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Judges and clerks opt for new roles as lawyers

By Yu Ran in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-30 07:15

Judges and court clerks in a city in Zhejiang province are giving up their secure posts to become lawyers.

A lack of career opportunities is behind the surprising move, said legal figures in Wenzhou.

"Although working in the court is a stable job with a regular salary, it offers few chances for promotion in the system, as vacancies only come up when a senior officer retires," said attorney Ren Dingguo at the Zhejiang Zeshang Law Firm.

Ren knows the situation exactly. He worked at the city's Ouhai District People's Court for nearly a decade before leaving to work as a lawyer.

A law graduate of Tsinghua University in 1999, Ren became a clerk after passing the court's entrance exam.

"I always dreamed of being a judge, to dispense justice, so I applied for a position in the court instead of becoming a lawyer after graduating from law school," he said.

Ren said every new recruit had to start with a low income for the first two to three years.

After working at the court for more than 10 years, he said he could not see the career path that would guide him to becoming a judge. He decided to leave.

"As I wasn't recruited as a civil servant at the beginning, I wasn't allowed to become a judge," Ren said. He held the position of office director, "but that wasn't the job I wanted."

In 2011, Ren quit and became a lawyer in civil and commercial law.

"About 30 people have left jobs with the court in the past three years. There has been a gradual increase."

There are also judges who left secure positions because of the high pressure, which has worsened in recent years due to increased caseloads.

"My work was exhausting," said Shi Shengke, a partner in Zhejiang Hengke Law Firm and a former judge at Wenzhou Intermediate People's Court.

"I was handling at least two cases at a time, especially after the financial crisis in late 2010."

The average number of financial cases handled by a judge in Wenzhou last year was 227, the highest in Zhejiang, according to the intermediate people's court.

"My work is not so stressful now, and I'm able to make good use of my working time to deal with the number of cases I can handle in an agreed timeframe," Shi said.

He added that his work experience in the court can be an advantage for a lawyer, as they know better how judges think and what kind of decisions they will make.

While some are leaving jobs with the courts, others are eager to get in, especially young graduates.

"The court experiences frequent staff changes, mainly in basic posts, as people moving to pursue better incomes to support their families mean there are openings," said Chen Tingyao, a retired chief judge with the Wenzhou Intermediate People's Court.

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