Letter from Hong Kong

David Smith ’61 is on leave as vice-dean of Harvard Law School, serving for two years as acting dean of City University of Hong Kong School of Law. He says: “I have had the advantage of working as an understudy to four truly remarkable deans — Erwin Griswold, Albert Sacks, Jim Vorenberg, and Bob Clark. I find myself turning out lights like Erwin did, bringing home a briefcase full of work like Al did, dealing with faculty conflicts with patience like Jim did, and encouraging the best in students and faculty as Bob does. They made the transition to acting dean easy.”

My nearly twelve months in Hong Kong have given me an opportunity not only to work on issues of legal education in Hong Kong but also to reflect on the educational process at Harvard Law School. One conclusion I have reached is that to truly internationalize the education of Harvard Law School J.D. students, we need to provide opportunities for study abroad and more opportunities for summer term re-search and work abroad. The Harvard Law School has the most extensive offerings of any law school in the country in international and comparative law and has an extraordinary international and comparative law faculty. But the educational experience of our students, as good as it is, has been too much cut off from the rest of the world.

This is my first long stay overseas since working with the Ministry of Justice in Northern Nigeria soon after graduation from law school. The experience has impressed upon me once again the fact that, as actor Peter Sellers would have said, there is no substitute for being there. Harvard Law School students should be on the ground seeing the developments in, and challenges facing, China and other countries on a day-to-day basis. The same concerns hold true for our faculty who now, in the face of rapid globalization, need more opportunities and logistical support for overseas study and research. The time has come, I believe, to establish branches of the Harvard Law School in several key locations around the globe in order to facilitate the overseas studies of our students and the overseas research of our faculty and to offer courses on everything from legal/economic history to clinical education. China/Hong Kong is certainly one place to begin, given the role that China plays and is going to play in the global economy and global politics and the growing challenges it presents to the United States and the rest of the world.

There needs also to be a more systematic way for sharing experiences and advances in legal education among the law schools of the world. Harvard Law School is in a particularly good position to take a lead in this because of its vast network of LL.M. alumni, many of whom are leading educators.

There are a number of major issues facing legal education in Hong Kong today which would benefit from a comparative perspective. Now that Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region within China, there is a need for more training in Chinese law (a subject that was virtually neglected in the largely common law curricula of the past) and in such areas as constitutional law and conflict of laws.

A particular challenge to legal education in Hong Kong stems from the fact that, following the British system, law is studied at the undergraduate level. Through the eyes of a U.S.-trained lawyer, the four years of university study seems inadequate for preparing students for the challenges and competition that Hong Kong will face in the next century—from the mainland, from Singapore, from Taiwan, and from other parts of Asia. The lack of a broad-based liberal arts education in which students are exposed to economics, history, government, the sciences, and social theory, for example, will limit the effectiveness of Hong Kong lawyers as judges, legislators, and practitioners in dealing with such controversies as the right of abode cases and in fostering Hong Kong as a center of trade and commerce, high technology, and communications.

In June the City University of Hong Kong School of Law held a major conference to explore some of these issues. It was noted that some law schools in Taiwan and on the mainland have already moved toward dual-track systems in which they offer both undergraduate law training and postgraduate (J.D. type) training and that there is increasing demand for graduates of the J.D.-model programs. The Harvard Law School, with its outstanding reputation and network of alumni, should be contributing more systematically to assisting schools in the region and elsewhere in thinking through issues of legal education and in developing appropriate teaching methodologies.

There is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for farsighted alumni to provide the resources necessary for moving the Harvard Law School into these new roles in the 21st century. No law school in the country is better positioned than Harvard Law School to enrich the international learning experience of its students or make these contributions to legal education around the world.

David Smith ’61