Monika Prusinowska is an Assistant Professor at the China-EU School of Law, a Sino-European law school founded by the European Union and the Chinese government. After completing her legal studies in Poland, Monika Prusinowska earned her Master’s degree in Chinese law at the Faculty of Law of Tsinghua University in China and currently she conducts her PhD research on China arbitration issues.
She has also collected her experience working as a lawyer in one of the biggest Chinese law firms and as a lecturer at the Trade and Investment Promotion Section of the Embassy of Poland in Beijing.
Lawyr.it: First of all, we would like to know more about your professional path. Why have you chosen a Chinese university (Tsinghua University) to complete your studies?
M.P.: I came to China in 2011 after obtaining my master’s degree in Polish law. I wanted to continue my education, especially in the cross-border contexts of law and I thought the Chinese perspective would be a very interesting one to take. At that time, China as an education destination was not as popular as today and I wanted to find my own niche. Therefore, I started to study Chinese law at Tsinghua University and I was the first Polish student to complete the program. It was a tremendous adventure of delving into the Chinese legal system. And so, I keep doing this until now with my PhD research.
Lawyr.it: After obtaining your master’s degree in Chinese law, you opted for a job in China. What has influenced you to pursue a career there?
M.P.: First of all, I had the chance to meet a number of wonderful scholars and practitioners from both China and abroad, who inspired me to follow a less obvious path in law and to challenge myself when working in the Chinese environment.
I also started to learn the Chinese language (which is a kind of never ending story) and help the Polish embassy in Beijing with introducing the Polish businesses to the basics of business law in China. Finally, I successfully applied for a job in a local law firm, which was, at that time, targeting Central - Eastern Europe. So I came to the decision of staying longer and pursuing a career in China.
Lawyr.it: You have been working as a lawyer for the Beijing–based Chinese commercial law firm. What would you say are the most striking differences when compared to European law firms?
M.P.: The most apparent difference is that Western law firms are better structured and predictable. Therefore, you know what to expect in next three, five and ten years, and what your position in the law firm would be by then. In addition to that, in the West there is a quite clear division of work between departments, what is sometimes lacking in China. Also, the Chinese law firms have, in general, a shorter tradition of existence and thus, there is a greater mobility of lawyers between the law firms.
Yet, the trends, especially in the context of Chinese law and lawyers interacting with the rest of the world, have been changing. For example, over the last few years we have witnessed a couple of big law firms’ mergers such as the one between the Chinese law firm King & Wood and the Australian law firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques, or the one of the Chinese giants Dacheng merging with Dentons.
That, in addition to Western lawyers pursuing their careers in mainland China, and Chinese lawyers bringing their abroad experience back to China, as well as the internationalisation of a significant number of Chinese lawyers participating in various global law-related events, resulted in an interplay of the cultures of the law firms coming from different backgrounds.
Lawyr.it: You currently work as an Assistant Professor at the China-EU School of Law. Could you tell us more about your academic work with the CESL?
M.P.: I joined the China-EU School of Law (CESL) in 2013. Since then, I have worked in the position of Assistant Professor. Among my duties are teaching tutorials, especially in the business law module, coaching the CESL Vis Moot Arbitration Team, running the workshops on Introduction to Legal Research and Writing, as well as coordinating the China-EU Law open lectures.
Lawyr.it: What do you like the most about the Chinese educational system?
M.P.: What I like most is, in general, working with ‘the outcome’ of the Chinese educational system - the Chinese students. They are usually very diligent, respectful and willing to learn more.
Lawyr.it: In your opinion, which are the biggest challenges Chinese students have to face during college years and after graduation?
M.P.: What comes to my mind first is the huge competition the students face, especially after graduation. Thus, in my view, the China-EU School of Law provides a unique possibility to Chinese law students to achieve a distinctive profile among the thousands of graduates each year.
Another challenge is the social pressure and high expectations of young people. This generation is a generation of mostly only children. Parents place huge reliance on these young graduates. Therefore, their choices are sometimes directed not by what they really want to do but what is expected from them and what is good for the entire family.
Lawyr.it: Currently, the China-EU School of Law is the only Sino-foreign law school in China. What does that mean exactly?
M.P.: The China-EU School of Law (CESL) is the very first Chinese-foreign law school in China and it was initiated by the People’s Republic of China and the European Union in 2008. CESL is integrated into the China University of Political Science and Law, which is one of China’s leading universities in the field of law. The school is supported by a 16 universities and educational institutions both from China and Europe, with the University of Hamburg being the leading university on the European side.
Since China has become one of the world’s largest economies and the European Union is one of its largest trade partners, the demand for legal professionals understanding both Chinese as well as European and International law is rising. Accordingly, we offer a range of study programs designed for both Chinese and foreign students.
In addition to that, the school offers a variety of professional training programs, academic events, interesing publications on law and research opportunities, including PhD Programme.
Lawyr.it: How does a foreign collaboration impact the educational system and the teaching methods used by the universities involved?
M.P.: I like to say that CESL is a continous dialogue between the legal scholars, students and also practitioners from both East and West. We definitely inspire and learn from each other. In fact, one of the greatest challenges of working in any Sino-foreign context is facing and understanding cultural differences and it requires an open mind, observing and listening. This also happens with the teaching methods.
Our teaching staff has tested various solutions over the years and has developed a quite unique style of teaching which suits both Chinese and foreign students. We encourage participation and interaction.
A few weeks ago, for example, within the master’s programme, we had a moot court course, where all students were working in mixed groups on an arbitration case under the supervision of tutors coming from five different countries. The winning team came from China and India, and respectively represented civil and common law traditions. The course was closed with detailed, useful feedback from the students and the course supervisor – so that all of us could learn.
Lawyr.it: The CESL’s aim is to form legal professionals who can easily interact with both Chinese and Western legal systems. How does this comparative perspective on Chinese/EU law influence the professional evolution of the students?
M.P.: First of all, students become more open to new challenges. I have just finished writing a recommendation letter for one of the students, who is applying for the position in one of the world top Dispute Resolution departments. Also, some of our Chinese students after graduation conduct their PhD studies abroad, and, also, some of our foreign students decide to stay in China and pursue their academic or professional careers here.
Every now and again I happen to meet our graduates during important legal conferences and other events. A few more years ahead, I guess, I will be listening to one of them being a speaker. That is what I hope.
Lawyr.it: Last but not least, I would like to ask you our trademark question: if you could give a piece of advice to law students and young professionals, what would it be?
M.P.: My biggest advice would be to not to be afraid of following less obvious paths, neither in law nor in life – you do not really have to do everything ‘the way everyone does’.
Be always well prepared, diligent and keep a finger on the pulse – the world of law is changing as fast as anything else these days. The other advice would be to study foreign languages – it can open so many new doors.
This interview was originally published in issue 4.2 of the magazine, which can be accessed here.