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Abstract

Over the last two decades, the legal profession in Ethiopia has changed fundamentally. The government has increased the number of law schools from one in 1993 to more than three dozen by 2021. It has introduced strict licensure rules to formalize and regulate legal services and, more recently, in 2022, it has proclaimed the creation of law firms and an independent bar association. The market for legal services has expanded, allowing lawyers to reach out to clients in the country’s peripheries and move onward to attract global clients. These changes are inextricably tied to global currents that have diffused Anglo-American influence on law and the legal professions across the world. In this paper, I consider China’s influence in Ethiopia’s fast- changing socio-legal landscape. While there is no doubt that Chinese finance and investment over the last two decades have shaped Ethiopia's infrastructure and manufacturing industries, commentators often say that China has neither the intention nor the capability to influence law and the legal profession. Nonetheless, this paper shows that a combined effect of the Ethiopian officials seeking Chinese capital and Chinese entrepreneurs seeking cheap land and labor through local law and lawyers has profoundly changed the profession. The economic nature of this change raises questions about our understanding of foreign influence in terms of colonial experience, which is characterized by a seemingly unified approach, or theory and intentionality by a Western government, to analyze Chinese influence in African law and legal professions.

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