Again, I don't want to call it frustration because that suggests I'm mad at the students, and I don't want it to sound like that. I would say with STL students, if there's a persistent issue,it's that I find myself needing to repeatedly push them to break certain habits. This usually involves changing their mindset about what they're supposed to do, possibly because of the type of education they received as undergraduates. I aim to shift students away from the idea that, when the professor asks a question, the student is supposed to recite back the exact language that's in the book. So, I suppose that would be something that one might say I frequently find myself pushing against at STL.

Q18: When did you start teaching at STL? How did you learn about STL? Could you share with us the reasons and opportunities that led you to teach at STL?

I first taught at STL during the 2009-2010 academic year.The year before that, I was invited by Professor Betty Ho to give some visiting lectures about American administrative law at Tsinghua University. I was excited to go – this was my first visit to China since the year I spent in Beijing in 1997-1998, and I was thrilled at the opportunity.

Before I visited Tsinghua, I mentioned this upcoming trip to a colleague, and he said, "I didn't know you had an interest in China. Would you be interested in other opportunities to teach there?" I said that I was definitely interested, and so my colleague introduced me by email to Jeffrey Lehman, the founding dean of STL, which was at that time in its very first year. I had already scheduled a short visit to Hong Kong after my teaching visit at Tsinghua, and it turned out that Dean Lehmann would be in Hong Kong at the same time. Thus, he suggested we meet in person so he could share more details about STL. When we met, he asked what I was teaching at Harvard Law School. I told him about a course, which at the time was a new addition to the Harvard Law School curriculum, called Legislation and Regulation, that I was teaching and had helped to design. He said, "That sounds great. We should have something like that as part of the STL curriculum. Would you be interested in being a visiting professor at STL?" And I enthusiastically said yes.

So I visited STL for the first time in June 2010, and I had a wonderful experience. My classes went well, and I was invited to return. I've been invited to return every year since then. So, from 2010 onward, I've visited STL every year, except during the Covid years. Even then, I was able to conduct my classes online. So, it's been 13 years now that I've had the opportunity to teach at STL.

Q19: You've been teaching at STL for thirteen years now, could you share with us some of the changes you've observed at STL?

In terms of how STL has changed, the classes have grown in size.When I first taught, the entire class consisted of about 50 students, and everyone would take all their classes together. Now, I think there are around a hundred students in each cohort.

Another difference is that when I first came, the school primarily relied on visiting faculty. There were one or two permanent faculty members, such as Professor Snyder and Professor Campbell, but most of the other classes were taught by visiting professors.

Also, when STL was founded, the idea was that it would be a three-year J.D. program. However, the school’s leadership quickly realized that this approach wouldn't work and transitioned to the joint J.D. and J.M. program – a J.D. in U.S./Western law and a J.M. (Juris Master) in Chinese law.

Even though I'm not directly involved in the J.M. program, I understand from students, alumni, and STL colleagues that this program has improved dramatically. When I started teaching at STL, there were no resident faculty members in the J.M. program. All were visiting professors, who would come for very short visits, during which the students would have to sit through classes for eight consecutive hours over several days. However, STL now has numerous excellent professors for the J.M. program.

I think that STL’s curriculum has become somewhat more vocationally oriented, for better or worse. When the program first started, it seemed to closely follow the American J.D. model. It included courses on foundational legal subjects like civil procedure, torts, and contracts, but there were also classes on subjects like law and feminism, law and philosophy, human rights, and so forth. Over time, there has been a relative increase in topics such as international arbitration, international commercial transactions, contract drafting, and other more practical subjects.

In the early years of STL, there was more of what I would describe as a startup culture overall. The students referred to themselves as the pioneers. I think the students felt less like the school was going to establish their reputations, and more like their achievements would establish—or not—the school's reputation. I admit there was a certain drive and energy in those first classes that I sometimes miss. I love the STL class that we have today. On paper, I'm told the academic credentials of the incoming STL students are stronger than they were in the earlier classes. I think the average intellectual caliber of today's STL classes might be somewhat higher than it was in those first couple of years. Don’t get me wrong, there were great students in those first few years, but in terms of how fast I can progress in the class, it has undoubtedly strengthened. However, I sometimes miss those early years and the culture the students in those first classes had. They worked extremely hard and showed a level of commitment to STL that was really remarkable.

