Clement Jiang had a top job with microchip firm Intel in the US and a first degree plus a master's in electrical engineering under his belt. But in September, he gave it up and went back to university to study law. The 33-year-old joined the Juris Doctor Asia (JDA) programme launched by Chinese University at its new multi-million dollar Graduate Law School in the Bank of America tower at Admiralty. The HK$187,200 JDA is targeted at high-achieving graduates of other disciplines and aims to give them a solid grounding in law and entry into the final stages of legal training. The JDA programme at CUHK can be completed in two years through full-time study or from 36 to 42 weeks part-time. It follows the opening of Hong Kong's first Juris Doctor (JD) course at City University in 2004. That course costs HK$149,100 and is offered either full-time over two years or part time. Mr Jiang is typical of the CityU programme's high-flying 30-somethings, including graduates with careers in banking, medicine, dentistry and the police. More than 40 per cent have a first-class honours degree or higher degree and for many it serves as an alternative to the MBA. 'After taking the JD, I believe I will be a better leader. It gives me the chance to throw myself into legal matters and see whether or not I want to become a lawyer,' he said. CUHK's JDA co-ordinator, Professor Stephen Hall - who previously launched the JD programme at CityU - said the qualification was spreading outwards from the US, where legal education was exclusively postgraduate. The University of Melbourne has recently announced that it would switch over entirely to the JD while Japan is adopting it as the sole entry requirement for its bar exam. 'It is a qualification for those who either wish to become a lawyer or wish to assume a leadership role in some other occupation and who have an impressive level of academic attainment prior to law school,' he said. The new JDs provide an alternative to the English approach offered at HKU Space, the University of Hong Kong's continuing education arm. It runs a modified version of the Common Professional Exam, now also called the Graduate Diploma in Law, which is the main post-graduate route into law in England and Wales. The two-year part-time HKU Space CPE (HK$52,000 plus exam fees) is run in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University. CPE students are offered the option of a further one-year part-time programme to upgrade their qualification to a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) (HK$80,000 including CPE, plus exam fees). In addition, HKU Space has offered part-time preparatory courses towards the University of London's external LLB degree since 1964, when it was the only law degree available in Hong Kong. Fewer than 20 per cent of students aim to become practising lawyers. Since the 1970s, the primary route to legal practice in Hong Kong has been a Bachelor of Laws degree (LLB) followed by a two-year Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (PCLL) in preparation for a training post with a solicitor's firm or a pupillage in barristers' chambers. This system is now undergoing major reforms, with the three-year LLB increased to four years in 2004 and a revised PCLL, with a much stronger focus on skills training, due to be launched in 2008. The broad outline of the new PCLL has been agreed but law schools have yet to release precise plans for their programmes. CUHK's new PCLL will open in 2008, after a launch planned for next year was postponed as there will be no Hong Kong LLB graduates. New, stiffer entry requirements for the revised PCLL were announced last month. All candidates will have to demonstrate competence in 11 core subjects, with three top-up subjects required for those who studied law outside Hong Kong. Conversion exams in five of the core areas and the three top-up subjects will be offered twice a year for students who do not meet the requirements. The exams will be held in April and August next year and January and June 2008. Professor Hall said the JD programmes would cover all the core subjects and students could meet the requirements by choosing the right electives. Michael Fisher, principal programme director for the CPE, said it did not cover all the required subjects but remained a well-established, well-regarded programme which provided excellent value. 'CPE students with PCLL aspirations are advised to take the additional LLB year by which they will have fulfilled almost all of the eligibility requirements,' he said. Two required programmes not included in the LLB - Hong Kong land law and the Hong Kong legal system - could be covered by short courses. Early indications are that the new JD kids on the block may be on to a winning - if more expensive - formula. Competition is fierce for PCLL places. Yet among City University's first cohort of 24 full-time JD students who graduated this summer, 20 applied for PCLL places and 16 were accepted - a success rate of 80 per cent. Lester Huang, chairman of the Law Society's legal education committee, said the number of practicing solicitors had risen steadily from 5,070 in 2001 to 5,593 in 2005, indicating increasing demand for their services. 'I do not think that students who are seeking a trainee solicitor's contract today have too many difficulties finding them,' he said. 'And I don't foresee any major changes in that situation following the current reforms of the legal education system.' Who runs courses City University of Hong Kong; CityU School of Continuing and Professional Education; Chinese University of Hong; Hong Kong Polytechnic University CyberU; Open University of Hong Kong; University of Hong Kong; HKU Space; Asia International Open University (Macau); Institute of Professional Development.