Observations on the Chinese legal world, which now apparently includes me

This post consists of rambling observations on 1) Chinese law and Chinese lawyers, 2) Maria’s fascinating work in Beijing that she doesn’t regret at all getting snookered into accepting, and 3) Maria’s disinclination to work (“I have a plan, and this isn’t part of it!”).

Shortly after arriving in Beijing, I responded to an ad seeking teachers of legal English. “LegalCo” promised a light schedule and a few bucks, and I thought it might be interesting. LegalCo deals in teaching professional skills, law firm p.r., translation, and lawyer placement; I toured their office; I discussed with them my suitability for their available position (they had me penciled into their schedule before I even showed up, as it turns out) and I started doing things with them. They asked me to give a short talk on a topic of my choice within the field of Legal English to a promised audience of 100 students at one of China’s most prestigious universities, and I agreed. Thereafter they asked me if I’d like to tag along to a visit to one of China’s leading domestic law firms and dinner. Sounds good!

I probably spent too much time preparing for the lecture. I’ll return at some later date to the “Chinese people don’t take a schedule seriously” idea, but suffice to say that although they wanted to make sure I could fill 40 minutes, they still had to tell me to stop talking. Dude, I was on a roll, I had (legal writing!) powerpoint slides left, and I was enjoying listening to myself talk. :) I am a grammar fanatic, after all.

The day itself took forever, though. I was promised 250 yuan for a 30-40 minutes talk. The campus itself must have taken over an hour to drive to (in one of the LegalCo’s vehicles). Not to mention that it was pouring rain…anyway, the day began with me subwaying across town, walking to the car of the main employee I deal with at LegalCo (whom I’ll call S), and driving around trying to find this Australian tax lawyer, R, who was to give the talk at the Chinese law firm (on negotiation skills). We eventually found R, made it to the firm, found an elevator that would take us to the right floor– after some false starts, and got set up for his talk. The room filled with Chinese lawyers, most apparently no older than myself (although maybe the Asian gift of enduring youth affected my perception of their age). Many of the girls were dressed like American high school students. Sparkly dresses, tiered skirts, novelty shoes. What? The guys mostly wore jeans and dress shirts. I was wearing full formal suit-skirt and pumps, R was in a decently formal suit, and S at least wore wrinkled khakis. Even though I wasn’t on the schedule, a few people had questions for me too. I really wish I could understand the introduction that people give for me (in this case, by S). The law firm presented me with a neat little gift, formally presented, which turned out to contain a chunk of lucite with a dragon seal –functionally, a business card holder. Pret-tay nifty! Chinese paperweight!

Next step: after dropping off R, we drove to the University. The U has two campuses, one quite close to where I live. This was at the other campus. S admits he is not a great driver, and traffic was horrible, and the weather was also quite bad. We had picked up C, a Chinese law firm partner, at the law firm, so S and C and I drove first to the wrong town by accident and then to the right town, and to a fancy restaurant near the U. We had good food, a somewhat … inelegant meal, in terms of conversation, as I speak only English and C speaks only Chinese. S did some interpreting, but mostly went back and forth between speaking to his two guests. It was a neat place, we took pictures, and entertainment was just starting as we were leaving. I expect it was quite expensive, although of course I didn’t see the menu or the bill. Our event was supposed to start at 7, and at 645 we were still at the restaurant. Sigh. People just aren’t concerned with schedules? They also didn’t let me know when the bill came, and didn’t let me contribute. Apparently I’m the invitee, and it’s the inviter who pays. Plus they don’t let people who are just starting out, which apparently includes me, pay. Okay, for now! I only owe a thousand people already …

By the time we made it to the U, we were several minutes late and the room looked restless. It was packed, though, and no one looked like they were ready to give up their seat. A few people were standing against the back wall, too. We had some technical issues–resolved, and one of the speakers didn’t show (a guy from the British consulate supposedly was on a business trip). Whatever. Regardless, C and I got a million questions, and we didn’t end up leaving until 3 hours after we got there. Can I please go home now?

We packed S’s car with two more people, who we then dropped off (they have something to do with LegalCo…I think…they were never properly introduced). I got home so freaking late. So…30-40 minutes, eh? I returned home more than 11 hours after I left.

S is an interesting fellow, and he and his colleague D have explained to me their views on the Chinese legal system at some length. It is clear that China is in a transitional period, as western ideas of the rule of law and the desirability of avoiding corruption are gaining some ground, but the old ways prevail. Sounds like bribery is the way it is.

S also mentioned that he didn’t think it’d be hard for me to get a job in a domestic or international law firm. I told him: no hurry. For now, I’ve accepted a job as a “legal associate”–a very loose, part-time gig for Sean’s dad’s co. Still, I’m doing some legal work, and it’s very interesting. It is *not* California litigation (read: I have no experience in this area). So I am happy, but I am not actually content. I wasn’t planning to work here. I am supposed to be studying. As things are going, I think it unlikely that I will be happy with my GMAT score if I take it on the day currently scheduled. (Ignore, also, the fact that I don’t currently feel like going to business school.) The plan was to study, do my apps, learn Chinese. These things have *not* been my focus since showing up in this fancy city. I need to re-think, prioritize, and maybe even buckle down and work hard or some shit. Most unpalatable.


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