Law Society of Hong Kong launches law tech fund

In light of the ongoing uncertainty and the potential for change in how court hearings may be undertaken in the future, the Law Society of Hong Kong has lobbied for assistance to be provided to practitioners who may not have access to the technological tools required to conduct remote hearings or transactions.

On 8 April, the Government announced the proposed establishment of a LAWTECH Fund (“LTF”). On 18 April, the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council approved reserving HK$35 million for the LTF to assist law firms and barristers’ chambers with five or fewer practising lawyers to procure or upgrade their information technology systems and arrange relevant lawtech training for their staff.

See the full information on the fund.

Read more about the webinars.

 

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Hong Kong Bar Association questions legality of Beijing’s national security law

On the 25th May, the Hong Kong Bar association released a statement saying that Beijing and the National People’s Congress do not have the legal power to enact new national security laws which are currently being drafted. The Bar Association have pointed out that Article 22 of the Basic Law of Hong Kong, makes it clear that the matters covered by the national security law are solely within Hong Kong’s jurisdiction, meaning that under the principle of ‘one country two systems’, Beijing is not able to legislate on the issues.

The National People’s Congress last week unveiled a resolution to “prevent, frustrate and punish” threats to national security by outlawing acts of secession, subversion, foreign interference and terrorism, completely circumnavigating any Hong Kong legislative bodies, which many critics have suggested is simply an effort by Beijing to curtail rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.

The full statement by the Bar Association is available here.

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More regulatory responses to COVID-19

Following on from last month’s newsletter, we’ve put together the following list to examine different regulator responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here it is interesting to note the development and changes, as regulators begin to get a grasp on the crisis and develop innovative responses to meet the changing environment. If you have any questions or best practice for the rest of the ICLR community, please do get in touch, and we will be happy to include any of these in the next newsletter.

Illinois has introduced executive order 2020-14, this satisfies notarial requirements that a person must “appear before” a notary public if a two-way audio-video connection is used. It also allows documents to be witnessed through the same technology.


The Law Society of New South Wales has decided to run it’s annual Law Careers Fair as an online event, rather than cancelling it. The event will use zoom to create virtual presentations, with individual video booths and company landing pages replacing exhibitor booths. More information about the event is available here. The Society has also decided to reduce its $410 membership fee to $10, for the 2020-2021 period, allowing members to redirect funds to priority areas during the crisis.


The Law Society of Hong Kong has announced that civil hearing will take place remotely, with all other non-essential court hearings currently adjourned.


The Legal Sector Affinity Group which is made up of all the legal supervisory authorities in the UK, including the Law Society, Bar Council, CILEx, and the Law Society of Scotland, has released an advisory note on preventing money laundering during the crisis. The note discussed the increased risk of money laundering at the current time and what checks can be put in place to mitigate this.


The Council for Licensed Conveyancers in England and Wales is to allow members to defer fee payments, following the near-complete standstill in the UK property market. Members will be given the option to defer paying their practice fee and compensation fund contributions for April, May and June, which can be paid off over the following 4-12 months.


The California State Bar Board of Trustees has written to the California Supreme Court offering options and recommendations for the June First-Year Law Students’ Exam and the July Bar Exam. Full letter available here. Whilst the State Bar of Califonia has put in place emergency measures waiving late payment fees, as well as extending payment deadlines for membership fees and compliance deadlines.


The Law Society of Ontario has cancelled the lawyer licensing examinations and the call to the bar ceremonies due to take place in June. The society has said that alternative summer/autumn examination dates are being explored and that the administrative aspect of the call to the bar process is being undertaken remotely, allowing students to progress with their careers, with a celebration planned later in the year.


The Law Society of Saskatchewan and the Law Society of Alberta have temporarily reduced the articling requirements to a minimum of 8 months, instead of the previous minimum of 12 months, preventing a backlog of articling students due to limits created by coronavirus. Full statements available here and here. The Law Society of Alberta has also introduced changes allowing articling students to work remotely, as well as giving instructions on the supervision students doing this.


