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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 9:44am

Many graduates cannot practise law in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 12:06am

I am writing about a matter of public importance, which is also an issue of personal unease.

In Hong Kong, the only avenue to enter into the legal profession is through obtaining a PCLL (postgraduate certificate in laws).

There are only a limited number of places available in universities each year, and they are filled by students from Hong Kong and abroad. Therefore, many students who do well in their LLB (bachelor of laws) are prevented from entering the legal profession.

I became aware of this because my daughter, who obtained an LLB (upper second class honours), is facing this problem. Many law graduates from various institutions who obtain very good exam results and, by any objective standards, would have qualified to study for a PCLL, are held back due to the limited places available.

The number of PCLL places available is not based on the capacity of the students to enter the legal profession. Students are admitted until the very limited number of seats is filled; others are not able to qualify.

Students do not know the marks required to enter the PCLL programme as they change annually, and they have apparently been rising in recent years.

A related issue is whether sufficient places should be provided to students who are Hong Kong residents with good LLB results prior to admitting students from other places.

Students aiming for other professions, such as medicine, engineering, architecture and accountancy, don't face this problem. Law students do, due to the limited number of places for PCLL.

When the university authorities in Hong Kong recruit students for legal studies, they are fully aware that a significant number of those students will not be accepted for PCLL. Admitting many students for professional studies while the conditions do not exist for the pursuit of that profession is a serious issue, both in terms of the responsibility of the university authorities, as well as the public authorities that set or support such policies in Hong Kong.

The lack of sufficient places is simply a problem of administration.

The simple solution is to increase the number of places available, which necessarily would involve policy changes and educational funding priorities.

In some places, such as the UK and Australia, this is achieved by having more institutions provide the required courses or the current institutions offering more places.

Basil Fernando, Tai Wai


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PCC below is right. You see, Mr Fernando, what is a bug to you, me and many others, is a feature for others. For the chosen few, to be precise. How else can Hong Kong barristers afford their houses on The Peak and be some of the highest paid lawyers in the world? If we'd increase their supply, the price of their services might drop. And we wouldn't want that to happen, right?

It works the same for taxi licenses, private housing, commercial real estate, deposit-taking banks, frequency spectrum licenses, bus routes, electricity supply, international schools and so on. All classic rent-seeking behaviour with a increasingly deeply intertwined political-economic establishment putting their own pockets first and public interest second (or last).
It just illustrates how Hong Kong professionals hate competition. As with Supermarkets and property, a few hold all the cards. Similarly with Doctors and Lawyers, preventing others from joining them in order to protect their profession and their fees from competition. In any case a good grade does not make a good Lawyer or Doctor if they have no social skills and cannot communicate or argue a case.
I think a complete law degree should consist of LLB + PCLL or JD + PCLL. PCLL is part of the legal education. University should ensure there are sufficient places to cater the need for LLB and JD students, without further study the PCLL, it was like the degree is incomplete.
Whether graduates could secure a trainee contract is not a matter of concerns, the market would decide who gets it. eg. not all accountancy graduates could pass all the exams of professional bodies and qualified. C'est la vie. But we should not offer them an incomplete degree.
Yes, exams result usually serves as a clear indicator of student performance. But, does good GPA means good lawyer. University offers PCLL places even without an interview. Students with real interest to pursue legal career failed in application. Students without real interest got admitted.
Besides, a lot of well experienced legal professional or executives, they studied law on part-time basis, they do not have good GPA but they know law. They are excluded.
Who can improve the current system? Can it be like accountancy professional, after graduating, they can take the exams as they wish and get qualified. Instead of like law graduates, try their luck.
The author is clearly unaware of the super tough legal market currently law firms face. PCLL graduates these days may not be able to secure a trainee contract (international law firms or otherwise). Even if they are able get a trainee contract from an international law firm, when the market is down, their contracts can still be deferred for half or one whole year (i.e. being unemployed for half or one whole year). Business in law firms aren't very well in the past 1.5 years. Of course, it was worse after the Lehman meltdown. Firms are now limiting headcounts. And trainee solicitors are facing a dilemma that their salaries are at par with secretaries. For newly qualified lawyers, slightly better for most cases.
International law firms' business is now shared with the in-house lawyers when the legal budget is cut in MNCs. There're also other legal outsourcing services in HK. These companies outsource legal services (due diligence, discovery, intellectual property, etc.) to India or the US. (There are potential legal professional privilege issues by hiring these legal outsourcing services though. Most clients seem to be unaware of them. So caveat emptor.)
There should be no more increase in PCLL places. For LLB graduates, good luck. For people who're considering to enter law school, please do your research first before enrollment.
Recommended book:
The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis by Steven J. Harper (Apr 2, 2013)
(applies perfectly to Hong Kong)
Well, I did encounter the same problem, but for me, I dont think it is feasible to increase the number of places available in PCLL programme to let more students entering into legal profession. It is because there is a problem that many people are not aware of - currently, not evey PCLL graduate cant find a training contract in a law firm due to the limited number of vacancies available in law firms. If we decide to raise the number of places available in PCLL programme, it doesnt help the problem, because at the end of the day, there would only be more PCLL gradutes not being able to find a job in a law firm if we were so determined to increase PCLL places.
In addition, PCLL is so expensive, if places are increased to let more students in but job availability remains low , ultimately many people will pay for nothing.
HK is an economy controlled by cartels, duopolies and monopolies including the professions.
“The lack of sufficient places is
simply a problem of administration”
It’s for promoting oligarchic rent-seeking
and for protecting oligarchic “reputation”
more practicing licenses, more stupid instances
Perhaps there should be more PCLL positions, as long as they are not government financed. There is little point in increasing the funding of such legal education when there is already a surplus of qualified lawyers in Hong Kong.
Separately, some Hong Kong students go to the UK or Australia to become a qualified lawyer and then return to Hong Kong as a consultant. Once qualified in another common law jurisdiction, I believe you can then apply to write the exams in Hong Kong.
Yes I do share the views with you. For those people who are planning to do LLB must be aware of the current PCLL shortage situation. So, after all, if they still decide to go for it, they must bear the risk of not being accpeted by PCLL even if they can obtain the so-called 2:1. An I do think it is a fair game - the higher the marks a student get, the more likely he is accpeted by pcll. If not accepted, lets face the cruel reality as it is ''the law of the jungle''.


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