Thursday, August 1, 2019
law student james flynn with night time Shanghai skyline behind him

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” — Chinese proverb

By James Flynn, 2L

Over the past two months, I was fortunate enough to work at the Zhong Lun Law Firm’s Shanghai office as the 2019 Dr. Scott Guan China Law Practice Award intern. Shanghai is about as far as you can get from St. John’s. My hometown in Newfoundland and Labrador sits 11,228 km away from the Chinese metropolis, requiring a three-hour flight to Toronto followed by a 14-hour flight from Pearson to Shanghai. At first glance, the cities could not appear more different. With a population of more than 26 million people, Shanghai is 119 times larger than St. John’s. Shanghai is the symbol of China’s economic rise, with a new development at every turn and cranes dotting the skyline. On the other hand, St. John’s showcases a more traditional way of life, with wharves lining the harbour and a persistent effort to find the next big economic activity.

Law student with two Chinese associates in front of Shanghai law firm reception

Look closer, however, and one sees that the two cities share more than meets the eye. Both sit on important bodies of water and share rich maritime histories, with Shanghai bordering the East China Sea and St. John’s on the Atlantic Ocean. Sit on the shore in Lujiazui, and you will see a constant flow of barge traffic. Walk by the waterfront in downtown St. John’s, and a symphony of fog horns echoes off the harbour. Both cities also face a constant stream of adverse weather, with snowstorms in St. John’s and typhoons in Shanghai. But in the face of these and other challenges, the people of both cities share an underlying desire to constantly push forward and build a better life for themselves and their children.


Legal training

Although my time with Zhong Lun Law Firm was brief, it provided an unparalleled legal education. My work was not unlike that expected of summer students at Canadian law firms, with work on files for both domestic and international clients. One day, I was required to review Statements of Claim and Counterclaim for ongoing litigation. The next, I drafted internal memorandums on export compliance and enforcement of foreign judgments. In an effort to further bridge the gap between Canada and China, I also had the opportunity to present, on two separate occasions, to my team’s associates and partners — the first time on foreign investment laws in Canada and the second time on Canada’s economy, history, and legal system. No two days at the firm were the same. As the needs of clients changed, my workflow adjusted to support my team.

 Law firm group shot with law student James Flynn

The program also provided me with countless opportunities to enhance and deepen my legal knowledge, such as sitting in on learning sessions about the Chinese legal system and attending meetings to understand Chinese business customs. With the help of another summer intern, I even took daily Chinese language lessons and built my language competence.


Cultural immersion

Aside from the program’s formal work component, I traveled to a new Chinese destination whenever I could, with airplanes and bullet trains whisking me to major cities like Hangzhou, Hong Kong, Suzhou, and Xi’an, as well as ancient towns like Tongli and Zhujiajiao. Weekdays consisted of lunches and dinners with my colleagues and sightseeing in new neighbourhoods across Shanghai and the mainland. Weekends consisted of karaoke and excursions to museums throughout Shanghai.

The law school is grateful to alumnus Dr. Guan for creating the Dr. Scott Guan China Law Practice Award. Throughout my time at Zhong Lun, Dr. Guan was an incredibly generous mentor and teacher. He made every effort to involve me on client and research work and invited me to a variety of meetings with domestic and foreign lawyers. Moreover, from day one, his team — in particular, Al Wang and Gracy Peng — welcomed me with open arms and ensured that I had the best professional and personal experience possible. These opportunities provided valuable connections that I will take forward as I progress into my legal career.

selfie with Chinese law firm associates

Indeed, although my time in China flew by, I will carry forward the friendships I made throughout my legal career and life. As Henry David Thoreau said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Although I have begun my journey towards understanding China, I still have far to go. However, my time at Zhong Lun will surely provide me with the foundation that I need to build this understanding throughout my life.