The American Bar Association has created a “Task Force on Legal Needs Arising Out of the 2020 Pandemic”, which launched a website on the 3rd of April to provide resources and information on the ongoing crisis and how this relates to the law. Statement available here, website available here. The ABA has also backed calls to adopt emergency rules that would allow recent and upcoming law school graduates who cannot take a bar exam because of the COVID-19 pandemic to engage in the limited practice of law, under the supervision of a licensed attorney, these individuals would have until the end of 2021 to practice without passing the bar exam. They hope this would limit the disruption to students careers, and help prevent the widening of the access to justice gap.  Full statement available here.

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Outcome of Hong Kong foreign lawyers consultation

The Law Society of Hong Kong has been considering changes to their foreign lawyer practising rules for the past three years.  The principal proposed changes were as follows:

  • Amendments to Rule 12(1) to clarify that a foreign lawyer may only provide a legal service which relates to the law(s) of the jurisdiction(s) stated on a certificate of registration issued by the Law Society
  • Changes to Rule 12(2) to clarify the circumstances in which a foreign lawyer may be involved in the process of disseminating advice concerning Hong Kong law given by a practising solicitor
  • A proposal which would require international firms practising in Hong Kong to hire two domestic lawyers for each foreign lawyer, double the current quota
  • A change of the period from three to five years required of a foreign firm to be established in Hong Kong prior to being entitled to convert to a Hong Kong firm
  • An increase in Foreign Lawyers Registration Fees, which have remained unchanged for twenty years.

The outcome of the consultation is to proceed with the amendment exercise on the Foreign Lawyers Registration (Fees) Rules, however the Law Society Council decided against pursuing the other legislative proposals as there were concerns that doing so could adversely impact the development of the legal services market in Hong Kong.

Read more…

 

 

 

 

 

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Enforcing legal conduct to protect quality of legal services

Enforcement of professional codes and laws of conduct is a critical facet of legal regulation. Lawyer misconduct can have severe ramifications for consumers and the wider legal services market, eroding the reputation of the industry and jurisdiction. However, the processes and protocols for reporting misconduct by a legal service provider is often difficult or lengthy leading many to abandon the process.

The various reasons for inconsistency in reporting lawyers’ misconduct during litigation proceedings—and the extent to which it should be considered an actual inadequacy and a problem calling for a rule-based solution—have been the subject of active scholarly discussion and debate. One contributing factor may be the inherent inefficiencies involved with the current reporting system, which can be substantially mitigated through the effective use of electronic database technology. The successful experience with electronic filing and records in some United States court systems creates an opportunity for courts to extend these technological breakthroughs to provide logistical support to a much improved system for judicial reporting of lawyer misconduct. The creation of state and federal electronic databases accessible to and searchable by state disciplinary agencies would undoubtedly enrich the quality of enforcement in contributing jurisdictions, but expanding such a system to become accessible and searchable for the public would contribute to broader transparency and accountability. We have seen broader integration of technologies in other areas of legal services provision and regulation worldwide, so integrating such technologies into how consumers or other legal professions report misconduct seems a logical next step.

There is another component to enforcement of standards: the people who come forward and report misconduct. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has updated its Enforcement Strategy, which explains when and how it would take action against a law firm or solicitor. Within this strategy, the regulator has published proposed changes to the wording of its rules regarding when firms should report cases of potential misconduct to the regulator, as it became apparent that law firms were interpreting the existing rules in different ways. The updated rules emphasise that nobody should face detrimental treatment for making, or proposing to make, a report, following from feedback around concerns that individuals reporting potential misconduct may be victimised. Similar steps have been taken in the Australian system, which has recently taken a tougher stand in relation to reporting misconduct and the #MeToo movement. Such a proactive approach to regulating attorneys in Australia is used as a springboard to discussing the role of proactive regulation of lawyers in advancing public protection.

