The Fall and Rise of Legal Education in Asia: Inhibition, Imitation, Innovation

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The history of legal education in Asia bears the scars of colonialism. The most obvious evidence of that today lies in the common law/civil law divide between our various countries, a distinction for which the determining factor was typically the legal system of the European power that happened to exercise colonial power. In recent years, however, the rise of Asia has encouraged more confidence and greater independence.

To pick just one crude measure, the number of Asian law schools listed in the top 50 of the QS World University Rankings for law went from three in 2011, when the rankings were first published, to nine in the most recent rankings. Just four years ago, no Asian law school was listed in the top 20; today there are four. In such an environment, it is appropriate and expected that Asian law schools should feel free to chart their own path — to innovate, rather than merely imitate.

This paper discusses early efforts to inhibit legal education in Asia, due in part to neglect and in part to the desire of the colonizing powers to avoid encouraging “troublemakers”. Secondly, and more briefly, it considers the manner in which many efforts to encourage imitation, in particular the law and development school, produced uncertain and sometimes unhelpful results. Thirdly, it turns to more recent innovations by law faculties across the region in three discrete areas of their national, global, and regional roles.

Presented at the conference “Legal Education in Asia: From Imitation to Innovation”, Shanghai, 21 November 2015, for a forthcoming volume edited by Andrew Harding and Hu Jiaxiang, this draft paper can be downloaded in full at