William and Mary Law School

Week 3

Salutations from Beijing!

It has been a busy week at Zhicheng. As discussed in last week’s post, my main task this summer involves researching civil society laws in other countries. This comparative research will be used in a memorandum to be submitted to the Chinese government as part of a petition for better charity laws in China. More specifics regarding the contents of the memorandum will be posted soon.

Outside of the memorandum, I was fortunate to be involved in in a side project this week. One of my colleagues at Zhicheng will attend a criminal law conference in South Africa and wanted a brief primer on the American criminal law system. She is particularly interested in criminal legal aid.

Despite not having taken Criminal Procedure (yet) I was happy to oblige. After skimming a few introductory treatises, I began my research on legal aid to indigent criminal defendants. What I found was shocking. American courts firmly recognize the right to legal assistance in a criminal trial, and this right is well defined under both state and federal law. Unfortunately, the American system has failed to provide adequate funding to enable effective legal assistance to indigent clients. Our funding has failed to keep pace with our idealism.

During the course of this research, the following random thoughts occurred:

1. I really love being a lawyer. In my opinion, there is nothing more thrilling than being asked a question to which I do not know the answer. While writing this memorandum on criminal legal aid in America I was forced to teach myself the basics of criminal procedure. Though hardly conversant on the subject, I really feel that I learned something new through this process. I can’t believe that this is my job; I am being paid to learn new things! In this way, being a lawyer really seems like the best job ever.

2. International lawyers really need to know American law. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the value of international treatises, foreign laws, and comparative research. To work internationally, an individual needs to be conversant on these topics, however, any good international American lawyer should be, I think, fluent in American law. He should understand the criminal procedure of the American courts. He should appreciate the strange nuances of American contract law. He should be able to explain the rule against perpetuities and the Erie doctrine and everything else that is unique to American jurisprudence. This is because, for better or for worse, American law is remarkably influential in the international context. American rules are constantly referenced and discussed, and therefore this knowledge is quite valuable. 

Okay. Outside of those revelations, this week has been relatively relaxed. I ate a bowl of giant fish heads (I thought about blogging about the experience but decided against it). I also went swimming and rode in a really sweet motorboat with some friends. Today I saw the latest Tom Cruise movie, Edge of Tomorrow, in 3D and really enjoyed the experience. After so much heavy and depressing research into the failures of the American criminal legal system, I really needed something escapist and fun. In a theatre full of Chinese couples, I giddily watched Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt shoot giant spider monsters in the name of freedom. The influence of the American legal system is everywhere.