Of equal importance is that regulators and enforcement bodies remain open to circumstance. In Hong Kong, the Bar recently completed a ruling on aspects of the meaning of “fit and proper”. The case of Re A is a rare example of a barrister’s contested application for admission to the Bar pursuant to s. 27(1) of the Legal Practitioners Ordinance (Cap. 159). The application was dismissed at first instance due to a ruling that the applicant did not meet with standards of “fit and proper” due to a conviction of a criminal offence resulting in a custodial sentence. However, following an appeal, the Court of Appeal taking a more holistic “multi-faceted” approach, allowed the application for admission. In the process, the Court gave general guidance for determining whether (among other things) an applicant with a criminal conviction can demonstrate on the facts that he or she is fit and proper to be admitted to the Bar.

 

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Reform in Legal Education and Training in Hong Kong

In the article which follows, Heidi Chu, Secretary General of The Law Society of Hong Kong kindly provides us with an overview of the ‘state of play’ of legal education and training reform in Hong Kong.

The present system of legal education and training in Hong Kong involves three stages, namely:

  • an academic stage (a qualifying law degree e.g. Bachelor of Laws “LLB” or Juris Doctor “JD”);
  • a vocational course (i.e. the Postgraduate Course of Laws (“PCLL”));
  • a workplace apprenticeship (i.e. a two year training contract with a law firm for intending solicitors or a one year pupilage at a barrister’s chambers for intending barristers).

The completion of the PCLL is a pre-requisite to entering into a trainee solicitor contract for intending solicitors. The PCLL is defined under the statute as the course provided by three specified universities (“PCLL providers”). The PCLL providers currently enjoy self accreditation status and are empowered to set their own admission criteria and conduct and mark their own examinations, subject to the PCLL benchmarks issued by the Law Society. The PCLL providers have thus become the gatekeepers to the legal profession upon both entry and exit of the PCLL, which is the entry point to the traineeship leading to admission as a solicitor.

In view of the changes that had taken place over the years including the increase in the number of PCLL providers, the varying qualifications of PCLL applicants, the widening of the scope of services provided by solicitors and the growing number of foreign lawyers in Hong Kong, the Law Society considered it important to ensure consistency in the assessments and standards of entrants to the solicitors’ profession. The Law Society has therefore proposed to introduce in 2021 a common entrance examination (“CEE”) in the format of centralised assessments for law graduates to qualify as solicitors in Hong Kong. This proposal will not affect those intending to become barristers in Hong Kong as the proposal is not to abolish the PCLL. The Law Society is finalising the details of the proposed CEE.

On the other hand, the Standing Committee on Legal Education and Training, which is a statutory committee set up to oversee legal education and training in Hong Kong, has commissioned a comprehensive review on the legal education and training area with a view to enhancing professional standards in the legal sector as a whole. The review is still on-going and a report is expected by the end of 2017.

Contributed by: Heidi Chu, Secretary General, Law Society of Hong Kong

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80% of major jurisdictions use central qualifying assessment

In an international benchmarking exercise, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in England and Wales finds that almost 80% of the jurisdictions surveyed have a common assessment as part of lawyer qualification.

Press release on SRA website

Report on SRA website

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Hong Kong Law Society to introduce common entrance exam

Hong Kong Law Society has proposed that from 2021 onwards, lawyers in Hong Kong will be required to sit and pass a ‘Common Entrance Examination’ in order to enter a trainee solicitor contract.  The exam will be set and marked by the society itself, and is designed to standardise testing across Hong Kong’s three law schools.

Currently, prospective solicitors must graduate from an LLB or JD programme in Hong Kong or another common law jurisdictions, then complete the Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (at one of three universities) and pass the internal examination set by schools before becoming a trainee solicitor.

According to the future scheme, “a person may only enter into a trainee solicitor contract if that person has passed a Common Entrance Examination.”  Under this system, students will have to complete the PCLL course but will not be required to take the examination set by PCLL providers, which will be replaced by the single unified test.

Read in full the Hong Kong Law Society’s press release and response to Hong Kong University and HK Bar Association.

 

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