The Tuesday before my spring break here in China was maybe my most interesting day at work yet. Most of my days at work are filled with reviewing English documents for the international trade department, checking my emails, reading the news, and discussing interesting issues with co-workers. Tuesday was different.
Before the day began, I emailed my boss, Jiang Peng, to alert him that I wouldn’t be in the office on Thursday due to our spring break. I offered to do some extra work, as I would be missing a day. He wrote back promptly saying that another partner in the firm, Mr. Zhang, would be coming by soon with some work.
Around 10:00, Mr. Zhang arrived at my cubicle and asked me to come to his office. We sat, and he said, “Matt, we need your help.” In all honesty, I immediately felt like I was on an important mission. He explained that the team was looking at hiring a new lawyer. She had studied in the U.S. and claimed to speak English very well. He wanted me to confirm this by holding an informal meeting and discussion with her. English language experience is essential at this firm. Each day they communicate with international clients. He gave me twenty minutes to prepare (I wasn’t sure how to prepare for my pending “interview” as my law experience is very limited). I decided I would simply ask her questions about her studies and her career.
I entered the meeting room with Mr. Zhang, and one of Mr. Zhang’s associates. Ms. Chen, the woman “under review” came in shortly after. She was young and very smiley. Up until this point I had felt fine, but the minute she walked into the door I got nervous. What was I, an undergraduate student, doing interviewing a woman for a job at a law firm? I calmed down by reminding myself that my purpose was simply to evaluate her English language abilities.
We began speaking about her experience in the U.S. and why she is interested in law. She responded that her interest in law stemmed from her feelings that her gender is “too emotional.” She wanted to pursue something “professional.” I was slightly shocked by this response. China’s gender issues are interesting a deep. That is a discussion for another time though.
Ten minutes in, Mr. Zhang interrupts. He requests that Ms. Chen explain to me the details of a meeting she attended with Mr. Zhang last week. From here, the meeting got much more serious. As Ms. Chen spoke, Mr. Zhang prodded and corrected her continuously. As he did so, he asked me whether I understood what she was saying. For the most part, I did. I could tell she was nervous though. She spoke very well, however, she did confuse and contradict herself when speaking about law related issues.
The meeting finished, and I spoke honestly with Mr. Zhang. He agreed she was well spoken but wasn’t always clear. He then asked me to evaluate her written language by assigning her to summarize and review a case of my choosing. This completely threw me for a loop. I asked him where I might find a case to give her. His answer: “I don’t know.” I was on my own here.
After ten minutes at my desk of wondering what in the world to do, I thought of an idea. I found that the most readily available case decisions are U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Knowing little about most of these decisions, I chose one that all U.S. high school students learn in history class: Brown v. The Board of Education. My brother, who is in law school, found this absolutely hilarious. So, I asked Ms. Chen to read the decision on the 1954 U.S. Civil Rights case and summarize the case in her own words in one page.
I know this all seems ridiculous. All in all, it was a good choice. It was a straightforward case that both of us would understand. It allowed me to evaluate her written English much better than I could with a more complicated and unfamiliar case. She wrote a concise and strong summary.
I felt a little funny about the whole ordeal. Still, it was an amazing experience. I realized that my lack of law experience was inconsequential to Mr. Zhang. I am the only native English speaker in the office; thus, it makes perfect sense that I should help evaluate English ability. In fact, this little “mission” spawned an even more interesting day when I returned from spring break. Check back to read about my trip to Sanya, as well as what happened when I returned from break.