Today’s law students are tomorrow’s guardians of justice. How should the university prepare law students to fulfil their mission upon graduation? This is a question that Shui Bing, a veteran law professor at the University of Macau (UM), has sought to answer throughout his teaching career. Prof Shui believes in using a question-oriented approach to guide students to discover the joy of thinking and the power of logical reasoning. Because of his dedication and outstanding performance, he received the Teaching Excellence Award from UM in 2018.
Leaving the Classroom with a Greater Passion for Law
A one-time attorney, corporate senior executive, founder of a law firm, and vice president of a local court, Prof Shui has a wealth of legal experience under his belt. But his romance with law was not love at first sight, but rather, to use his own words, ‘love after marriage’. ‘It was only after I started studying law that I came to appreciate the fun of it and slowly fell in love with it,’ he says. ‘Some people think law is a boring subject, but it’s not. It can be tremendously fun, as long as you learn to enjoy thinking.’ In class, he often stresses that the process of thinking is more important than the answer itself. To him, a cardinal sin in studying law is parroting what others say without thinking independently. ‘Legal issues need to be analysed from different angles, and there may not necessarily be only one correct answer,’ he says.
Before joining UM in 2013, Prof Shui was a professor in law and doctoral advisor at the Law School of Nanjing University, with a concurrent position as a professor at Nanjing University-Johns Hopkins University Centre. In 2012, he was selected as one of the outstanding university scholars to receive funding under a programme of the Ministry of Education. In 2013, he was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Jurists in Jiangsu Province.
Prof Shui has a secret ambition—he hopes his students will develop a greater passion for law after completing his courses. To him, law is never about rote learning; it is about experiencing the joy of thinking by paying attention to issues one usually overlooks and understanding the spirit and principles behind a law. ‘As law professors, we must teach the students how to construct compelling arguments to support their views,’ he says.
But as he learned from his first experience acting as a defense attorney, having a silver tongue is not enough. That time, despite thorough preparation, he lost the case. In retrospect, he realised that representing a client in court is not the same as participating in a debate competition. So he often tells his students, ‘You don’t appear in court to show off your silver tongue. You are there to calmly present your arguments in a way that respects the audience, the opposing counsel, the judge, and both litigants.’
Improving Learning Outcomes by Simulating Real-life Scenarios
How to better prepare students for the competitive job market in Macao is an issue constantly on Prof Shui’s mind. As a programme coordinator, he not only adopts innovative teaching methods to liven up his classes, but also organises the College Court with one of the residential colleges at UM in order to extend teaching beyond the classroom.
The idea of the ‘College Court’ was inspired by a classroom survey. At the beginning of each semester, Prof Shui asks students to write down what they hope to learn from the course. One student wrote, ‘I hope to learn how to prevent others from falling asleep when discussing legal questions with them.’ This unexpected answer prompted Prof Shui to explore ways to improve learning outcomes by simulating real-life scenarios. That’s how the idea of the ‘College Court’ was born. It is an innovative attempt to simulate court proceedings to help students put what they learn into practice by role-playing as attorneys or judges.
In the last three ‘College Court’ sessions, students debated hot social issues, such as whether Uber should be legalised in Macao, how to prevent the tendency for public works projects in Macao to fall behind schedule, and whether Macao should institute rent control. Students from the RC and guests were invited to act as Macao residents to listen to the arguments of both sides. ‘The College Court was definitely an innovative attempt that allows law students to experience what it’s like to debate in court, and having lay people as the audience forces them to express complex legal concepts and articles in simple yet vivid language,’ says Prof Shui. ‘They must present compelling arguments to support their views. It helps them to cultivate the right legal perspectives and can serve as a “warm-up exercise” before graduation. ’
Preparing Students for Their Future Careers
Prof Shui continuously pursues innovation in his teaching. He enjoys interacting with students in class and adopts a question-oriented approach to help students improve their logical reasoning and critical thinking skills. In recognition of his outstanding performance in teaching, he received the Teaching Excellence Award at the university’s 2018 congregation.
Prof Shui appreciates the recognition of the award but understands that with recognition comes higher expectations. He believes educators should prepare the students for their future careers by teaching them the most important knowledge in a given discipline. He says, ‘For instance, when I teach contract law, I don’t just talk about things that interest me. I teach students what I think is the most important knowledge to make sure they won’t feel at a loss in their future careers. Secondly, I adjust my teaching methods according to the characteristics of different courses.’ Prof Shui considers critical thinking skills to be of extreme importance, so he designs his courses in such a way as to make sure that training of these skills is present throughout the teaching process.
‘It’s like leading students into a forest of knowledge and then leading them out. After we walk them through it once, they will know how to navigate it by themselves in the future without getting lost. They will know how to analyse and find the patterns behind legal relations and how to develop counter strategies,’ he says.
Developing Textbooks that Explain Complex Concepts in Simple Language
Currently, Prof Shui is writing a textbook on the civil law of Macao, which he hopes will help students learn the laws of Macao in a more systematic and precise manner. He has completed data collection. Next, he will analyse and interpret the data and select some for inclusion in the book. He hopes to produce a book that not only combines legal provisions, theories, and case studies, but also explains complex concepts in plain language so it can better serve the needs of Macao society.
Law is widely perceived as an instrument for resolving disputes and serving justice in society. While Prof Shui agrees with this view, he doesn’t think it completely captures the value of law. He points out that law can fulfill various other social functions, such as promoting economic growth and protecting the environment. Indeed, in a time where there are many interests to serve, legal professionals have a huge responsibility on their shoulders.
Using Big Data to Aid Teaching
The integration of the Greater Bay Area and the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) present both challenges and opportunities for legal education in Macao. Prof Shui predicts that AI technologies will promote the development of law, but he cautions against over-dependence on these technologies. ‘Just like Hawk-Eye Live cannot replace human umpires, big data and logic cannot replace human thinking and empathy,’ he says. ‘Only thinking beings are qualified to serve as the guardians of justice. AI and big data are indeed useful in analysing legal rules and regulations, so there is nothing wrong with using the latest technologies to study legal data, but at the same time law students must cultivate the ability to think independently with a question-oriented approach. The qualities that are essential for legal professionals, such as the ability to exercise sound judgement and broad-mindedness, can only be cultivated through critical thinking. This is the only way legal education in Macao can meet society’s needs in the new era.’