The transformation of Hong Kong's legal sector has prompted more people to seek postgraduate training in law in recent years. The number of applicants for masters of laws (LLM) and other postgraduate diplomas in law at the University of Hong Kong has grown by 2.7 times in five years, while Chinese University has seen the number more than double since it began to offer law courses three years ago. Course providers say the rapid growth of demand is the result of the city's legal reforms, which have triggered new requirements for practitioners, and the general pursuit of higher education during the economic downturn. A total of 651 people have applied for LLM and other postgraduate diplomas at the Faculty of Law of HKU for this academic year, compared with 610 last year. The figure has been increasing every year since 2004, when only 241 people applied. The admission figure for the coming term is not yet available. Last year, 213 students were accepted for the two types of courses. More than 360 candidates competed for the university's new Juris Doctor programme this year, with the faculty deciding to accept 44 students. Law faculty dean Johannes Chan Man-mun said the economic contraction was one factor leading to the increase in applications this year, but it could not fully explain the trend. 'It is natural that when the economy is bad, more people turn to studies. But the number of applicants rose even more last year, when the economy was still good. I think another reason behind it was a transformation in the legal practice.' He said the city's civil justice reforms - under which courts encourage people to use alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation before seeking litigation - was an incentive for lawyers to pursue further studies in order to be qualified for new roles. Increasing opportunities in the sector had also attracted people from other professions, as the human resources, financial, commercial and other fields had growing demands for in-house lawyers. Many Juris Doctor students had non-legal backgrounds. Chinese University's new law school is seeing the same trend. Dean Mike McConville said competition was intense for its postgraduate places. 'Applicants for Juris Doctor programmes need a bachelor's degree with at least an upper second class honours in order to be eligible for consideration. Even this does not guarantee admission,' he said. This standard was higher than postgraduate courses in many other disciplines, which generally required lower second class honours. The university, which launched law programmes in 2006, received 1,908 applications for its 393 LLM and JD places this year, including a double degree programme which includes business administration, compared with 1,416 last year. This is 2.1 times the 905 applicants received in 2006. City University's School of Law received about 300 applications for LLM and 500 for JD last year, up from 250 and 300 in 2005. Despite the growing demands, both Chan and McConville said they remained cautious against aggressively expanding places. 'We want to ensure the quality of tuition. The admission figures will not change much in coming years,' McConville said.