STL has changed in part due to its success.The students from the first several classes were true risk-takers. They were not the type to play it safe. Even though PKU is one of the most famous institutions in all of China, STL was this new outpost in Shenzhen that had no reputation to speak of. So the students who opted to go to STL rather than to a more established Chinese law school were adventurous. Among today's students, there are many more who are, frankly, more like me. I am not a big risk-taker. They are very accomplished academically, somewhat risk-averse individuals who prefer to attend a more established institution.

I imagine that the culture at Apple Computer, when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were building a computer in their garage, was very different from the culture at Apple today. Many CEOs, many years later, wouldn't want to go back to the garage.Yet, I bet that there were moments when Steve Jobs felt a bit of nostalgia for those early days - days when they were essentially making things up as they went along.

Q20: You just mentioned that you've observed a cultural shift at STL, from a "start-up culture" to a more "established law school type of culture." I'm curious, what aspects led you to notice this?

It's hard to say. I admit it’s somewhat subjective. It's like the feel of the place.

Part of it comes from conversations with students, like when you ask them about their background or why they want to attend law school. It seems to me that students from earlier times had more unusual stories. They seemed to be more idiosyncratic, maybe even having a bit more of a rebellious spirit. I can imagine students from those days saying, “I decided to go to STL even though my parents warned me it was a crazy thing to do.” More students today might say, “I went to STL because my parents told me it was indeed the right thing to do.” To be clear, I'm not directly quoting anyone specific from either then or now – I’m just trying to give you an impression of what I mean.

Today's students work incredibly hard, but there was a sense among the students from the early years of “fighting all the time.” Things were much more disorganized back then. We didn't have a nice new building. Things would break, things would go wrong.I sometimes joke that STL’s motto should be“Just Roll With It”– a colloquial English expression that means to deal with and adapt to unexpected changes, setbacks, or challenges.

I don't want to make it sound like I'm criticizing the current STL. The atmosphere is just different now - in the way students speak about themselves and the institution.

I believe there are some students now who are truly invested in STL as an institution. However, it seems that there are more students today who are there primarily to learn the law, earn their degree, start practicing law, and secure a good job. They don't seem as invested. In the early days, everyone was deeply committed to the institution, knowing that they were the ones who would build it. There were no senior classmates to guide them. They had to figure it out on their own.

Q21: You teach the Theories of Statutory Interpretation in STL. This course provides a theoretical and practical introduction to statutory interpretation, focusing in particular of the jurisprudence of the United States Supreme Court. The course will consider the main modern schools of thought in statutory interpretation (textualism and purposivism), issues related to the application of interpretive tools (such as legislative history and canons of construction), and general questions about the proper role of courts in interpreting legal texts enacted by legislatures. You also teach this class in Harvard Law School. Do you think there is any change when you teach in China and in the U.S.?

At Harvard Law School, I teach a first-year course called Legislation and Regulation, or “Leg-Reg” as the students refer to it. This class is a combination of Statutory Interpretation and Administrative Law. The book we use at STL is the same one I used for that course. My lesson plan for my STL classes is directly based on the one for the first three weeks of the Harvard version of the course.

There are a few differences, however. First, at STL, I proceed at a slower pace, partly due to language barrier issues. Studying this material in one’s native language is already challenging; doing it in a second language is much more challenging, and the STL students are remarkable that they can do it. But I have to adjust the pace. Statutory Interpretation, which is heavily focused on the details of how particular words and phrases are presented, is particularly difficult to do in a foreign language, so I take it slower.

Additionally, as I mentioned, with STL students, I put more effort into helping them feel comfortable expressing their own answers in their own words, rather than simply reading the material from the book.

Another difference is that my American students are more familiar with US institutions and background assumptions about how American democracy is supposed to work. There are certain things I have to explain to STL students that they might not naturally understand. Those are important differences in how I teach the material, but the basics of what I teach remain the same.

