How to Become a Locally Qualified Lawyer in Hong Kong

In my further attempts to assimilate and become a true Hong Konger, I’ve been working towards becoming a locally qualified lawyer here.  While it’s not necessary for an expat lawyer to be locally qualified (there are plenty of jobs that do not require you to practice local law), it certainly opens a lot more doors and I figured it might as well be one more accomplishment I attempt before I leave (yes — after my last visit to New York, I know deep in my heart I cannot stay here indefinitely).

The process is rather tedious.  First, one must make an application to the Law Society of  Hong Kong by early July to take the Overseas Lawyer Qualification Examination (OLQE), including any application for exemptions.  The OLQE is comprised of five Heads, or subject examinations (Conveyancing, Civil and Criminal Procedure, Commercial and Company Law, Accounts and Professional Conduct, and Principles of Common Law).  The world being divided into civil code law and common law (a far more tedious and boring subject than I can tackle in this post), only civil code lawyers with 5 years’ experience may even attempt at the exams, while common law lawyers (such as Americans) are instantly entitled to sit for the exams AND are automatically exempt from Head V.  Further, common law lawyers who have 5 years’ experience, and can prove it, are exempt from Head II, and may submit “evidence” that they have the experience requisite to be exempted from Heads III and IV.  No one ever gets out of Head I (or virtually no one).

The application  itself costs $3300 HKD, is extremely tedious, requires a lot of running around (original certificates of good standing from each jurisdiction you are admitted!), nagging former employers to sign letters you, of course, draft yourself, etc. etc.  Not nice.  I managed to convince the Law Society to exempt me from 2 of the 3 exemptable Heads, and am now taking a prep course at IP Learning for Heads I and III.  Obviously, these courses are not cheap.

In addition to costs for the application and preparation, you then pay the Law Society an additional $5500 HKD to take a Head, and an additional $1100 for each subsequent Head!  This must be done by mid-August.

The exams are given just once a year in the Fall, with results not coming out until some time in February, and then once you have your hopefully happy results, you then make an application for admissions — which I believe involves yet another fee!  What extortion!!!

And just to take up STILL more time, the admissions ceremony does not even take place until the following July!  So all in all, the whole process for a foreign lawyer to get locally admitted is extremely tedious, time consuming and expensive.

So here I am — studying for two exams, attending classes 3x a week, but learning quite a lot of interesting things about HK (more on that in subsequent posts, obviously!) But is it all going to be worth it, especially in light of my new-found certainty that I belong back in New York one day??

(P.S. — I’m not sure what a civil code lawyer who doesn’t have the 5 years’ requisite experience has to do.  Does one have no choice but to qualify as a brand new lawyer in HK?  That is, obtain a law degree, take the one-year PCLL and then a 2-year traineeship??  Now that I’d never do!)

24 responses to “How to Become a Locally Qualified Lawyer in Hong Kong

  1. Pingback: CDotD: Your Security Deposit is NOT Guaranteed! | Because It's Time

  2. I’m about to enter Law school in Hong Kong in September (lucky me, taking the shorter LLB- PCLL- 2 year route). I heard that apparently there are occasions wherein it is required that lawyers speak Cantonese or Putonghua? Have you heard anything about that? And how is your ordeal going so far?

    Sorry, it just seems appropriate to ask you since I was doing my research right now anyway (2 months before entering Law school, I know I know, I am so organized and prepared) and I’m glad I came across your blog!

    Looking forward to hearing back from you!

    • Hi Shar – Congrats on your embarking upon the legal profession! I can only guess that not only are you a non-Chinese speaker, but you are a non-Hong Konger? If your reasons for going to law school in HK is to secure work in HK, despite not knowing Chinese, you can still certainly get a job here. There are plenty of expats and locals alike who don’t really know the language and work here, but that does not mean that (1) Chinese will not be highly preferred, and (2) that demand/requirement will continue to get stronger with time. Some employers will have such a strong preference for Chinese language (particularly Putonghua), that they would much rather hire someone who is lacking in experience for their fluency in what is a very hard language to learn. As one recruiter told me once, you can train a lawyer to learn legal skills, but you cannot train a lawyer to learn language.

      Overall I see HK demanding more and more Putonghua (knowing Cantonese gives you an edge, but is not really considered a trait that is sought after), but I hope this won’t discourage you so much as it is useful to inform you as you face the job market ahead (perhaps you should touch up on any Chinese skills you have now, if any; perhaps consider how to become qualified at another similar jurisdiction while going through law school, e.g. England & Wales or Australia, or try researching practice areas that require Chinese least and explore them in law school to see whether they suit you). And stay tuned on my “ordeal,” I will do my best to blog more regularly, particularly on the legal profession in HK 🙂

    • Hi, I am looking for information about the Overseas Lawyer Qualification Exam (OLQE) and find this blog, which is very useful.

      Does anyone know how can a lawyer newly qualified in a common law jurisdiction other than HK fulfill the 2-year experience requirement for taking the OLQE?

      • My understanding is that you do not qualify for the exam until you have 2 years of experience. You will have to wait until you have the 2 years before applying. If you are working in HK, you will need to be registered as a foreign lawyer to get those two years.

