Tuesday, August 7, 2018
Law student D'Arcy White, centre, with colleagues from Zhong Lun Law firm, by the firm's front door in the lobby

First time in China, first time working at a law firm: Student D'Arcy White with Zhong Lun Law firm colleagues at head office in Shanghai.

Story and Photos By D'Arcy White, 2L

When I first met Dr. Scott Guan, he told me his main motivation for setting up the Dr. Scott Guan China Law Practice Award was an old Chinese proverb: “It is better to travel 10,000 miles than to read 10,000 books.”

While any law student can sometimes feel they are on the cusp of reaching the latter, this summer I was given the opportunity to try the first. I travelled to Shanghai in May 2018, after completing my first year of law school, to intern in the Corporate and M&A Practice Group at Zhong Lun Law Firm, a member of the prestigious “Red Circle” and one of the first private law firms given approval by the Chinese Ministry of Justice in 1993.

After a summer of first experiences—my first time to China and my first experience working at a law firm—I have to agree with the power of this Chinese saying, especially when China is the subject of study.

Over my seven weeks in China (six weeks with the program) I spent four weeks working at Zhong Lun, visited eight major cities on the Chinese mainland, and made countless friends, even if some of them just wanted a picture with a laowai like me.

Law student D'Arcy White in a group shot with law colleagues in Shanghai

Working at a Chinese law firm was an incredibly rich experience. Though my time at the firm flew by and was comparatively short, it was jam-packed with learning opportunities and chances to make meaningful contributions. Ironing out the differences between the Chinese civil law system, with its oftentimes vague, normative laws, and the Canadian common law system proved challenging. But, this contrast also provided a unique opportunity to bring a Canadian perspective to the team’s international corporate practice, allowing me to hone in on points that might surprise international clients looking to do business in China. In practice, this difference allowed me to play a central role researching and preparing a presentation that was later given to the CFO and chief counsel of a large international company considering a major Chinese foreign direct investment project.

China is also a place that changes fast, and I both stumbled across a hockey lesson at a rink in a central Beijing mall and met a colleague who followed the NHL about as fanatically as I do.

In addition, even before I had begun to scale the learning curve of Chinese law, my background as the only native English-speaker on our team left me uniquely positioned to assist associates and partners. No later than my first day at the office, I was helping to draft English contracts and client-memos for international clients, making me feel like a true, contributing member of the team from the moment I walked in the door.

The work at Zhong Lun was also varied, providing various windows into life as a Chinese lawyer. For instance, I had the chance to give a presentation to partners in a formal setting, meet with clients to help resolve a possible litigation dispute involving their Taiwanese subsidiary, and take part in conference calls for a large acquisition involving onshore and offshore investment funds. This was, of course, in addition to business extracurriculars. Among them, Chinese lunches with colleagues, where I was consistently amazed at the diversity of cuisine within China, and even a dinner with clients, where cultural exchange and the tacit lessons on conducting international business continued.

Images of D'Arcy White travels in China (Great Wall, Beijing)

All this is to say little of the boundless cultural experiences offered by a trip to China. From weekend trips to the Westlake in Hangzhou and the canals of Suzhou, to wandering the hutongs of Beijing and climbing the Great Wall of China, there was no shortage of places to go and cultural sites to see. Karaoke in Shanghai with Chinese colleagues will always be better than karaoke in Canada; plus, what better way to take a crash course in popular Chinese music? Getting embarrassed in a ping-pong battle with a retiree in a park in Xi’an was a humbling experience that reminded me that us Canadians should probably stick to ice hockey. At the same time, we shouldn't rest on our laurels, as China is also a place that changes fast, and I both stumbled across a hockey lesson at a rink in a central Beijing mall and met a colleague who followed the NHL about as fanatically as I do. If the phrase “surprise around every corner” ever applied, it certainly does in China.

Returning home, I will always remember my time in Shanghai fondly. I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Guan (or Scott, as I call him) for making my experience so unforgettable, and to my colleagues, who provided invaluable help and friendship along the way. I hope that other students can benefit from this truly unique program in the years to come, and by doing so continuing to foster closer relations with the people of China at large.

Shanghai at night