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Law & Legal Studies


Essential information for law students Top legal studies courses in the region Latest trends in the legal profession


Law & Legal Studies 2014



- A briefing on Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (PCLL) programmes



- Pursuing a legal career in the mainland: opportunities and challenges


Extra Learning

- Top three ways to invest your time outside law school









- Law-related professions for non-lawyers





- Where your law degree can lead

- Consider law school carefully Law & Legal Studies 2014 is published by Education Post, South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Cover image: iStockphoto

Law & Legal Studies 2014


Introduction Photo: AP

A briefing on Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (PCLL) programmes - Heather McKenzie


ince 1972, in order to practise law as a solicitor or barrister in Hong Kong, students have been required to complete the Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (PCLL) after graduating with a bachelor of laws degree. This programme is offered locally at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), the City University of Hong Kong (CityU), and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). The PCLL is generally a full-time one-year course, but is also available for a part-time two-year study. The curriculum is designed to give students the practical legal skills they will need to work as solicitors or barristers. The three PCLL programmes taught in Hong Kong cover similar ground, but with some variations. For example, at CUHK the PCLL is offered only as a one-year programme and includes five required core courses. These deal with professional and commercial practice, property and probate practice, and both civil and criminal litigation. Students must also select five from nine electives which focus on pertinent areas such as writing and drafting specific documents, corporate and lending finance law, dispute resolution, and trial advocacy. HKU has a one-year full-time programme and a two-year part-time option. Each entails four core courses, covering civil and criminal litigation, as well as corporate, commercial, and property transactions. Students then pick three electives from the 12 on offer. The topics cover practice areas similar to those at


Law & Legal Studies 2014

CUHK, but also include matrimonial procedure, wills, trusts, estate planning, and personal injury litigation. An additional required class focuses on professional practice. At CityU, the PCLL is a one-year full-time programme with more mandated course work and less flexibility of choice than the other two universities. The mode of learning is described as experiential and interactive. In addition to classroom lectures, students also take part in simulations, demonstrations, and field trips. Those accepted complete 12 core courses in areas covered and then choose two from six electives. The possibilities include mainland transactions, international arbitration, and family law. The PCLL offers essential knowledge for the successful practice of law in Hong Kong, but can also restrict the scope for those completing their first degree. Each of the universities has a limit on the number of students they accept into for the PCLL and entry criteria are strict. According to recent figures, CityU alone received 700 applications for the 2012-13 academic year and offered just 160 places. A percentage of those went to international applicants. Many students choose to apply to all three universities to increase their chances, but all realise that having stellar undergraduate grades is the best guarantee for successful admission.

Law Programmes HKU SPACE has offered part-time Law programmes since it was established as the extension arm of the University of Hong Kong. The programmes are offered at all levels from introductory to professional and post-graduate and are mostly run on a part-time basis with classes being held in the evenings and weekends. Our students have a wide range of existing qualifications and experience, are typically in employment and are studying Law for a variety of reasons, from general interest, to learning Law to help in existing employment or to improve promotion prospects as well as to pursue a new legal career.

Applicants can choose the level of study which best suits their needs and interests. The major programmes offered:

Certificate in Legal Studies Diploma in Legal Studies Whether you want to learn some law to help you in your existing job, or to start on a new legal career, the Certificate and Diploma in Legal Studies programme is the most popular starting point to studying law in Hong Kong. Enrolment is now open on a first-come-first-served basis for the Main Intake of the Professional Stream with classes starting on September 23, 2014 and the General Stream with classes starting on October 14, 2014. Courses are offered subject to revalidation for the 2014-15 academic year. See

Bachelor of Laws (LLB) Preparation Courses * University of London

This part-time programme provides tuition for students taking the University of London LLB examinations but is also open to other applicants. The programme will open for enrolment in March. See


HKUSPACE/Manchester Metropolitan University * “An efficient and affordable step towards legal qualification� The CPE (Common Professional Examination) is a set of examinations which are specifically designed for non-law graduates wishing to convert, speedily, to a legal career. Those wishing to practise law in Hong Kong may complete one further year, leading to an MMU law degree (LLB), after which they are fully eligible to apply for PCLL in Hong Kong. The programme will open for enrolment in April. See

Preparatory Courses for PCLL Admission Conversion Examination Holders of non-local Common Law degrees have to pass the core and/ or top-up subjects in the PCLL Conversion Exam, depending on their degree curricula, before they are eligible for the local PCLL programmes application. Although course attendance is not an exam requirement, HKU SPACE preparatory courses are offered for those intending to take the Conversion Exam. The courses are normally offered three times every year in April to May, July to September and November to December. Enrolment is on a first-come-first-served basis. See

2520-4665 This programme has been included in the list of reimbursable courses for Continuing Education Fund purposes.


