The tremendous growth in the number and sophistication of Chinese lawyers in the past two decades highlights the importance of legal practice to social and economic development, and also the need to ensure lawyers are able to perform their role effectively.
In the English-speaking common law jurisdictions, the legal profession has developed over several centuries and its importance is reflected in the terminology that lawyers use to describe legal practice and the legal profession. This article will examine terminology and its influence on the way lawyers operate and are perceived by society. The professional oaths that lawyers are required to take in order to engage in legal practice will also be examined.
Traditionally, the term “profession” in English was used to describe the three “learned professions”: theology, medicine and law. These professions were distinguished from other occupations on the basis that their members were required to complete specialised training and made their livelihood through the provision of expert advice and services to others, usually to the exclusion of other business activities.
The learned professions were also distinguished from other occupations on the basis of importance. Lawyers were vital to achieving a just society that was governed by the principle of rule of law, under which everyone was equal before the law. Doctors were vital to healing people and saving lives. And theologians or priests were vital to maintaining religious faith and saving souls.
A former partner of Linklaters Shanghai, Andrew Godwin teaches law at Melbourne Law School in Australia, where he is an associate director of its Asian Law Centre. Andrew’s new book is a compilation of China Business Law Journal’s popular Lexicon series, entitled China Lexicon: Defining and translating legal terms. The book is published by Vantage Asia and available at www.vantageasia.com.