  3. Hi there – just stumbled upon this page and haven’t gone through the rest of your blog yet, but I thought I would ask anyway (cheeky, I know) – what do you reckon are the areas of law where Putonghua is least required? I am also a non HKer, non-Putonghua speaker and looking to enter the legal profession here through the HKU JD route.

    All my HK lawyer friends seem to think Putonghua is not used that much in their circles – I personally find this hard to believe and suspect they 1) underestimate the extent to which they actually speak and use Putonghua, 2) work within an area of law that is perhaps less reliant on Putonghua than others (PE/funds) and 3) are just trying to get me to stay here. What do you think?

  4. Hi there! I’ve recently come across your blog and find it immensely useful! I’m from Australia and is looking to do the PCLL in HK. Just wondering though, is there a residency requirement through the PCLL/traineeship route? Or the 7 year residency requirement?

    • Hi Alice – from my limited knowledge, I do not think that there is a residency requirement through the PCLL/traineeship route – except probably when filing your motion papers, you need to (like with the overseas qualified lawyers) show your intention to stay in Hong Kong.

  5. hello there… was wondering whether you still have the notes from preparatory course, I would be attempting my 5 heads this year..unfortunately these preparatory course wont start till june and I would really appreciate if I could get some previous notes and reading list from you…Cheers

    • Hi RJ – I don’t have any notes, sorry. You can contact the different courses for ideas of how you can prepare in advance, and I believe the law society publishes a reading list. Good luck!

  6. Hi! I’m actually an attorney licensed in TX, NY and NJ – and looking to move back to Hong Kong (where I grew up) and practice law there. I’d like to speak with you offline if that is possible. Do you mind emailing me at the address listed in the meta of this comment? I just have some questions about preparation, etc, and what difficulties you might have experienced during the transition.

    • Hi E – thanks for dropping in. I know the blog isn’t all tagged up and organized in the best way, but you may find that I have answered some useful questions previously, either in the “About” page or in a separate post, usually under the title “Q&A”. I’ve usually used the tags “OLQE” or “HK law” where I could.

      I try to answer questions publicly for this very reason – to share the information, so would you please ask away publicly? It also helps to keep me blogging. Hope I can be of help – am flattered I can be considered a source!

  7. Hi! I’m a Korean high student and just got into an undergraduate law program of one of HK universities. I’ve been wondering, to be qualified to take the exam, do I have to take the undergraduate law program or is it fine if I just go to law school after the undergraduate study?
    Thank you so much!

    • If you are studying law in Hong Kong, you will qualify the normal route (via the PCLL, training, etc.). You are not an “overseas lawyer” for the OLQE’s purposes, because you will be going through the Hong Kong system.

      • Hi! How about if I am a HK PR but studying law in Australia? Should I take the normal route or the overseas route after graduating?

      • I should refer you to my answer to Benjamin, who asked a similar question in another post . Ultimately this is a very personal decision – there is no right or wrong. You obviously can go one way or the other, but the considerations are:

        – do you want to live in Australia?
        – do you think Australian experience will be useful to you (maybe not now, but in a few years?)
        – do you have a reason to just get to HK asap?
        – do you have strong reasons to doubt you can get into the PCLL?

        The considerations can go on ad infinitum. As I said to Benjamin, I think I better write a post to this effect – but remember, it’s just my personal opinion, as much as it would be yours!

  8. I’m a penultimate year law student in Scotland and I’m considering becoming a barrister, as the legal market in England (I intend to take some english law modules to convert) isn’t exactly booming and I’ve always been interested in Hong Kong, I’m considering practicing at the bar there. I was wondering if you would mind answering a few questions I have?

    First, I was wondering what the legal market was like in Hong Kong? Is it true its fairly bouyant and doing well? At least when compared to London (wheres theres a yearly massacre of people who fail to get pupillages and have paid £20k or more overall to qualify as a barrister but fall at the last hurdle) or elsewhere in the EU?

    Secondly, would you happen to know if its particularly difficult to study for the conversion exam for the PCLL? So far as I can tell I’d have to do HK legal system, HK constitutional law, HK Land Law and civil and criminal procedure (unless i’m wrong the last two aren’t taught in an LLB in the UK but rather as part of a professional qualification). I’m considering just doing self-study and then taking the exams rather than paying for classes in order to save £

    Lastly, I take there isn’t any discrimination against ” european lawyers” ? For example I’ve heard that in the US its pretty hard for British lawyers to get clients.

    Apologies for all the questions and thanks in advance for any response 🙂

  9. HI, I am trying to get exemption from the exemptable heads for the OLQE. Is it possible for you to share some of your letters convincing the HK Lawso for their approval of the exempltion? Alternatively, do you know of any source or people who can help?

  10. Hi, same as Carco above, I am a newly qualified lawyer in another common law jurisdiction (Australia, in my case).
    I’m currently looking for a paralegal or compliance position in Hong Kong. Will paralegal or compliance experience count as “2 years experience in the practice of law” to qualify for sitting OLQE?

    • I’m pretty certain the answer is no, especially for paralegal. In compliance, if you are hired as a lawyer to practice in your qualified jurisdiction, maybe. I recommend you contact the law society to ask and double-check.

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