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Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

Should Law Professors Take Part-Time Jobs?

by July 27, 2017 General


China’s Law on Lawyers is to undergo revision. Some people have put forward opinions regarding a clause in the law that states that law education and research personnel are allowed to be part-time lawyers. They call for the cancellation of this clause, arguing that when law professors appear in court, it will lead to judicial injustice, as judges and procurators might happen to be their former students. Meanwhile, if they spend too much time acting as lawyers, their teaching and research will be negatively affected.

However, others believe that even if judges or procurators meet law professors who were their teachers back in college, this does not necessarily mean potential judicial injustice, as long as there is enough judicial transparency. Those who insist that this will lead to corruption might have forgotten that professional lawyers also have judge and procurator classmates. Isn’t this also dangerous? Professors have to reach certain research and teaching levels before they gain professional titles or promotion at universities, so they will not sacrifice their main job for the sake of acting as a lawyer. Besides, professional practice will fill professors with rich experience, which will not only help professors better understand academic theory, but can also help with their teaching, as they can accumulate a lot of useful tips that books do not offer.

Miao Yinzhi (The Beijing News): Most opponents invoke unfairness as the reason to ban law professors from acting as lawyers at the same time. Why do they think this will lead to unfairness?

Is it because professors are more professionally capable than ordinary lawyers? This may be a reason for professional lawyers to oppose law professors, but this is a groundless reason. Some argue that, China already has a large number of lawyers, so we don’t need law professors. The fact is that the per-capita number is still very low. Thus, the involvement of law professors in this business will help to improve the overall judicial environment.

Some are worried that professors will more or less influence judicial cases, as sometimes they might encounter judges who used to be their students. This risk does exist, so it’s necessary to work out regulations that demand judges excuse themselves from the court when the defense counsel is a former teacher. However, those who are most likely to influence the judicial system through various connections are not law professors, but professional lawyers. To avoid this hazard, the key is to improve judicial transparency.

Law professors are not civil servants. So, there is no possibility that they will translate public power or resources into personal gain. Actually, when law professors act as lawyers, they are simply doing a part-time job.

Some are worried that if professors often appear in court, their teaching will be negatively affected. We must remember that law is not a purely theoretical discipline, which means that practice in court will help professors better understand book knowledge and in turn, better educate their students. Actually, in China, law professors are allowed to work as judges and procurators for a certain period of time. Law professors are also allowed to do so in the United States, South Korea, Singapore, etc. To forbid high quality lawyers like law professors from engaging in legal practice actually protects professional lawyers from competition in the name of fairness.

Hao Jia ( Indeed, the priority for teachers is to educate their students at school. It seems that to appear in court as defense attorneys is not the job of law professors, and also it’s also a concern that professors will neglect their teaching work if they spend too much time making money outside.

Is this really the case? Generally speaking, teachers in law schools have to take on the dual task of teaching and doing research. Both cost a lot of time and energy. In order to pass annual assessments and obtain professional titles, they have to be very careful with their teaching work. No law professors dare risk their teaching career for the sake of moonlighting.

Another worry is that law professors might obstruct judicial justice by influencing judges who used to be their students. But then, is it not the case that lawyers could influence judges who were their classmates in law school? Besides, not all law professors’ students are judges or procurators, and professors will not always meet former students in court. The key is not to ban law professors from acting as lawyers, but to standardize relevant procedures and the system.

Ye Zhusheng (The Beijing News): I am a professor at a law school and also a practicing lawyer. The worry about judicial injustice and law professors’ teaching work being affected is not groundless.

Influencing judicial judgment through money, privilege or connections occurs throughout the world. However, if judges are unfair in the first place, without any influence, the result will be unfair and arbitrary. On the contrary, if judges are fair and upright in dealing with cases, all kinds of influence will be got rid of, with fair results. Around the world, in countries with well-developed judicial systems, some regulate that law professors are allowed to be part-time attorneys, while others do not. This implies that judicial justice will not be directly affected by whether or not professors practice law.

In terms of professors’ teaching work, if they concurrently act as lawyers, they might be very busy and therefore unable to focus on their university role, but this is a matter for their academic institution. The current law stipulates that law professors will be allowed to engage in legal practice only with permission from their university. And, in actual fact, almost all universities allow professors to act as lawyers at the same time.

Shen Bin ( Can you imagine professors of medicine not doing surgery or seeing patients and then becoming qualified teachers? Do you believe that training by such a professor could produce qualified doctors? If the new law makes it impossible for law professors to appear in court, do you think they will be able to train good lawyers?

Professionals like lawyers and doctors require both specialist knowledge and rich experience. Students need to learn from professors’ practical experience as well as from books. If a professor of criminal law does not deal with criminal cases himself, he will not get to know problems that might crop up in judicial practice. Thus, he will be unable to impart to students knowledge of how to deal with such cases.

Some claim that it’s unfair to allow law professors to act as lawyers at the same time. Professors have a stable income and professional titles from universities, and they can also make money by acting as lawyers. This may be a little unfair to full-time professional lawyers. But anyway, this is not judicial corruption and will not lead to judicial injustice.

If it’s unfair for law professors to be lawyers at the same, it’s also unfair for judges and professional lawyers to be part-time university professors. Actually, many law professors are also famous lawyers. For example, Professor Alan M. Dershowitz from Harvard Law School has acted as the criminal defense counsel in well-known cases, including the O. J. Simpson murder trial in 1995.

Of course, in every country, there are certain restrictions on law professors who act as lawyers at the same time, mostly to prevent the practice from affecting their normal teaching and education commitments. In China, the Law on Lawyers stipulates that professors must first obtain their university’s permission before they can act as lawyers.

China is trying to develop its rule of law, and it needs judicial practitioners who are good at both academic theory and practical work. Being a part-time lawyer provides a bridge between law theory and practice. The next step is to standardize this part-time business, not prohibit it. Barring law professors from judicial practice equates to banning medical professors from conducting surgery. This will not lead to what we want to see.

Copyedited by Chris Surtees