LAW REFORM

Law Society pushes ahead with unified solicitors’ exam from 2021

Legal figures criticise move for pre-empting ongoing government review of legal training

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 January, 2016, 10:56pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 January, 2016, 1:14pm

The Law Society has pushed ahead with a controversial plan for a unified qualifying exam for solicitors in 2021, drawing criticism for bypassing an ongoing comprehensive government review of legal training in the city.

The move also raised doubts over whether it is a step closer to abolishing existing assessments by the city’s three law schools, with the top law school arguing abolition could have “serious implications” for legal standards.

The society on Wednesday said its council had decided solicitors would have to pass a “Common Entrance Examination”, set and marked by the society itself, in order to enter a trainee solicitor contract, starting from 2021.

Referring to the PCLL (postgraduate certificate in laws) programme, which is the current requirement for entering the trade and run by the law schools, the society said it would require “certified completion” of that course - but passing its examination would no longer be needed.

“The Law Society will review the prerequisites for taking the Common Entrance Exam periodically,” it added. Details of the exam would be announced in due course, it said.

Simon Young, acting law dean of the University of Hong Kong, said his law school was “surprised” that the Law Society decided to proceed with the centralised exam, for which no consensus had been reached, while a government-commissioned review is still ongoing.

The Standing Committee on Legal Education and Training, which comprises judges, academics, Law Society and Bar Association representatives, will only complete the review of the city’s legal education and training later this year.

“We believe any relaxation that allows taking the [common exam] without the PCLL will have serious implications for the system of legal education and entry into the legal profession,” he said, adding that the existing programme had been enhanced after a review in 2001.

Young also urged the society to justify why the new exam was needed.

The judiciary was yet to respond to the Post last night over whether the top judge was consulted on the matter, as the law required the Chief Justice’s approval for the society to change any rules of regulation.

Dennis Kwok, lawmaker representing the legal sector, also criticised the Law Society for pre-empting the review.

If the PCLL were scrapped, the bar would have no indicators of an entrant’s standard because the Bar Association does not run its own exam, he added.

The Law Society has long advocated a unified exam, saying the standards of the law schools varied, causing unfair competition.

The threshold to be a solicitor or a barrister, the one-year full-time PCLL trains practical skills including legal research and writing, document drafting and analysis, problem-solving and advocacy. Competition for PCLL places is highly competitive: In 2012, just over 40 per cent of both local and overseas applications were accepted.

The Chinese University’s law school and the City University’s law dean Geraint Howells both said they looked forward to working together with the society to develop the new exam proposal. But CUHK’s dean Christopher Gane added: “We cannot certify completion of the PCLL without candidates having passed the examinations in the PCLL.”