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!)