Golden eggs for legal eagles
Fuelled by a diverse and vibrant business environment, Hong Kong's status as the Asian financial hub and a conduit between the mainland and overseas business community has established the city as an attractive location for lawyers.
The demand for postgraduate law programmes offered by Hong Kong universities remains high as indicated, for example, by the number of applications to the programmes offered by the faculty of law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).
'Admittance to all our postgraduate programmes is highly competitive,' says Professor Lutz-Christian Wolff, associate dean and head of graduate studies at the CUHK faculty of law. 'The extraordinary increase in the number of applications to join our postgraduate programmes evidences the need for top quality legal education in the region.'
Wolff says the job prospects for qualified graduates are excellent. Research concurs. According to placement survey results covering students from the 2010-11 cohort, over 90 per cent have been employed by top law firms, leading sets of barrister's chambers, and by the Department of Justice.
Recruitment firms, including Hudson, report that demand for qualified corporate lawyers - with native Chinese and English skills - among major international and top-tier local firms remains very strong.
The CUHK law faculty offers five taught postgraduate programmes. These include a one-year full-time postgraduate certificate in laws (PCLL), designed for students who have completed a bachelor of laws or Juris Doctor degree (JD) - or equivalent law qualifications - and who wish to be admitted as a solicitor or barrister of the High Court of Hong Kong.
Legal candidates can also apply to join the JD, a 24-month full-time or 42-month part-time programme for graduates with bachelor's degrees in non-law disciplines. The qualification potentially leads to admission into the legal profession or assuming leadership roles in a variety of work sectors.
The faculty also offers a master's of laws in Chinese business law (CBL) - a one-year full-time or two-year part-time programme to study civil and commercial law in China, in the context of an evolving political, economic and social environment.
In addition, the faculty offers a master of laws in Common Law (LCL), consisting of a one-year full-time or two-year part-time programme designed, essentially, to gain a critical appreciation of the Common Law.
Those interested in a legal career can also study the master of laws in international economic law (IEL) - a one-year full-time or two-year part-time programme of study of the law and practice of cross-border business transactions.
Wolff says the structure and course offerings of all CUHK postgraduate law programmes are under constant review and revision, to ensure quality and to respond to market needs.
In the current academic year, the following new courses were offered for the first time: principles of construction law; theory and practice of preferential trade agreements; and principles and practice of international investment law.
Other postgraduate programmes offered by the CUHK faculty of law provide a large variety of special elective courses covering different areas of mainland Chinese law.
Professor Xi Chao, director of the master of law (LLM) in Chinese business law programme at CUHK's faculty of law, says the demand for international lawyers based on the mainland has been on the rise, as an increasing number of Chinese firms have been encouraged to pursue the 'going out' strategy and to make investments overseas.
'This presents new opportunities for Hong Kong legal professionals who are equipped with not only broad international vision and experience, but also deep local knowledge about the Chinese legal environment in which their clients operate,' says the professor.
Amanda Leung Shue-man, a student with the CUHK Chinese business law programme, says the learning experience was rewarding and enriching. 'It offered me the opportunity to learn from experienced practitioners in Chinese law,' she says.
Offering a similar opinion, fellow student Alvina Chan Yin-lam says the LLM in Chinese business law provides a comprehensive study of the legal system that underlies the conduct of business in China.
Acknowledging the career potential offered by the CBL programme, student Xiaolin Du says it helped her to gain a broader perspective of Chinese business law, which has made her more competitive in the job market.
Florence Ng, head of marketing at ipac Financial Services, is another professional looking to advance her career with a law degree. 'I was looking for a qualification to out-compete in the job market,' says Ng.
After completing her master's in marketing three years ago, Ng enrolled in a distance learning LLB awarded by the University of London international programme.
While it does not include lectures, students can opt to enrol in the preparatory courses offered by HKU SPACE or PolyU SPEED.
Meanwhile, CityU's master's of laws programme aims to provide an intensive study of issues and practices relating to Chinese and comparative law, international economic law, Common Law, and maritime and transportation law.
Building on its strong tradition of teaching and research, the Hong Kong University (HKU) also offers several postgraduate certificate and diploma law programmes. For example, the HKU PCLL programme is devoted to the training of lawyers intending to work in Hong Kong.
Its other offerings include the postgraduate diploma in commercial law, postgraduate diploma in the law of China, postgraduate diploma in public law, and postgraduate diploma in IT and intellectual property law.
Courses such as these meet the needs of the Hong Kong legal community for shorter postgraduate law courses that can lead to a qualification.