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Study-abroad program among UF Law's deepening China connections

Sokol, Li

Associate Professor D. Daniel Sokol stands in the Marcia Whitney Schott Courtyard with Zhu Li, a judge in the Intellectual Property Division of the Supreme People's Court of China. Li visited the college of law during the summer to study antitrust law with Sokol. (Photo by Nicole Safker)

By Richard Goldstein
Associate Director

In law, as in life, China's influence is on the rise. With its torrid rate of growth and a mega-population of 1.3 billion, China is on pace to eclipse the United States as the world's largest economy within the decade.

UF Law has taken notice, branching out from programs in Europe, Latin America and Africa, the college of law will sponsor its first study-abroad program in China this summer. UF Law professors are making teaching sojourns to its shores and turning their intellectual firepower toward explaining China's legal and economic practices. At the same time, a Chinese judge, professors, and Ph.D. students are making their presence felt in Gainesville.

"We have ongoing relationships in China. It's part of the broadening scope of what international means at the law school," explained Associate Professor D. Daniel Sokol, whose antitrust research is increasingly focused on Chinese business and regulatory practices.

Sokol notes that China has become one of the three hubs of international business. That means multinational companies must take Chinese government merger and antitrust law into account just as they must account for U.S. and European Union decisions.

The study-abroad program in China will be hosted by Beijing's Renmin University of China School of Law, which is among China's top three law schools. UF Law Assistant Professor Wentong Zheng, a native of China who holds bachelor's and a master's degrees from Renmin, will teach a one-credit Introduction to Chinese Law and the two-credit Comparative Contract Law at Renmin. For more information see the brochure or contact Michele Ocepek, director of student programs, at ocepek@law.ufl.edu. The application deadline is Feb. 15.

In a tough legal jobs market, Zheng says the growing economic power of China makes experience with the country invaluable. Before entering the legal academia, Zheng practiced international trade law at Steptoe & Johnson in Washington, D.C., and was involved in the firm's China practice. He said China is a growing area for most U.S.-based international law firms and many American lawyers are going so far as moving to China as a career strategy.

"If you want to have an edge in the legal marketplace that (study-abroad) experience is going to be very important. Also, it's going to be fun," Zheng said.

The itinerary features field trips to Chinese courts and law firms, and trips to major historical sites including The Great Wall and The Forbidden City. Depending on student demand, the program will sponsor extracurricular events for UF Law students and students from the host school. The program will also help UF Law students submit their resumes to international or Chinese law firms in Beijing for summer law clerk positions.

University of Florida President Bernie Machen talks of "a university that sees its mission in the global arena." UF Law's Chinese connections are extending that mission.

Last summer, Zhu Li, a judge in the Intellectual Property Division of the Supreme People's Court of China, studied with Sokol under a program sponsored by USAID, a federal agency. Li said a new Chinese law against monopoly practices convinced him that he should come to America to learn from a country that has been enforcing antitrust laws since the 19th century.

Last spring, Sokol co-organized a conference on Competition and the Role of the State at the University of Hong Kong and co-edited a forthcoming book on the same topic. Li said Sokol's reputation in Asia as a global antitrust expert drew him to campus. While in Gainesville, Li delivered a presentation for faculty from other campus departments and for business leaders from Central Florida on how intellectual property rights are enforced in China.

This summer, Sokol will go to Beijing to train Li's colleagues on the Supreme People's Court on antitrust law. Meanwhile, Sokol is working on a survey of how merger decisions are made by the Chinese government.

Under an exchange with the Central University for Finance and Economics in Beijing set up by Stuart Cohn, associate dean for international studies, Jiaxian Zhu was the first Chinese professor to teach at UF Law. She taught a course on carbon trading during the fall semester.

Michael Seigel, University of Florida Research Foundation Professor of Law, will return the favor with a month-long course starting in April. The teaching stint for Seigel, who will take over from Cohn next year as associate dean for international studies, illustrates the growing depth of U.S.-China commercial relations.

Seigel, a former federal prosecutor and expert on white collar crime, will teach Chinese students how to give their Chinese clients advice that keeps them out of trouble, or even jail, while doing business in the U.S.

"White collar crime is the dark side, I would say, of business law," Seigel said. "It's teaching where that line is between regulatory compliance and … criminal behavior. The line between regulatory noncompliance and criminal behavior is very, very thin."