Q22: We've heard that you have offered other courses at STL, such as International Anti-Corruption Law. Have you taught other courses beyond this one? In the past couple of years, you've only offered Theories of Statutory Interpretation at STL. Why did you temporarily stop offering other courses? We really enjoy your classes. Have you considered bringing back some of your previous courses?

Originally, in addition to the Theories of Statutory Interpretation class, I taught a course on U.S. Administrative Law, which is another area of my specialization. That class was a short course, like the statutory interpretation course. It wasn’t comprehensive, but it introduced students to about half a dozen core concepts in U.S. Administrative Law. I stopped teaching that class because STL hired a resident faculty member who also taught that course, and it made more sense for a resident faculty member to teach the full-length course. I think that faculty member has since left STL, so there might currently be no class on U.S. Administrative Law.

After I stopped teaching the Administrative Law class, I introduced a seminar on Transnational Anticorruption Law. I taught that seminar for several years. It had more of a seminar-style structure, not based on the Socratic method. There was substantial reading involved. Rather than focusing on legal doctrine, it focused more on policy issues and institutional matters. I found teaching that class enjoyable as well.

The reason I stopped teaching that class was quite practical. The size of the Statutory Interpretation class at STL had grown too large for me to teach it in the manner I prefer. I couldn't employ the Socratic method I typically use in a three-week class with 100 or 120 students. So, the school asked that I teach two sections of the Statutory Interpretation class rather than just one. As a result, I no longer had time to teach the Anticorruption class.

Each year, I discuss my teaching program with the Dean and Vice Dean of STL. It's always possible that I will add another course back if they invite me to visit twice instead of once during the year. If that becomes a possibility, I might teach one of these other courses again, or add a new course, but it really depends on what the school needs.

Q23: You initially offered a course on American Administrative Law. Where do you think the importance of administrative law lies? What do you think is the significance of studying American administrative law in China? Currently, there is no course on American administrative law at STL. Do you think it would be necessary to reintroduce it?

In the US, this topic is absolutely central because numerous substantive areas of law involve not just statutes, but also regulations issued by agencies. Environmental Law, Securities Regulation, Energy Law, Communications Law - all of these have administrative agencies playing a central role. Therefore, it's absolutely crucial for most American lawyers to be familiar with Administrative Law principles.

For Chinese students, it's naturally important to understand Chinese administrative law. There isn't a direct, practical reason for them to study American Administrative Law. Very few Chinese law graduates will ever practice US Administrative Law. However, I would argue that for Chinese students, learning American Administrative Law is important for the same reasons that an American student might find it beneficial to learn Chinese, French, or German Administrative Law or Comparative Law in general. It’s the same reason why it’s useful for you and your classmates to learn American Civil Procedure. Most of you are not going to litigate in US courts, but understanding those concepts and approaches can be extremely beneficial.

If you also understand American Administrative Law, you can understand the different approaches or concepts, which can be very useful.I gathered from one of you who took Chinese Administrative Law that the professor mentioned some concepts from American Administrative Law that I used to cover in my STL class. So, whether or not I am the one teaching it, it would be wonderful if STL reintroduced a class on US Administrative Law. Not because it's directly useful professionally, but because I believe studying the comparative law of another system would be extremely beneficial for Chinese law students.

Q24: Perhaps due to the job market, although I have just entered law school, I often feel anxious and pressured about internships, and I am considering starting an internship as early as possible. What is your view on this issue?

I want to be very careful not to sound as though I'm criticizing the choices made by people who are dealing with circumstances that I don't fully understand and didn't have to deal with myself. When I was a student at Harvard Law School, I had it pretty easy. If I decided that I wanted to get a job at a law firm, especially since I had good grades, it wouldn't have been a problem. So, I had the luxury and freedom to treat law school as a time for intellectual exploration.

I certainly don't want to criticize people who are facing much greater uncertainty, financial anxiety, and professional anxiety in their choices. If it is indeed the case that to get a good job in today's Chinese law market, one has to gain a lot of practical experience very early on, then that's just the way it is, and people might be making the right choices for themselves.

