Living and working in Beijing – one student’s experience

Published on: Author: Ruth O'Donnell Leave a comment

Luke Costello, an alumnus of the School’s LLB and DPLP programmes, recently earned the opportunity to undergo a work placement at an international law firm in Beijing. In the first of a series of blog posts, Luke shares his experience of living and working abroad:

My name is Luke Costello. I studied my LLB at Glasgow and graduated in June of last year. I also recently completed the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at the university. Currently, I am on a placement with international law firm Fieldfisher in the firm’s China practice. So far, I have spent just over one month in Beijing. I have two more weeks left in Beijing before heading to Shanghai to spend a week in the firm’s office there. Hopefully this blog will provide some useful insight into my experience here so far and encourage others to make use of the internship opportunities that are available either directly through the university or, as is the case for this internship, through university alumni connections.

When I initially made my application, the work placement was with a boutique commercial law firm based in Beijing called JS Partners. In recent months, the firm merged with London headquartered Fieldfisher making JS Partners the Chinese branch of the firm’s international network. Fieldfisher is particularly active in heavily regulated industries and is primarily focused on competition/ anti-trust, corporate, intellectual property, dispute resolution and public and regulatory law. The core of the firm’s practice in China is competition law. This is of particular benefit for me as China’s competition law framework is now one of the most sophisticated and active in the world alongside the European Union and America. As such, I am enjoying fast-paced and current exposure to work of genuine significance for the firm and its clients whilst working with very capable lawyers.

I am the only non-native Chinese person in the office and the only non-native Mandarin speaker. I don’t speak any Mandarin bar the odd general phrase (just…) and I had never travelled to Asia before. With that in mind, I was conscious of how unique an opportunity this internship was and also how much of a challenge it might prove to be. The language barrier is pronounced but navigable. In the office, almost every one of my colleagues has studied at Masters level in Europe or America and all of the partners have years of experience with international law firms in Asia. So, though the level of English in the office can of course be limited at times, it is easily approached with clear communication and a bit of patience.

The culture shock really hit me when I got here. This was even more apparent as I spent the first two weeks of my time here living with colleagues from the firm in areas where no tourist would ordinarily venture. However, that is part of the uniqueness of this opportunity. To spend time living and working in Beijing, seeing every part of the city with people who live and work here every day, is a great way to really get a feel for the place. With an estimated population of twenty-two million people, it is truly vast. Fortunately, the subway has the English equivalent of every sign, notice or announcement so it is easily navigated with a bit of planning.

I now feel very comfortable in my surroundings and am enjoying myself. This is down in no small part to the hospitality of everyone I have encountered at the firm and the good natured interactions I have had with ordinary people everywhere I have gone. I have been well looked after by my colleagues and it makes all the difference.

I’ve been given a lot of responsibility from an early stage which is excellent. The old cliché about interns doing photocopying and getting coffee thankfully doesn’t apply. I’d say around 90% of the work I have been doing is multi-jurisdictional and concerns multiple cross-border transactions. I am mainly working on competition and corporate matters but I assist with other work if it is in English, such as dispute resolution and some finance transactions. On a daily basis, I am conducting research into competition regimes around the world, I am researching China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative which seeks to recreate the ancient Silk Road by creating a ‘Eurasian land bridge’ and a ‘21st century maritime Silk Road’ which aims to improve China’s economic, political and cultural ties with Europe, Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East. It is a fascinating project to be involved with. I also help review and draft client communications which are in English, help with the review and preparation of client pitch books and carry out ad hoc document review and research as it arises. The hours can be quite long at times but I welcome this as it means I am kept busy and I am experiencing what can be a highly-pressurised and fast-paced working environment.

I am very grateful to have had this opportunity which exists due to the efforts of University of Glasgow alumni. I have been able to have a rewarding experience both personally and professionally and I would encourage anyone who has a similar opportunity, or indeed any internship opportunity in a profession or location that appeals to them, to grab it whilst they can and enjoy it.

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