These are exempted courses under the Non-Local Higher and Professional Education (Regulation) Ordinance. It is a matter of discretion for individual employers to recognise any qualificaion to which this course may lead. HKU SPACE is a non-profit making University Company Limited by Guarantee

Trends Photo: Reuters

Pursuing a legal career in the mainland: opportunities and challenges - Freda Wan


olstered by rising economic and social interaction between Hong Kong and mainland China, aspiring lawyers from the territory are beginning to discover the option of pursuing their legal careers there. As of the end of 2013, Hong Kong law firms have set up more than 100 representative offices in the mainland, 20 of which are in Guangdong province, according to the Trade Development Council. The business and personal lives of the 370,000 Hong Kong permanent residents living long-term in the mainland also generate strong demand for legal services from professionals who understand the laws of both jurisdictions. Recognising the market demand for qualifications in mainland law, Shue Yan University will offer a part-time Bachelor of Law (LLB) programme from the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL), taught in Hong Kong. This will be the only LLB in Hong Kong awarded by a mainland university. Taught in Chinese, with lectures in Putonghua, the programme content will be identical to


Law & Legal Studies 2014

the bachelor’s degree offered to full-time students at CUPL, one of the top-ranked law schools in the mainland. This latest addition to Shue Yan University's offerings will compete indirectly with the various master’s-level law degrees focused on mainland law. Such degrees are currently offered by the University of Hong Kong, Chinese University of Hong Kong, City University of Hong Kong, the Open University of Hong Kong, as well as from the mainland’s Renmin University and Jinan University. Brendan Lam Hing-chau, a lecturer at Shue Yan University, knows first-hand the value of a CUPL bachelor of law degree. He graduated from there in 2008, and was among the first batch of Hong Kong students entering the university to study full-time. As Hong Kong is a hub of legal and professional services, knowledge of mainland law is in demand here, he says. “There is a saying: 'Based in Hong Kong, we look north and see opportunities in China. We look further and see

Trends has been relatively small, at 100 to 160 candidates each year from 2008 to 2013. Lam suggests that language skills could be the key stumbling block for Hongkongers aspiring to be lawyers in the mainland. “The biggest challenge would be to become truly biliterate and trilingual,” he said. “Lawyers must master written Chinese at a very high level. The employer would also expect superb English. Hong Kong students must ask themselves whether they are up to the task.” Elsa Kong Suet-yi, a fourth-year undergraduate at Shue Yan University who interned at Guangzhou Geenan Law Office last summer, echoes Lam's concerns about language skills. “From the first day of my internship, I had to read whole folders of case files all written in formal Chinese,” she says. “I had to adapt.” Evidently, Kong did adapt. After her one-month internship, she was invited to join the firm after she graduates, and if she passes the judicial exam. “Eventually I'm likely to have a career that involves Chinese law, though right now I am weighing my options,” she says. For students of the upcoming CUPL Bachelor of Law, internships and study tours will be optional. The two-year programme is a second degree, requiring students to have already attained a bachelor’s degree in any field.

opportunities around the world,' ” he says. “It sounds like a cliché, but it is true.” Lam also knows the challenges that lie ahead for Hongkongers who wish to pursue a legal career in the mainland.

“Prospective students who have made inquiries so far range from practising lawyers, to business owners, to fresh graduates,” says Daisy Ching Chiu-ping, programme assistant at the Department of Law and Business at Shue Yan University. “If there are students who want a career move into law in China, we can provide guidance on that.”

“CUPL graduates have a very high pass rate in the national judicial examination, so that's not the biggest challenge,” he said. Passing the national judicial exam is mandatory before anyone can complete a one-year internship at a mainland law firm and become a licensed practising lawyer. The exam is highly competitive, with a pass rate of roughly 10 per cent nationwide. In theory, since 2004 under the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), Hong Kong permanent residents who have graduated with a university degree in any field are generally eligible to sit the national judicial exam. In practice, however, there are very few courses available in Hong Kong to prepare candidates for this exam. The number of candidates sitting the exam in Hong Kong