I do think that if this is true, it's unfortunate. The time in law school, or school in general, is such a special and unique period where there are so many opportunities to do things that are not immediately practical or specifically related to professional or vocational training, yet they are intrinsically valuable and enriching. Moreover, I believe these opportunities are important to your professional career in a more general and indirect way.

There's an old saying that “youth is wasted on the young.” I think that's true. I would add to that saying, “school is wasted on students.” People often don't realize how great school is until they leave. I bet most of you have been in school since you were four years old. That's what you've done for about 20 years. You may not fully appreciate how wonderful school is until you leave it. Some of you might say, “thank god, I'm done with school.” But others might say, “wow, school was really great, I kind of miss it.” It's not that you should stay in school forever. Some people, like me, can't leave, and do decide to stay forever. Most people should move on. But while you’re there, it’s great if you can try to take advantage of everything that school has to offer, and not just because it's useful for getting to the next stage. Life isn't a big video game where you're constantly leveling up. For those of you who go on to become practicing lawyers, if you're fortunate and your health permits, you'll be engaged in the practice of law for decades. So, seize the opportunities that school offers to think about things from a broader, more theoretical, and more philosophical perspective. Learn about areas of law that genuinely intrigue you, even if they won't be the focus of your practice. Perhaps you're really interested in family law. You may not practice family law, but if you're curious about how the law regulates relations of marriage and parenthood, then by all means, take a class in family law.

Again, I won't criticize anyone else's choices. If people are undertaking internships really early due to job market pressure, I'll blame the job market, not the individuals. As a contemporary English expression goes, “hate the game, not the player.”

However, I do think it's unfortunate if job market pressures are leading students, as early as their first year, to focus all their attention on internships. You will lose a lot by doing that. Many of the smartest and most astute lawyers have a highly sophisticated way of thinking about the law. They're able to draw connections across different fields, and they have a deep background in a variety of areas. If you focus too soon on a specialty, such as becoming a mergers and acquisitions lawyer, and everything you learn and do, including internships, is solely about M&A, you risk missing out on a great deal of potentially valuable things even if you become an M&A lawyer. If you have the freedom, don't waste your law school experience by making it entirely a narrow vocational training exercise.

Q25:As of today, the world is undergoing a new round of changes (Russian-Ukrainian war / economic downturn / rapid development of AI / Climate change). Sometimes these changes and world-level events can make us feel a strong sense of insecurity. Do you feel perplexed and struggle with these epochal issues? As individuals, how should we face these problems, deal with the anxieties, and rebuild the order of life?

That's a big question, and I'm not sure I can provide great answers. One thing I'll say is that, although the specific events change, it seems like almost every generation feels like it’s living in particularly frightening times. I was fortunate that my years from high school to college, at least in the United States, occurred between roughly 1989, when the Cold War ended, and September 11, 2001, when terrorist attacks took place in New York and Washington, D.C. This was a relatively stable and prosperous period in the United States. Looking back, particularly during the Clinton years, the economy was booming, and there was peace and prosperity. However, even then, we all thought the world was going crazy and everything was falling apart.

So, one thing I'll say is this: this is life. I think you sometimes believe that all these things are happening for the first time, or that nothing like this has ever happened before. Sometimes, this is because when you're younger, you're not really conscious of everything going on. You're vaguely aware from reading the newspapers. But as an adult, you become much more conscious of these events. That's not to downplay any individual event, but to emphasize that this will be a constant.

Do I worry about events in the world? Yes, I worry a lot about world events. Do I have advice on how to handle this? Well, not really. Welcome to adulthood.However, even when things seem pretty bad, there's so much change that you can affect on a smaller scale, and there's a lot of good in life and many reasons to be happy.

It's important to foster your human relationships, especially those with people close to you like family, friends, and loved ones.It's also important to think carefully about your career choices, ensuring that the work you do is meaningful to you and that the people you'd be working with are ones you like and respect. Such considerations turn out to be significant for your life satisfaction.

