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CESL Alumni Interview: Li Ruifeng

Li Ruifeng, double master’s degree student of China University of Political Science and Law and of International Law of Universität Hamburg, graduated in 2016.

He started an internship at the Beijing Office of Troutman Sanders LLP in September 2015 and was later formally employed. His areas of practice mainly involve IPO and bondissues.

How is the employment process? Could you please share your skills for interviews and written examinations?

I first came by Troutman Sanders LLP through a classmate. I then coincidentally noticed the recruitment information for Troutman on legal boats so I sent my resume to HR. I sat a written examination and interview, after which I was employed. There are translations, case analysis, a memo (that needs to be answered in Chinese), a question similar to a character profile test and about 50 multiple choice questions involving your views about workplace relationships and work ethic that all need to be answered in English in the written examination. As for the interview, I believe appropriate, simple and decent clothing is of most importance. I would suggest men attend the interview in suits and women with makeup. You need to be confident and honest in answering questions. The written examinations vary among different law firms. There are some materials online that mainly include translation, case analysis, etc.

Compared with Chinese law firms, are there any special requirements of individual ability at foreign law firms?

The requirements for English are apparently higher. Firstly, at foreign law firms, English serves as the working language- from emailing to editing of legal documents to engaging in conferences whilst Chinese is only used for communication with Chinese clients. The individual training programmes of foreign law firms place more importance on attention to detail and an ability to work under high pressure. Sometimes there can be regular examinations, not unlike the internal examination after a 2-3 month internship at Troutman; only those who have passed the examination can continue the internship at the law firm. The examination includes a written examination and English interview. There are no other differences compared to Chinese law firms in other aspects.

What are you working on now? What’s the work intensity like?

I am mainly working on helping Chinese enterprises to achieve cross-border listing where IPO dominates. There are some daily tasks in the capital market, such as formulation of prospectus, legal opinions and DOB documents. In terms of work intensity, extra shifts are inevitable in law firms. For instance, if a customer or a supervision institution requires a document within a designated time, we have to accomplish this even if it means pulling extra shifts. Sometimes we can finish work around 3-4 am for days on end. A number of people assume that ‘pushover’ lawyers always remain in a state of endless extra shifts but it is just a periodic process. We can be busy in managing projects but we also have leisure time to ourselves when the busy periods have passed. Lawyers need to master the balance. Work, physical health and personal life are all of the same importance.

What difficulties lie in choosing between jobs in foreign and Chinese law firms?

It’s hard to answer as any potential employment is contingent on your trial period. The difficulty in choosing lies in unfamiliarity with Chinese and foreign law firms. I’d advise you to undertake internships more before graduation. During holiday time, you can experience the work, pace and environment of Chinese and foreign law firms. Regarding any advantages and disadvantages to either Chinese or foreign law firms, generally speaking the entry threshold of foreign law firms is higher with fierce competition pressure. For example, there were eight interns including me at the start of my internship but only three became fulltime staff. However, there is better pay and benefits plus more work training at foreign law firms which enhances professional experience and also improves personal working skills. Additionally, there are administrative staff handling issues beyond the legal work, that is to say there is more backup support staff at foreign law firms. On the other hand, the disadvantage of foreign law firms lies in its limited development in China. Though the start-off pay of some excellent Chinese law firms is slightly lower than that of foreign law firms, there has been a pay increase in some top Chinese law firms. Moreover, in China the current scope of business is broad and the quality of partners is high, leading to a vast range of employment possibilities.

How can your learning experience at CESL help your current job? What’s the greatest advantage of CESL?

Firstly, the study life of postgraduates of CESL is quite intense with significant academic pressure so the practise of such long-term dedication and commitment to work during the student period enables me to easily adapt to the lawyer’s intense working life. In addition, English language training at CESL is effective. Especially the teaching of EU law completely through English in the second semester can help postgraduates gain considerable progress in their English language skills. The structured life and the English training at CESL during my postgraduate period are of great help to my work.

The greatest advantage of CESL lies in the question-orientated teaching style that places more importance on developing students’ legal practice abilities. Furthermore students of CESL learn to work well together which is highly beneficial in learning to build interpersonal relationship in the workplace.

Is it necessary to develop career planning skills during the postgraduate period?

Without career planning during the postgraduate period, you will face confusion regarding the direction of career so it is necessary to prepare in advance. For instance, if you would prefer to be a civil servant, you should know more about recruitment, and examination content during the postgraduate period. If you’re torn between a career as a lawyer and that of work in the corporate-legal sector, you should try many different intern positions so as to determine your career direction before graduation. Meanwhile, it is also worth mentioning that you should improve your own vantage point during the career planning period. For example, if aiming to be employed by foreign law firms, you should focus on improving your English proficiency or opt for further study abroad. You can participate in the American lawyer’s license examinations. If you have acquired a LLM, JD or lawyer practice qualification your starting salary will be higher.

Do you have any suggestions for your juniors regarding sturdy, life, internships or employment?

Firstly, a number of legal problems researched in class will be brought back up during the job-seeking process and also in practise- so you should enjoy your current period of study but remember to all the while be consolidating your basic knowledge of law. In view of life, you should try to strike a balance between work and rest; pay attention to physical training and participate in the many extracurricular activities on offer at CESL. During internships, individual attitudes are of great importance. According to partners, there are few differences in the professional ability of interns so they pay more attention to your particular attitudes. A conscientious attitude and a passion for learning will make it easier to obtain the partners’ favour and recommendation. During the practice process as a lawyer, you should place more importance on details that can influence the end success of the overall project. Additionally, after obtaining an offer, your daily workload may be boring but I hope that you stick to your choice and keep improving your professional knowledge and English proficiency during your work. However, if you find that you are unsuitable for the job or the job doesn’t meet your expectations, I suppose you’d better change within two years. Otherwise the costs of leaving will be too high. In conclusion, I hope that you can be diligent in exploring and figuring out the career direction most suited to you during your postgraduate period of study.

Author: Su Yang (double master’s degrees postgraduate from the China-EU School at Law of 2017)

Photo: Li Ruifeng (graduate of the China-EU School at Law of 2016)