(From left) Daisy Ching, Elsa Kong, and Brendan Lam. Law & Legal Studies 2014


Extra Learning Photos: Reuters

Top three ways to invest your time outside law school - Heather McKenzie


aw school is known for the rigorous lifestyle it requires of students, and free time is usually very limited. In the 2010 Law School Survey of Student Engagement, which included feedback from 77 schools in the United States, students reported that extracurricular activities helped them acquire a broader education, including job-related knowledge and skills. Such activities also enhanced their ability to work effectively with others and develop a better understanding of themselves, their personal values and ethics. Here are three meaningful options to consider. A law review is a scholarly publication covering legal topics, prepared and edited by students. The articles often represent the viewpoints of legal experts and are influential in the development or interpretation of laws. Students are invited to participate, based on earning excellent grades in their first year or after submitting sample articles to show their writing skills. Membership of the school’s law review board is considered an honour and can be a key step for those hoping for a job with a top firm. Most major US law schools publish a


Law & Legal Studies 2014

law review bearing the school’s name, though the practice is not as common in European and Asian schools. Quite often, schools have more than one student-edited publication and all will offer great experience and the chance to enhance skills.

pro bono “ Doing work allows

students to provide legal help and advice for real people

Extra Learning clinics to provide legal services for the community. Licensed attorneys may supervise work on courtroom cases and students may have the opportunity to conduct mediation to assist clients in resolving concerns without going to court. There are also plenty of other ways to gain valuable experience while studying. These include clerkships or internships working alongside an attorney or judge and joining legal fraternities focused on networking, community volunteering and social events. You can also get involved with the Student Bar Association, the student government body which influences changes in school policies and sponsors social events. Get involved outside law school, but be careful to limit participation during your first year while still learning how to manage your time well.

“Work hard, play harder� is not only important in the business world but also in study life. And in some cases, students find themselves gaining even more knowledge and skills in extracurricular activities.

Another option is mooting, or moot court, which simulates what happens in a courtroom and is perhaps the most effective way to practise appellate law. In a two- or three- person team, students compete against other teams in arguing mock cases before a judge. The goal is to convince the judge to rule in your favour. It requires the same type of research, preparation, rehearsal, use of proper language, and presentation structure that actual lawyers use when preparing for and arguing a case. Many schools require students to participate in mooting and they may have both trial and appellate teams focusing, for example, on criminal, environmental or civil law. Competitions take place between schools and there are national, and even international events. In addition, doing pro bono work allows students to provide legal help and advice for real people. Universities often partner with charitable organisations to provide free or low-cost legal support and guidance for people who are underprivileged or otherwise need assistance. Some schools even have their own law

Providing free legal support to the needy is good for society. Law & Legal Studies 2014


Career Photo: Getty Images

Law-related professions for non-lawyers - Assiye Keskin


lly McBeal has a lot to answer for. So have Legally Blonde, Law and Order, and all the other Hollywood movies and TV shows featuring glamorous lawyers in designer suits, defending civil rights and upholding the law. These Hollywood lawyers make it look easy to save the world and have inspired some young people to follow suit. In reality, though, becoming a lawyer is expensive and competitive, and the process is long and challenging. Fortunately, there are many interesting and rewarding legal careers which don’t always require a qualification as a lawyer. Paralegals or legal assistants are an important feature of most law firms and have many opportunities for career development. Since solicitors usually have heavy workloads, paralegals step in to assist with a wide range of tasks, especially case research. Working in top firms, paralegals can earn high salaries in line with their overall responsibilities. Court reporters or stenographers record court testimony, speeches, statements, and legal


Law & Legal Studies 2014

proceedings. They use machine shorthand or other equipment to produce official transcripts of court proceedings. They are employed by private law firms, government agencies, courts, and other organisations. Court reporters are now in high demand as fewer people are entering the profession, creating a shortage which results in higher salaries.

There are many interesting and rewarding legal careers which don’t always require a qualification as a lawyer

Career In addition, mediators are part of the field of alternative dispute resolution, which is quickly gaining wider acceptance. Technology and the digital age are bringing change to the legal profession, creating new positions and opportunities to meet a growing demand for a variety of legal services. For those interested in the law, but not necessarily in practising as a lawyer, the current job market offers a range of well-paid and rewarding careers.

A law degree leads to a promising career, inside or outside the legal sector.

E-discovery is a relatively new area of expertise in the legal profession. It involves uncovering relevant records and information to put forward as evidence for litigation. In addition, it can entail the preservation and management of electronically stored information for legal purposes. This area is expanding rapidly, creating a growing job market for digitally savvy professionals. Legal secretaries provide essential administrative services in law firms and corporate legal departments. In the past, such roles consisted mainly of typing up documents and answering phones, but the modern-day legal secretary has many more responsibilities which can include drafting legal documents and managing client relationships. Mediators or arbitrators act as the facilitator to settle legal disputes outside the courtroom. With litigation usually costing businesses and individuals a lot of time and money, more people are now turning to mediators to resolve disputes.

