Solicitors with the right experience or qualifications may represent clients in the high courts - long the exclusive domain of barristers - by the end of this year.
A government assessment board set up to screen solicitors said yesterday that qualification standards would be gazetted in May, by which time it would start accepting such applications.
The first round of assessments is planned for autumn this year, and those who pass will receive certificates by the end of this calendar year.
'We just hope to get running as soon as possible,' said Russell Coleman SC, a member of the assessment board.
The plan to extend solicitors' advocacy rights to the high courts was unanimously approved in January 2010. The board was subsequently formed in July that year to set the standards for future applicants.
The legislation and rules announced yesterday are a year behind the original timetable. The plan was scheduled to be finalised six months after the board's formation, with the initial assessments slated for the middle of last year.
Under the new law, solicitors with five years of post-qualification practice - including at least two years in Hong Kong - and who have completed other eligibility requirements, such as passing an approved advocacy course, may apply for the 'right of audience' in civil and criminal proceedings in the high courts.
Examination panels will be established to conduct different forms of assessments to test applicants' advocacy knowledge and skills. Assessment exemptions may be granted if applicants have relevant advocacy experience.
Coleman estimated the first wave of applications at about 300. Two examining panels will be set up in the autumn, with each panel handling about 24 applications in one sitting.
Representing the Law Society of Hong Kong, solicitor Peter Barnes said: 'It's likely that there will be a substantial proportion of applications for exemption. Many of those considering [this option] would be [solicitors] with experience [in advocacy], which might be dealt with more speedily.'
Barnes said it was 'somewhat disappointing' that it had taken so long to pass the legislation, but he was glad that the plan could finally be implemented. He added that the society's academy of law was ready to assist solicitors who need training for the assessment.
Speaking for the Hong Kong Bar Association, Coleman said it was fully supportive of the new system.
There are more than 8,400 practising solicitors in Hong Kong, working in more than 780 firms. The number of barristers is significantly smaller at about 1,090.