Specialist law programmes designed to meet the growing demands of global business and to plug key skills gaps in Hong Kong's evolving economy have been launched by three universities. Postgraduate programmes in arbitration and dispute resolution are available at the University of Hong Kong and City University, while a master's in competition law and economics is being offered at Polytechnic University. CityU has also started a master's programme in transport and logistics law that aims to provide new lawyers with the specialist knowledge needed to succeed in the shipping industry and other transport sectors. The new LLM, which is offered through the university's Hong Kong Centre for Transportation and Logistics Law, admitted its first batch of 10 students in March, when the centre opened. Programme leaders are aiming to recruit about 40 students for 2011-12. Vernon Nase, an associate professor at CityU's school of law, said: 'A key aim is to raise the profile of Hong Kong as a place that pursues excellence in the study of maritime and transportation law. 'As one of Asia's busiest seaports and a leading centre for maritime services, there is always a demand for well-trained maritime lawyers with innovative ideas.' Nase said the master's programme and research carried out by the new centre could help to consolidate Hong Kong's position as a global transport hub. In addition to the core courses of maritime law, maritime insurance law, international air law and oceans, law and policy, students can choose electives aligned with their particular area of interest. Legal firms Holman Fenwick Willan and DLA Piper, which specialise in shipping law, plan to recruit early career lawyers for the long-term development of their business. Kevin Chan, a partner in DLA Piper Asia who has more than 10 years' experience in shipping law, said: 'One of the biggest drawbacks hindering Hong Kong's potential to expand its maritime legal capabilities is the lack of mid-level shipping lawyers with relevant experience.' The University of Hong Kong received more than 160 applications this year for the 40 places on the LLM in arbitration and dispute resolution. Programme director Katherine Lynch says the cross-disciplinary programme is open to graduates with outstanding grades in law or another disciplines. The programme, which can be taken full-time over one year or part-time over two years, aims to attract candidates with a wide range of career backgrounds. It is pulling in applications from bankers, educators, engineers, businesspeople and civil servants. While some graduates are expected to become full-time arbitrators or mediators, others are expected to use the skills they learn on the programme in their professions. 'Reforms to Hong Kong's civil justice systems have opened the way for more negotiation, mediation and other forms of dispute resolution,' Lynch said. 'Hong Kong has several competitive advantages in the sense that we have a well-established legal system, a good pool of legal professionals supported by a robust legal infrastructure and the services of the [Hong Kong International] Arbitration Centre, which provides a cohesive focal point. Not a lot of other jurisdictions have these combined strengths.' The postgraduate diploma in arbitration and dispute resolution offered by CityU aims to train graduates for work both in Hong Kong and across the Asia-Pacific region. Programme leaders say rapid growth in the Asia-Pacific is expected to create opportunities for the arbitration and mediation services sector, especially in disputes relating to business, construction, investment (joint ventures), intellectual property rights, information technology and shipping. The increase in trade arising from the mainland's expanding markets is expected to stimulate further demand. With an eye on Hong Kong's forthcoming antitrust law, PolyU's part-time master's programme in competition law and economics is designed to meet growing demand for professionals in this field. The programme, which features core modules in topics such as competition policy, regulatory economics, cartels, monopolies and legal controls on mergers, is designed to provide an international context and focus on the Asian business and legal environment. The maximum study period is four years.