Law professor serves as expert on Chinese law

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

The People's Republic of China is constantly in the news, most recently with President Obama's mid-January summit meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Michigan Law School Professor Nicholas Calcina Howson is an internationally recognized expert in Chinese law, a field of study and practice that only becomes more relevant as China itself becomes more important.

"I come by my specialization honestly," he says. "My mother was born in Shanghai in the 1930s, and my Italian grandfather Piero Gino Calcina--one of the builders of pre-Revolution Shanghai and modern Hong Kong--lived in Shanghai from 1920 to 1948 and Hong Kong from 1948 to his death in 1971."

In the late 1970s, Howson first visited Shanghai to search out old family homes in the former French and International Concessions, followed by intense language study in the United States and Canada, and then graduate study in Chinese literature at Shanghai's Fudan University.

"I remember the uniform reaction to my Chinese language study those 30 years ago--strict injunctions against learning the 'useless' language of a 'poor, hermit' nation, and earnest entreaties to learn something 'useful' like Japanese, Russian or German," he says.

While studying at Fudan in 1983 Howson encountered Harvard Law School Professor Jerome Alan Cohen, one of the founders of the study of Chinese law in the West. Cohen had just left his Harvard professorship for a partnership at Paul,Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York, and was recruiting talent for a future practice focusing on China.

"I, along with other specialists in Tang poetry, Song philosophy, Mongol art and other seemingly law-unrelated disciplines, was quickly seduced into the law," Howson says.

So, he attended Columbia Law School under Professor R. Randle Edwards, founder of Columbia's Center for Chinese Legal Studies, the breeding ground in the 1980s and '90s for China-focused legal academic and practice talent.

After graduation from law school, Howson returned to China to complete research in Qing Dynasty penal law at Beijing University, on a Ford Foundation/CLEEC fellowship.

He then joined Paul, Weiss as an associate in New York, following by postings in London, Paris and Beijing. He was elected partner in 1996, later acting as a managing partner of Paul,Weiss's China Practice based in Beijing.

As a transactional lawyer, Howson led some of the most innovative transactions concerning the PRC, including the first SEC-registered IPO and listing on the NYSE of a Chinese company, the first debt issuance by a Chinese state-owned enterprise into the global capital markets, China's first true project financings, and China's first successful private equity investment and public capital markets exits.

"I lived for more than 11 years in the People's Republic of China, most recently during the fall of 2008 when I was on sabbatical and resident at the East China University of Politics and Law in Shanghai, pursuing a study of the Chinese court system and its corporate jurisprudence," he says.

He regularly visits China for academic conferences, research and writing projects, complex litigation, and ongoing "rule of law" dialogues with Chinese academic and official colleagues.

He still publishes in Chinese and presents academic papers in Mandarin before Chinese academic audiences. He writes and lectures widely, focusing on Chinese corporate and securities law developments, and has acted as consultant to the Ford Foundation, the UNDP, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and Chinese government ministries and administrative departments.

"In a sense, my career is a perfect complement to the China life my Italian grandfather inaugurated more than 90 years ago, only a life lived in Chinese, with Chinese people as valued colleagues and equals," he says.

A member of Michigan Law School since 2005, Howson teaches corporate and partnership law, U.S. and international securities regulation, and courses such as Chinese Legal History, Chinese Law and Legal Institutions, Chinese Investment Law, and seminars in Chinese Corporation and Chinese Constitutionalism.

A member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, he is a designated foreign arbitrator for the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC) in Beijing, and was chair of the Asian Affairs Committee of the New York City Bar Association. He also serves on the Executive Committee of the U-M Center for Chinese Studies.

"Michigan Law School has worked hard to recruit Chinese-speaking J.D. students who form a critical mass of U-M law students, creating an extremely hospitable and rich environment for those interested in Chinese law and legal institutions," he says. "Students interact with the best visiting law scholars from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore and the talented body of scholars working through the Center for Chinese Studies."

The law school hosts a large number of conferences and academic meetings concerning law and legal institutions in Greater China. On February 11, the "U.S.-China Economic Law Conference" will be jointly convened by the Law School with the Michigan Center for Chinese Studies and Wayne State University Law School. Experts from the U.S., China and Europe will discuss the China-U.S. relationship as pursued through international law and regulation. The participants include President Clinton's USTR Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky, who negotiated the PRC's accession to the WTO, and Madame Li Yongjie, lead official at China's Ministry of Commerce responsible for all of China's WTO litigation and international trade dispute settlement.

"This is a golden age for the study and understanding of Chinese law and legal institutions at the University of Michigan," Howson says. "There is no better time to dedicate our truly world-class resources to better understanding Chinese law and governance, as a rising China meets its historic responsibilities as one of the world's most influential nations."

Published: Mon, Jan 31, 2011