Edited by Cathy Liu
For the inaugural blog of the new year, we are honored to have Xiao Yang to share his enriched study experiences at law school and offer valuable insights into working in the legal industry. Holding a Double Bachelor Degree in Law and French from Wuhan University and a Magister Juris (MJur) and Master of Philosophy in Law (MPhil) from the University of Oxford, Xiao Yang recently stood out in a highly-rated workplace show "The Exciting Offer." His profound interest in contract law, due to its fundamental importance in the legal system, and Intellectual Property (IP), driven by its in-depth case study analysis, truly exemplifies his genuine passion for the legal field. In the upcoming sections, Xiao Yang extensively discusses the competitive yet irreplaceable study experiences at Oxford and the demanding yet meritorious nature of the legal industry, and provides penetrating suggestions on improving legal writing skills.
Study Experience at Law School:
The Oxford Law Faculty enrolls Bachelor of Laws (LLB) graduates from both the continental legal system background and the common law background. Before delving into the unique study experiences at Oxford, Xiao Yang first compares and contrasts the various legal teaching approaches at universities in China, France, and the USA with their UK counterpart. While universities in China (e.g., Wuhan University) place a strong emphasis on in-depth fact-based learning, UK universities (e.g., Oxford) have stringent requirements for critical and independent thinking. Having studied at the renowned Paris-Saclay University as an exchange student, Xiao Yang noted that the legal teaching at universities in France is more lecture-based and factual-based. It is also much less interactional compared to that of the UK. Considering the challenges of non-native French speakers studying law in French, French universities (at least Paris-Saclay) have different assessment criteria for international students. In terms of the overarching priorities of law faculties, law schools in the USA are more teaching-oriented, whereas those in the UK and European countries are more research-based, requiring a significant amount of independent studies.
Moving onto the study experiences, Xiao Yang emphasizes the intensity of assignment allocations (e.g., two 2000-word papers per two weeks) and the pressures of attending the one-on-two tutorials. Nevertheless, life at Oxford extends far beyond the rigorous academic research. Xiao Yang mentions the sense of belonging created by Oxford's unique collegiate system and the thrilling opportunity of meeting fascinating people at social events organized by different colleges:
"A college is the most important place where students study, live and make friends. This is particularly true in the case of undergraduates. The collegiate system at Oxford gives me a strong sense of belonging and engagement. We have our college parents who will help us settle down at Oxford quickly, and we can throw ourselves in many interesting inter- and intra-college events. For instance, each college runs its own hall events where we have nice formal with friends we make from the college or guests we invite from other colleges or outside the uni. During these social events, it always amazes me that people I've met at Oxford come from totally different yet fascinating backgrounds. You might find yourself talking to experienced lawyers, young judges or legal officers from the government."
Insights on the Legal Industry:
Before embarking on deeper contemplations on the nature of the legal industry, Xiao Yang reflects on his recent application experiences and suggests applicants act early:
"Well now looking back at the journey, I feel that it would have better much better if I had acted upon the application process earlier and spared more thoughts on developing a more effective professional networks. The sooner one is exposed to the legal market, the more information they have in hand to assist with career decision-making such as how to approach the application form and how to handle interviews. There are plenty of opportunities for 'early birds' who are interested in practicing law. Many law firms organize open day events and vacation schemes which offer important first-hand insights into the ecosystems of law firms."
Xiao Yang also provides some valuable advice on social networking with senior law practitioners, an aspect that poses challenges and adds mental pressure to the applicants:
"The most important thing is not to feel intimidated by their seniority. Just be confident and let your charisma speak. Even a big lawyer starts to build their successful career from scratch and they would probably struggle and feel confused like you do."
"I think LinkedIn is a good tool which one could use to connect with lawyers who work in the same law firm that they are applying for. You could arrange a video chat or even a coffee chat (if they happen to have time)."
Delving deep into the nature of the legal industry, Xiao Yang first emphasizes the role of meritocracy in the legal industry and shares his attitudes on coping with meritocracy:
"My general feeling is that meritocracy dominates the whole legal industry. As law students, we are constantly assessed on a pure meritocratic basis. Law schools only admit students with the best academic records and law firms have demonstrated a strong preference for recruiting candidates from the best law schools. I have been put in this environment for such a long time that I have rarely reflect upon or challenge the raison d’être of a meritocracy-based talent selection mechanism. It is widely believed that meritocracy enhances social mobility. However, after I graduated from Oxford (an elite environment), little by little I gradually begin to doubt to what extent it will help achieve this goal (rather than causing more troubling social class solidification) and serve the aim of democracy (as a form of elitism)? I think these are very interesting questions to think and debate about"
I then inquire into the paradox of homogenization with other practitioners and the pursuit of self-value realization as a lawyer. According to Xiao Yang, although the homogenization of personal qualities is, to an extent, the prerequisite of becoming a successful lawyer, heterophilous personal traits that make one unique are still preservable in the industry and are often appreciated by peer practitioners:
"When law firms decide to recruit a trainee solicitor, they ask for excellent academic credentials and they organize multiple rounds of interviews and intellectual/personality tests. The truth is, the more qualities they expect of applicants, the more alike the successful candidates will be. The reason why we sometimes might feel that solicitors, or broadly lawyers, have the same look (such as being assertive and aggressive) is that maybe these qualities are what it takes to be a successful law practitioner. The 'poker face' you put on for the role of a solicitor is not your true personality but just one of your professional skills (just like your degree qualifications), although it is not always easy to get detached and insult your professional personality from the social personality after working in the industry for a while."
"I do come across some solicitors friends who are professionally-looking at work but also have attractive personal charisma. I think the secret to not being homogenized is to have a genuine passion for what you are doing: caring for your clients and fighting for your beliefs. My favorite legal drama is Silk where I am deeply touched by Martha's persistence in her 'innocent until proven guilty' faith in criminal defense. To voice for those who do not have a voice and to side with those who do not have power. I think that is where one's charisma will start to shine and stand out."
Legal Writing Skills：
Legal writing has plagued many students from non-law backgrounds. Thus, Xiao Yang briefly introduces the differences between legal and regular academic writing, reflects upon difficulties encountered in his legal writing journey, and offers some suggestions to overcome such challenges:
"I would say that compared to regular academic writing, legal writing is rather standardized. The key point is to keep the writing piece as concise and clear as possible. This is because the 'industrious and smart readers' of our legal writing are often 'busy people'. Being creative in usages of vocabulary and rhetoric is usually not appreciated, although sometimes it can be a small plus factor provided it doesn't compromise the message to be delivered."
"For me, one of the biggest problems is that I often struggle with connecting different sections of the text coherently. I know often the problem lies in a structural misfit (e.g., not clear signpost sentences or paragraphs, poor choice of transitional prepositions), but I constantly found myself wasting my time making small changes to words (pretending I could bypass this problem by focusing on more micro issues). I've learned this in the hard way. I think the most effective way is to work on a well-structured outline first and then develop your ideas in detail so that you won't lose sight of the big picture whilst wasting your time on mildest corrections."