Maintaining friendships is important. When I was in school -- college, graduate school, law school, and so forth -- and even during the few years immediately afterwards, it was easy to maintain friendships with people in my peer group. When you're in school, everyone is together. If you want to go out, you simply suggest, "Let's go to a restaurant," or "Let's watch a movie." Everyone is in the same place. Even in the first few years after school, I would visit New York and sleep on a friend's couch, or a friend from Washington, D.C. would come up to Boston and stay with me. I didn't have to invest much to maintain those friendships. However, as one ages, and as the demands of your career intensify, it becomes harder. People scatter geographically, get married, have children, and so on. Those friendships don't just continue like before; you have to invest time and effort to keep them alive. You can't do that with an unlimited number of relationships. However, for the friendships that truly matter to you, invest time and effort in maintaining those relationships.

I realize that this may seem a strange response to a question like, "How do we deal with our anxiety about global events?" But since much of your day-to-day anxiety and stress is affected more by your personal relationships than anything else, I'd say that it’s important to invest in maintaining those friendships that matter to you.

It's not my place to give any of you a life advice. So, I'll phrase what I’m about to say in a very oblique and circumspect way: the main person with whom you choose to share your life enormously impacts your happiness and career trajectory. Therefore, be very thoughtful when making that crucial decision.

We don't have much control over world events. It's important to pay attention to and stay engaged with what's happening around the world. I certainly wouldn’t suggest that you isolate yourself and ignore global news. However, you can't directly influence these events; you can only react to them. They can shape your values, and you can learn about others based on their reactions to these events. But when it comes to your own anxiety levels, concentrate on things within your control. These include your professional decisions, your choices regarding personal relationships, and engaging in hobbies or activities that bring you joy or pleasure.

Q26: What do you think is the most valuable feature of STL students?

Identifying a specific quality is challenging. However, I feel that now, having spent significant time at STL, I've become a part of the community, even though my stays there are usually brief. I must say that from the beginning, my experience at STL was overwhelmingly positive. I genuinely enjoyed the students and the community, as well as the enthusiasm that they brought to the material. I've liked getting to know the students, and seeing them develop over time. I like the culture at STL. It's changed over time, but I've liked it throughout.

Moreover, the fact that I had some background in China, having studied Chinese language, culture, history, and politics as an undergraduate, made a big difference. When I was an undergraduate, I thought I was going to be a China expert, learning Chinese, traveling to China, and thinking about China, but then that kind of dropped away. Going to STL has been a way for me to re-engage with that a bit, to be in that environment, and to interact with young Chinese people who share many of my interests.

Thanks to STL, I now have many Chinese friends, mostly former students. When I visit Shenzhen, Beijing, Shanghai, or Hong Kong, I know people, and I can meet them for meals, check in on how they're doing, and learn about the progression of their legal careers.

So, at this point, I feel very much a part of the STL community, and STL is very much a part of my academic and professional life.

Q27: What do you think is the most unique or promising aspect of STL? What difficulties and challenges do you think STL is facing? This year marks the 15th anniversary of the founding of STL. What are your expectations for STL and STL students?

I don't think I'm in the best position to address general institutional issues. I'm only there for a short time each year, I don't hold any kind of administrative post and I'm not involved in institutional decision-making.

My impression as a visiting professor is that STL graduates differ from most Chinese law graduates.STL's approach to legal education is explicitly transnational and cross-cultural, with a greater emphasis on critical thinking, as opposed to rote memorization.Many law firms and other institutions have recognized this uniqueness and like STL graduates. I also believe that STL’s success has had an influence on legal education in China more generally.

So, even though there are market and other pressures on STL, I hope STL can maintain its distinctive character. I think the administration will have to continue trying to balance these competing pressures.

The first STL class likes to call themselves the pioneers, but that’s true, at least to some degree, of all the later classes too.You all are ambassadors for the institution and its distinctive approach to legal education. And while STL graduates make up only a miniscule percentage of the total Chinese legal profession, I do think that you all have the opportunity to collectively cause real changes in the approach to legal education and legal practice. I hope STL continues to be STL.

* This interview was conducted and translated by Cai Jiachun, Lu Qing, Luo Hanyu, Zhang Ziyu, Zhu Hong. The interview was conducted in 2023.

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