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International Academy of Trial Lawyers China Program Celebrates More Than 20 Years of Building China’s Legal System

In 1976, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) embraced the market economy. To gain entry to the world market and trade with the West, it was imperative that China quickly develop its own legal system. For this, China turned to the U.S., but was initially rebuffed by an American public. By contrast, Germany, France, the U.K., Japan and other countries jumped to assist China in the hope that this vast nation would pattern its laws after their own. 

At the request of then U.S. ambassador to China, J. Stapleton Roy, the International Academy of Trial Lawyers (IATL) established its China Program in 1994 in part to counter these moves and to assist in the development of China’s legal, economic and financial infrastructure. In a few short years, the China Program became a model for international exchange programs.

Since the Program’s inception, more than 200 Chinese lawyers have participated, returning to China to serve in prominent government positions. Armed with a healthy perspective on American law, participants continue to advance in their careers upon their return to China. Their education (many now hold multiple Masters and Ph.D. degrees), their proficiency in English, their job ranks, and their openness in discussing political, legal and humanitarian subjects continue to progress. Many of China's laws, such as the Negotiable Instruments Law, the Aviation Law, the Securities Law, the Commercial Banking Law, the Law of Contracts, and the Electronic Signature Law, have been influenced by the IATL China Program.

Past participants in the China Program described it as “a terrific and creative way to bring cooperation and friendship to our two nations,” “valuable to my work and life,” and “a new window for me to have a better understanding of American culture, economy and social life.”

“In a wide variety of legal disputes, the Chinese courts continue to make rulings that affect the world economy. By promoting the Rule of Law in the People’s Republic of China, the China Program has been influential in the development of the Chinese legal system and in improving U.S. – China relations as a whole,” said James McManis, IATL’s China Program Chair and head of McManis Faulkner. “We look forward to celebrating another year of the China Program, which includes regular visits by the top trial lawyers in the U.S., offering workshops, seminars and information exchanges with leading Chinese legal and government officials responsible for drafting new laws that will help China emerge as a world leader. The success of the program is already evidenced in new Chinese legal codes governing business and private life.”

This year the China Program will celebrate the arrival of 10 government lawyers (delegates) from the PRC with a welcome dinner. Attended by Silicon Valley’s leading attorneys, judges, politicians and special guests, this year’s dinner will be held at The Fairmont Hotel in San Jose on Sunday, May 15, with a reception at 5 p.m. and dinner at 6 p.m.

Following a week-long orientation hosted by McManis Faulkner, the delegates travel to the homes of IATL Fellows in various cities, where they live for two weeks, experiencing the life of an American trial lawyer with the Fellows and their families, their law partners and their legal communities. This year, the delegates will visit Austin, Texas; Coral Gables, Florida; Denver, Colorado; Honolulu, Hawaii; Jacksonville, Florida; Lafayette, Louisiana; Palm Beach Gardens, Florida; San Jose, California; West Palm Beach, Florida; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. After two weeks in residence, the delegates will reconvene in San Jose to share their experiences before returning to Beijing.

The International Academy of Trial Lawyers is a group of elite trial lawyers representing both sides of the bar:  prosecutors and defense attorneys in criminal cases, and plaintiff’s lawyers and defense counsel in civil matters (including business and personal injury cases). While the majority of its Fellows come from the U.S., the Academy includes lawyers from more than 36 countries. Fellowship is by invitation only, and trial lawyers are invited to become Fellows only after an extremely careful vetting process that includes discreet inquiries of both judges and other trial lawyers of high standing.  U.S. membership is limited to the nation’s top 500 trial lawyers under the age of 70. The Academy's purposes are to promote reforms in the law, facilitate the administration of justice, promote the rule of law internationally and elevate the standards of integrity, honor and courtesy in the legal profession.