"Consulting about legal issues without having to leave our business district can save us a lot of time, which is very convenient!" said Lu, a business owner in a business district of Enshi, a city in the central province of Hubei, when speaking of Enshi's first public legal service station set up in a business district.
In fact, the station is part of a city-wide legal counsel system Enshi has been building in recent years.
Nowadays, with 229 public legal service facilities including 21 stations and 208 studios based across the city, Enshi has achieved its goal of having each of its government agencies, including 62 municipal-level ones, 17 township-level ones and 208 village or community-level ones, employ a legal counsel.
Advising the government
In 2013, Enshi was chosen by the provincial government to pilot the legal counsel system as part of a broader effort to build law-based governments across the province.
To date, all of its government agencies, public institutions, village-level governance bodies and large businesses in sectors like industrial engineering, construction and service have employed legal counsels, making them an essential part of local governments at all levels.
Meanwhile, legal counsels' responsibilities have also been extended from appearing in court as governments' legal agents and assisting governments in reviewing legal documents to providing legal opinions in governments' major decision-making processes.
Since the implementation of China's seventh five-year plan for law publicity in 2016, the city's 186 government-employed legal counsels have put forward 1,262 suggestions and 316 legal opinion letters, reviewed or drafted 528 legal documents, and participated in the development of three local regulations.
Serving the grassroots
Apart from advising the government, legal counsels are also tasked with promoting legal education in rural areas. In doing so, they can not only learn about actual local situations but also provide the government with more practical proposals.
"Our law publicity effort over the past seven years has strengthened villagers' legal consciousness, helping them switch their mentality from 'I will beat you' to 'I will sue you'," said Zhang Tinghong, a lawyer who has been serving as the legal counsel of a township government in Enshi since 2014.
Over the years, Zhang and her colleagues went from village to village to disseminate legal knowledge through lectures. "Our identity as both lawyers and a third party easily won villagers' trust," she said.
Speaking of the importance of legal publicity in rural areas, Zhang Yunfeng, head of the judicial department of Enshi, said "What's more important than addressing complaints and proposals from the public is equipping villagers with adequate legal knowledge, which is also the fundamental solution to many problems.”
After years of evolution, the legal counsel system in Enshi is now functioning well with legal counsels dedicated to in all aspects of social governance.
"Legal counseling is not a lucrative business," acknowledged Zhang. "To us, it's more of a social responsibility. We do it for the public interest."