Law & Legal Studies 2014


Prospects Photo: Reuters

Where your law degree can lead - Heather McKenzie


arning a law degree is a lengthy and difficult journey. Therefore, it is important to give careful thought to specific career interests, prospects and realistic options before starting at law school. In doing this, remember that there are a variety of careers with a legal focus, but also interesting opportunities for law professionals beyond the more usual areas. On hearing the term lawyer, many people, especially in the United States, envision a courtroom attorney making a dramatic speech before a judge or jury. However, most legal work takes place in an office where attorneys research case law, write briefs, or meet with clients. Lawyers in private practice often specialise in areas such as tax or real estate law, or legal issues related to financial matters. Alternatively, they may focus on criminal defence law, family or international law, or government-related issues. These can include government contracts, trade laws, or perhaps advising on health, environmental, and communication matters. Companies, consulting firms, newspapers, universities, foundations, advocacy groups and numerous other institutions also hire or employ in-house lawyers. In the US, additional career options for law professionals include federal, state, or local government jobs. In such positions, lawyers handle a range of civil and criminal matters, ranging from tax evasion to civil rights law. The state and local levels also offer roles for public defenders and district attorneys to handle litigation on behalf of local government. This may involve defending government agencies, policies, and


Law & Legal Studies 2014

officials. Those who opt to practise in the non-profit sector may act as advocates for human rights or represent low-income families. They may also address issues related to housing, immigration, access to government benefits, fair employment practices, and domestic violence. Aside from directly practising law, individuals with the necessary inclination and qualifications can also become judges, legal academics, politicians, policymakers, and diplomats. Education and training as a lawyer can even lead to jobs in quite distinct areas such as journalism and broadcasting or in real estate development. The legal profession can also open a route into the creative arts, as writers such as John Grisham and David E. Kelly have shown. They, no doubt, honed valuable communication and critical thinking skills in law school, as have others who later went into fields such as conflict resolution, mediation, counselling, banking, politics, and public interest advocacy. The practice of law is a diverse field with ample opportunities both in and outside the profession. However, since law school is a huge commitment in terms of time and money, it is advisable to talk to several practising attorneys before taking the plunge. It makes sense to ask about the nature of their daily work, job satisfaction, and work-life balance. And while going into a typical law practice may not be appealing, a law degree can still open doors to a different kind of career that is right for you.

Choice Photo: iStockphoto

Consider law school carefully - Donna Lin Niles


t first glance, it seems like a “no-brainer”: attend law school, secure a six-figure salary as an associate, pay off those student loans, become a partner, and retire early. But you should also remember the saying that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Recent trends reveal that might really be the case when it comes to a law degree. So, it pays to really know if law school is - or isn’t - the right move for you.

challenge of working through complex situations and have always been fascinated by legal loopholes. In that case, law school may still be the right choice for you, no matter what the cost or prospects for future compensation. However, the law school experience is so intense that there are times when almost everyone questions their decision and career choice. Keeping focused on your ultimate goal helps to ensure that you stay on track.

There are several ways to approach this major life decision. Ultimately though, you have to do what will best help you achieve long-term career goals. Here’s what to bear in mind when considering law school.

are look“ Ifingyou to become

If you are looking to become a lawyer because you want to make a lot of money, stop. The days of cushy signing-on bonuses and plenty of associate positions at law firms have come to an end. Top firms are recruiting top students from top schools. Consider this fact: only eight per cent of 2011 law school graduates in the US went on to work for firms which employ 250 or more attorneys. With so much competition for associate positions, it is an employer’s market, making it that much more difficult for the average law graduate to secure a high-paying first job. Also, if you are desperately afraid of debt, stop. The average law school graduate is US$80,081 in debt as a result of his or her education. If you include undergraduate studies too, that figure increases to US$92,937. It is no surprise that law school is expensive, but the general perception has long been it is an investment which pays off. However, with average starting salaries declining over the years, there is an impact on the return on investment. On top of tuition and living costs to foot over three years, law textbooks don’t come cheap either. Your reasons for becoming a lawyer may be altruistic in order to help others navigate a complicated system by practising non-profit law. Or, you may enjoy the


Law & Legal Studies 2014

a lawyer because you want to make lot of money, stop

The employment landscape for lawyers has certainly changed a great deal over the past few years and new developments will continue to affect how and why students choose to enrol in law school. Depending on individual career goals, attending law school may or may not be the best move. Assessing your true aspirations, and measuring those against the realities of the employment market, should ensure you make the right decision.

Law & Legal studies 2014