William Alford

Jerome A. and Joan L. Cohen Professor of Law; Director of East Asian Legal Studies Program


William P. Alford (安守廉) is a scholar of Chinese law and legal history. His books include To Steal a Book is an Elegant Offense: Intellectual Property Law in Chinese Civilization (Stanford University Press 1995), Raising the Bar: The Emerging Legal Profession in East Asia (Harvard East Asian Legal Studies 2007), 残疾人法律保障机制研究 (A Study of Legal Mechanisms to Protect Persons with Disabilities) (Huaxia Press 2008, with Wang Liming and Ma Yu’er), and Prospects for the Professions in China (Routledge 2011, with William Kirby and Kenneth Winston).

Professor Alford is the founding Chair of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability which provides pro bono services on issues of disability in China, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Vietnam and several other nations. He served from 2005 to 2014 on the board of directors of Special Olympics International (which serves individuals with intellectual disabilities in more than 180 nations) chairing its Research and Policy Committee and serving on its Executive Committee. In 2008, Special Olympics honored him for his work for persons with intellectual disabilities in China.

Professor Alford was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Geneva in 2010 and has been an honorary professor or fellow at Renmin University of China, Zhejiang University, the National College of Administration, and the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Science. In 2008, he was a finalist for the Law School’s Sacks-Freund Teaching Award. Among other honors are the inaugural O’Melveny & Myers Centennial Award, the Kluwer China Prize, the Qatar Pearls of Praise Award, an Abe (Japan) Fellowship, and endowed lectureships at several institutions, including Bryn Mawr College, Cornell Law School, Smith College, Trinity College, the University of Iowa, and the University of London. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Committee on US-China relations, he serves on university advisory boards and the editorial boards of learned journals in several jurisdictions.

At Harvard, Professor Alford has played a central role in formulating and then implementing the most substantial changes in the Law School’s curriculum in over a century, including the (well-received) requirement that all first year JD students take one of a set of specially devised international legal studies courses. During his time as Vice Dean, the Law School concluded its first linkages with foreign universities, made it possible for hundreds of students to study and work abroad, and expanded its graduate programs (especially for international students) while maintaining its policy of need-blind admission and need-based financial aid. He also chairs the nation’s oldest, largest and most comprehensive program concerning law in East Asia.

Professor Alford has served as a consultant to the U.S. government, the World Bank, the Ford Foundation, foreign governments, law firms, nongovernmental organizations, and corporations, and has been a dispute resolution panelist under the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement. He has met with current and previous presidents of China and Taiwan, and is one of a small number of foreign law specialists to have delivered an address at the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party.

Research Interests: Law; legal history; international law; Chinese legal history; disability

Selected Publications


  • Prospects for the Professions in China (William P. Alford, Kenneth Winston & William C. Kirby eds., Routledge 2011).
  • 残疾人法律保障机制研究 [A Study of Legal Mechanisms to Protect Persons with Disabilities] (Huaxia Press 2008, with Wang Liming and Ma Yu’er).
  • Raising the Bar: The Emerging Legal Profession in East Asia (Harvard East Asian Legal Studies 2007).
  • William P. Alford, To Steal a Book Is an Elegant Offense: Intellectual Property Law in Chinese Civilization (Stanford Univ. Press 1995).

Recent Articles and Chapters

  • William Alford, A Book Review of Legal Thoughts between the East and the West in the Multilevel Legal Order: A Liber Amicorum in Honour of Professor Herbert Han-Pao Ma (Chang-Fa Lo, Nigel Li & Tsai-Yu Lin eds., 2016), 12 Asian J. WTO & Int’l Health L. & Pol’y 201 (2017).
  • William P. Alford, Foreword, in Ideological Conflict and the Rule of Law in Contemporary China (Samuli Seppänen, Cambridge Univ. Press 2016).
  • William P. Alford, Editor’s Note, FOCUS: Disability Rights in China and in the World, 11 Frontiers of Law in China 1 (2016).
  • William P. Alford, Book Review: Yves Dezalay & Bryant G. Garth, Asian Legal Revivals: Lawyers in the Shadow of Empire (2010), 63 U. Toronto L.J. 671 (2013).
  • Michael Waibel & William Alford, Technology Transfer, in 9 The Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law 801 (Rüdiger Wolfrum ed., 2012).
  • William P. Alford & Yuanyuan Shen, “Have You Eaten, Have You Divorced? Debating the Meaning of Freedom in Marriage in China,” in Realms of Freedom in Modern China 234 (William C. Kirby ed., 2004).