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