There has been an “increasing visibility” of lawyers in Shanghai’s local legislature over the years as they partake in putting forward legislative proposals and formulating draft regulations, according to the city’s bar association.
Fourteen of the 800 or so municipal delegates of the Shanghai’s People’s Congress (SPC) were lawyers, the Shanghai Bar Association said in a meeting last month. As of December 2021, Shanghai boasted over 35,000 lawyers, with 255 serving as party representatives, policymakers, and political advisors at different levels.
Lawyers made their debut as delegates in China’s top legislature, the National People’s Congress, in 1988. Since then, more lawyers have participated in national and local legislative meetings, with the SPC listing the Shanghai Bar Association as one of the city’s first “grassroots opinion collecting stations” in 2016.
Sixth Tone spoke to three lawyers at the association about their legislative participation.
President of Shanghai Bar Association
Partner at Fangda Partners
According to Ji Nuo, lawyers can participate in the legislative process in several ways, including collecting legislative opinions, serving as government legal advisors, and gathering public complaints and proposals.
“People lacking legal experience might find it difficult to write proposals professionally,” he said. “Lawyers can synthesize their needs and offer systematic presentations.”
He said the bar association entered a “new state” after being named a “grassroots opinion collecting station” to gather public opinions when ratifying new local and national laws. The association witnessed another change in 2021 when the director of the Standing Committee of the SPC asked lawyers to participate in “parallel legislation.”
“This means that we can draft proposals independently, fully participating in the pre-legislative research and even offering our own legislative drafts,” he said.
Ji said the added responsibilities have kept him busy, and he has sometimes thought of giving up the profession he joined in 1998. However, those thoughts disappear when he realizes the power and potential of his job.
“If one can improve and participate more in China’s legislation and help vulnerable groups, there is an immense sense of achievement,” Ji said.
Director of Promotion of Political Participation and Discussion Committee of Shanghai Bar Association
Senior Partner at Shanghai P&W Partners
Since Li Xiangnong became a municipal delegate in 2013, he has proposed several suggestions, most of which came from conversations with locals.
He particularly remembered the proposal he submitted after hearing the hardships of new homeowners who encountered previous residents who refused to retract their household registration, or hukou, creating potential hassles. But there lacked a specific law to address this issue.
“When residents have tried everything and still fail, they come to lawyers,” Li said, adding how his profession has helped gather legislative suggestions.
In 2018, he also suggested the city’s Putuo District have more street crossings. Both suggestions were approved by the SPC.
“The defining feature of a lawyer is to be a spokesperson — to speak for their clients,” Li said. “People’s Congress delegates are the same — they speak for the people.”
Vice President of Shanghai Bar Association
Managing partner and senior partner at Dentons Law Firm
During the annual meeting of the city’s top legislative body last month, Chen Feng offered 10 proposals that touched upon everything from finance and smart cars to the pharmaceutical industry.
But that wasn’t the case when he first became a municipal delegate four years ago. At that time, Chen said he often had difficulties in finding issues to propose.
“Then I began to keep an eye on things around me,” Chen said, adding that noticing issues is the first step. “We also need to consult experts, but they’re difficult to find.”
Chen said visiting grassroots communities to collect public suggestions and listening to their problems can take hours, adding that residents are proactive in advising on laws and regulations.
“They won’t leave,” Chen said, referring to the long meetings. “They even do their research beforehand, looking for rules and regulations. They take it very seriously.”
After graduating with a law degree from Anhui University, Chen has been in the profession for over two decades, despite the challenges.
“You can solve problems with your expertise, and your suggestions are recognized and valued,” Chen said. “It’s a good feeling.”
(Header image and icons: People Visual)