Chinese law courses are still ‘very popular’ with students hoping to work at City firms, Durham Law School has said, despite mounting international unease about Beijing's human rights record. 

Professor Thom Brooks, dean of Durham Law School, told the Gazette that over one hundred undergraduates at Durham University are currently studying Chinese law and City firms have been ‘hugely positive’ about the addition to the LLB. The school hired seven academics from China and Hong Kong last year.

‘The workforce that students will be joining is an international workforce,’ Brooks said. ‘Big law firms are not just doing cases in the UK. They are doing cases that involve other jurisdictions. Knowing something about other legal jurisdictions – like the United States or China – makes more opportunities, certainly at the bigger, more established firms. This is a ticket to entry to that club.’

He added that the study of Chinese law is not only important for engagement with China 'but also for China’s neighbours, who have systems which are modelled on or relate very strongly to [Chinese law], not least Singapore and Malaysia, which are huge places for student recruitment and huge places of growth for firms.’

Durham Law School employs seven academics from mainland China and Hong Kong, including two professors, to teach its undergraduates and masters students. The school was also due to hold a Chinese law summit last September but had to cancel the event because of the pandemic.

Brooks said that while there are ‘obvious concerns’ about the political situation in China, the market is growing faster than in the United States and Europe.

A host of City firms, including Linklaters, Hogan Lovells, Herbert Smith and KPMG, currently offer legal services in China. However, the presence of international lawyers in the country has been thrown into doubt by the Chinese government's sanctions against Essex Court Chambers, a barristers' set based in London. The decision is understood to be related to the fact that four members of chambers wrote a legal opinion concerning the treatment of the Uighur minority population.