A bit of international exchange took place at the MBA recently when Li Ben, Deputy Department Chief and Deputy Secretary General of the Heilongjiang Provincial Bureau of Justice in China, met with Executive Director Abigail Shaine.
Li Ben had come to Boston during a tour of several U.S. cities in which he was meeting with attorneys, law firms and bar associations to gather ideas that might be applicable in his homeland. He spoke with Shaine through an interpreter, Chi-Ho Chan, who was hosted by the international exchange organization WorldBoston.
In China, Li Ben is the chief legal administrator of his province. He explained that until 1984 there was no central administrative agency charged with overseeing lawyers in the provinces. Today, all lawyers fall under the supervision of their regional bar association, which is also the official licensing authority. Membership in the bar is mandatory. Current membership in the Heilongjiang Provincial Lawyers Association is 300.
According to Li Ben, the Heilongjiang bar has 13 full-time staff plus one part-time employee sent by the government to provide assistance to the organization.
Li Ben’s office is responsible for yearly review and registration of attorneys, monitoring of firms, as well as for administrative and disciplinary actions.
The bar association offers continuing legal education and organizes conferences, exchange programs and specialized seminars. Participation in education programs is a requirement of bar membership and licensing.
The bar also serves as an advocate for the rights of lawyers with the government. It also can award certificates of merit to attorneys for particularly good work.
Li Ben expressed interest in the MBA's Lawyer Referral Service, and was particularly curious about the way referrals are assigned. Shaine explained the membership procedure, including the requirements of experience and insurance coverage, as well as the automatic rotation of the call list.
According to Li Ben, such a system of referrals is not available at this time in China. Instead, he said, the government publishes a list annually of all lawyers in each region, and the regional bar associations provide a list of local lawyers who are available in specific areas of practice. However, attorneys are not allowed to advertise directly. Rather, they must rely on word-of-mouth referrals.
Not dissimilar from practices in the U.S., Li Ben noted, lawyers in the smaller cities and provinces do general law work, while large firms in the major cities tend to have specialties. In China, however, a firm that is considered "large" might have up to 50 attorneys, noted Li Ben.