Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s KoGuan School of Law hosted the International Association of Law School’s 2019 Asia – Pacific Regional Law Deans’ Forum on April 18th. The forum’s 2019 theme was: The Role of Law and the Rule of Law – Rethinking Legal Education. The forum adopted a workshop format and concentrated on topics of interest of the top leadership from the region’s law schools. While focusing on regional perspectives on legal education, participants were able to explore the theme and exchange ideas in order to advance legal education and develop a global approach to the challenges facing legal education today.
Party Secretary of the KoGuan School of Law, Houji Wang, Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Vice President, Xuemin Xu and KoGuan School of Law Dean, Xiangjun Kong extended a warm welcome to the distinguished guests on behalf of Shanghai Jiao Tong University and emphasized their commitment to international education and the importance of cooperation and exchange within the legal education community during our current globalized era. Francis SL Wang, Dean Emeritus of the Kenneth Wang School of Law and President/Chairman of the International Association of Law Schools (IALSM) thanked Jiao Tong University for their support and for hosting this year’s forum. Wang welcomed the deans, legal experts and judges as well as introduced the three (3) areas of focus for the forum which were organized into three (3) sessions. The areas of focus were: 1) Setting and Implementing Standards, 2) Teaching Challenges, Controversial and/or Sensitive Subject Matter within the framework of rational legal discourse, and; 3) Administrative Challenges for Law School Leadership in a rapidly evolving education dynamic.
Dean of the National University of Singapore, Simon Chesterman, moderated Session 1. Chesterman stressed the difference between university standards and ranking. He explained that you can measure performance in many different ways and that despite the popularity of university rankings, they are a poor way of evaluation that reduces law schools to numbers. He directed the panelists to provide brief and provocative insight on how to go about raising the standards of legal education globally. Panelist Sigit Riyanto, Dean of the Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia and S.G. Sreejith, Vice Dean of the Jindal Global Law School, India each gave thought provoking presentations which highlighted a plurality of experience. An in-depth judicial perspective was given by Senior Judge Enqian Yang, Civil Trial Section of Suzhou Intermediate Court, China. Senior Judge Yang highlighted the importance for law schools to better prepare students for the legal services sector with analytical skills, legal methods and comparative study capabilities. After, there was a group activity for the participants. Forum participants were broken up into smaller groups for more intimate discussions. The groups, each chaired by one of the panelists, considered one of the following contextual disparities: 1) Law school or faculty in a developed country which is part of a large financially stable university – students pursue a variety of careers after law studies including employment in the legal services sector. 2) Law school or faculty in an emerging economy country which is part of a large but financially challenged university- students pursue a variety of careers after law studies including employment in the legal sector. 3) Private law school whose mission is training students for the legal profession.
After a successful collaboration during Session 1, a Lunch Seminar about legal education in China commenced. Moderated by IALS President Francis SL Wang, he asked the Chinese panelists to consider the following discussion questions: 1) Within the legal education system in China, is there a philosophical approach that questions the traditional Western rule of law? 2) What is indigenous about your legal system? 3) What are some specific Asian values that you can bring to the conversation? Jilin University School of Law Dean, Lidong Cai, Sichuan University School of Law Dean Weimin Zuo, Liaoning University School of Law Dean, Song Yang, Fudan University School of Law Dean Zhiqiang Wang, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics School of Law Dean, Xiaoyan Song and Tsinghua University School of Law Vice Dean, Haifeng Deng, each gave a thoughtful overview of their respective universities, the challenges they face as China continues to grow the largest legal educated population in the world, the affects of AI in the classroom, the contribution of Chinese education to the world and their distinguishing features. For example, many law schools in China currently combine academic education with comparative research. China is reforming legal education with the help of experts and professors. Universities are working on fostering law talent amongst the students and creating a community of legal experts to co-develop this talent.
The second session focused on teaching challenges, controversial and/or sensitive subject matter and rational legal discourse. IALS President, Francis SL Wang, gave a presentation about the importance of cultural/contextual sensitivity and how it may lead to unhealthy political correctness. He posed the following questions: 1) Should legal education avoid triggering “negative” emotions such as fear, intimidation, embarrassment, or guilt (notwithstanding that doing so may have the potential to positively impact learning)? How do we reach common ground? The moderator was China’s Soochow University Kenneth Wang School of Law Professor, Laura Young. The panelists were; Bryan Horrigan, Dean of Australia’s Monash University, Faculty of Law, Harmahinder Singh Iqbal Singh, Head of Taylor’s Law School, Taylor’s University, Malaysia, Hongliu Gong, Vice Dean of the University of International Business and Economics School of Law, China, Lei Tian, Assistant Dean of East China Normal University’s School of Law and Chief Justice Mohan Pieris, Former Chief Justice and Attorney General, Sri Lanka. The panelists each discussed their own take on the controversial subject matter and came to a consensus that it is important for universities to set policies and parameters to ensure that the classroom is a safe place for discussion while also appreciating the constraints that are put on us by regulating authorities. In addition, the role of law school leadership is important and is responsible for setting these parameters so that students may engage in legal debate. After the Session 2 panel discussion, the forum members were then put into six (6) groups, each chaired by a panelist, to interrogate one of the following three (3) categories of the issues: 1) Identity, 2) Political and 3) Social.
Overall, the 2019 International Association of Law School’s 2019 Asia – Pacific Regional Law Deans’ Forum was a great success. Shanghai Jiao Tong University is honored to have hosted the event and is committed to international education and innovation. The school hopes to continue to work with IALS and its members to create a body of standards and principles to further advance its legal education system in the face of modern global challenges and help support other universities do the same.