Explaining laws to judicial officers and being on call 24 hours a day to offer legal advice to people, Zhang Yi from Tianjin Yiqing law firm in Beijing has provided voluntary legal aid services in border areas for about seven years.
Zhang offers legal aid services in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. With advances in the rule of law in China, the demand for lawyers and legal services in border areas is increasing, he said.
"My work is related to the interests of people with financial difficulties and the fairness and justice of judicial cases," he said. "As a lawyer and a member of the Communist Party of China, I should go where the masses are most in need."
China has stepped up efforts to foster a group of rule of law professionals armed with both integrity and ability. Zhang is one of them.
Xi Jinping Thought on the Rule of Law is the fundamental guideline for overall law-based governance in China. It calls for strengthening the education of professionals' ideals and convictions, in-depth education on core socialist values and the socialist concept of law-based governance, and enabling judicial personnel to be more revolutionary, consistent, specialized and professional in their conduct.
It also asks authorities to educate and guide legal service personnel to adhere to correct political orientation, practice their profession in good faith and conscientiously carry out their social responsibilities.
"Building such a high-quality team of rule of law professionals is a basic requirement for law-based governance. Such professionals are needed to implement lawmaking, strict law enforcement and impartial administration of justice," said Zhao Shukun, a law professor at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law.
Such professionals can fully protect the legitimate rights of the people, ensuring their participation in the construction of the rule of law so they can share in the fruits of law-based governance, Zhao said.
The team includes legislators, administrative law enforcement personnel, judicial workers, personnel from the Party discipline inspection and supervision organs, lawyers and legal scholars, Jing Hanchao, deputy secretary-general of the Political and Legal Commission of the CPC Central Committee, was quoted as saying by the People's Daily.
The Plan to Build the Rule of Law in China (2020-25), issued by the CPC Central Committee in January, requires authorities to improve the system for managing access to and qualifications for the legal profession; establish a unified training system for legal professionals; improve the system for recruiting legislators, judges, prosecutors and administrative review personnel from among qualified lawyers and legal experts; and establish a sound mechanism for regular exchange of personnel in legislative, law enforcement and judicial departments.
The plan also calls for improving the standards of professional ethics and conduct and their evaluation mechanisms, and deepening the reform of legal education to train high-quality legal personnel with firm convictions, integrity and ability.
Distribution of talent
The plan also asks to promote a high-quality team to provide foreign legal services and set up a number of institutions to facilitate such services.
"Legal professionals for foreign legal matters are in short supply," said Mo Jihong, a law professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"Given that more Chinese companies are investing overseas, the demand for lawyers who master foreign legal systems and laws is increasing, but many overseas Chinese companies have to hire local or international law firms once they need legal consulting services."
Mo said a lot of work still needs to be done to encourage Chinese lawyers and law firms to "go international and establish a global legal service network for Chinese companies and citizens, which I think is a critical point in the establishment of a professional legal team."
According to the Ministry of Justice, there are about 540,000 lawyers in China, including about 12,000 lawyers engaged in foreign-related matters. Chinese law firms have set up more than 150 overseas branches in 35 countries and regions.
The imbalance in the distribution of legal professionals is also seen within China, with more in the eastern part of the mainland and fewer in the central and western parts.
"Due to the concentration of companies and the nation's population in the eastern region, there is a greater demand for the rule of law," Mo said.
The government can only ensure an adequate number of basic legal professionals for local government operations, such as the legislature, public security, law enforcement and judicial operations, as it cannot command legal services to move to undeveloped areas, he said.
There is still a shortage of legal professionals and services in undeveloped areas and grassroots areas, said Zhao, the law professor, adding that the imbalance could be changed through reward and compensation mechanisms to attract talent.
To accelerate the development of the public legal service system, the Ministry of Justice has sent over 1,200 lawyers to less-developed areas in central and western China to provide voluntary legal services over the past 13 years.
While legal teams are becoming more professional and standardized, this does not necessarily mean ordinary people's knowledge of the law is also advancing, Zhao said. This may open the way for abuse of the system by legal professionals with greater knowledge of legal matters.
Zhao said legal professionals need to strictly abide by the ethics and morality required to conduct their work.
Although anti-corruption efforts in the legal field have been strengthened and punishment for lawbreakers made harsher, a clean, accountable team also requires firm self-discipline, Zhao added.
To build ethical legal and political teams with firm convictions, the CPC Central Committee launched a nationwide rectification and education operation to root out "black sheep" and tackle intractable problems.
The first round, from late February to July, focused on city and county levels. About 178,000 people were punished for violations of laws and regulations. The second round, which started in mid-August and is ongoing, targets central and provincial-level political and legal ministries and departments.