Monthly Archives: November 2012

There’s No Such Thing as a Shortcut – You Asked I’m Answering (Part 3 – final)

Today is the last day of NaBloPoMo for me (it appears some people choose any month to NaBloPoMo – but November is it for me), and fittingly, I finally finish this post on my “Shortcut” series.   Following from Part 2 of this long question, it continues:

3. some say that its 2 years while some say its 3 years of working experience as a foreign lawyer in hk before i could start taking the QLQE , may i know which is true?

I recently re-checked the Law Society’s rules and it is still 2 years’ of work experience required before a foreign lawyer is eligible to take the OLQE.

4. i am also rather confused if i can only work as a foreign legal consultant or i can work as a foreign lawyer in hk after applying to be a FRL?

You must must MUST be a properly registered foreign lawyer in Hong Kong if you want that legal experience to count towards your application fo rthe OLQE – whether it is to get the 2 years to become eligible to take the exam of the 5 years needed for certain exemptions.  If you are a foreign legal consultant, your time will NOT count!

5. would it be hard for me to obtain a job in hk if i could pass the NY bar exam successfully ? is the only job i can find available in some city/ international law firm? i am worried they may not consider me as i do not hv good llb result

If you’re talking about a job as a registered foreign lawyer in Hong Kong with NY bar admissions, chances are you will only be able to work at firms that would desire that admission – and yes, that would be international firms (whether US firms or the British “city firms” you refer to).  These firms are very competitive and typically recruit from the very best, and as an NQ (newly qualified) your NY admissions alone will not be enough to get you a job.  You will absolutely have to have top grades, if no other relevant work experience. 

Local firms will have no use for you as a NY qualified lawyer (though in my previous post, I fear you may not even be able to take the NY bar exam on the qualifications you’ve described to me so far).   Also, they will need to have someone who is also NY qualified to supervise you, since you are under 2 PQE, and at most local firms, there are no NY qualified lawyers.

thank you so so so so much for taking the time to answer these questions. im really grateful that i can benefit from the information at your site!!!!

hv a nice day, looking forwards to your reply =]

a lost bella

I feel terrible because my reply does not inspire much confidence I’m afraid.  I also feel terrible, again, for answering so late.

But then there was another follow-up question:

  • sorry but last question, must i practice in the states for some time before i can come back to hk to apply for QLQE? if so, is there any way to waive this requirement? thanks so much

    As I mentioned at the top of this post, you need to have two years’ experience in the practice of foreign law to be eligible to take the OLQE.  You can theoretically get that in Hong Kong, though it is not easy to do so, but these are the rules and there is no waiver.

    The whole point in offering this alternative method of admissions for Hong Kogn solicitors is to recognize that experienced overseas lawyers should not need to start from scratch — so they absolutely need experience in the first place.  Two years is probably the requirement because by the “normal” route, a two year training contract is required before the motion is made for admission, so in a sense, this experience requirement sort of equalizes the inexperienced to-be lawyers with the foreign lawyers.

    And once again, I just have to conclude that there’s no such thing as a shortcut – especially when it comes to becoming a lawyer in Hong Kong.  It can be a wonderful, fulfilling profession, as I have happily found in the 1+ years I’ve been qualified and practicing Hong Kong law, but it is not easy to get here.


There’s No Such Thing as a Shortcut – You Asked I’m Answering (Part 2)

I continue on from Part 1 of this post, in which I was answering a long and worry-filled question:

(The question continues…)
i heard from a lawyer friend of mine that i still stand a chance to become a lawyer if i take the NY bar exam, come back HK to work as a foreign lawyer for some time and take the QLQE to get myself locally qualified. so my questions are as followed:

1. i hv read the website of NY Bar exam but i am still unsure about says that i hv to be admitted to practice law in a foreign country or If i am not admitted to practice law in a foreign country, submit proof of the educational requirements for admission to practice law in my country and proof from the bar admission authorities that i have fulfilled these requirements–> does it mean i must already be a qualified lawyer or hv the qualification to be admitted as a lawyer in hk?

Bella, having qualified in NY the “usual” way, I actually don’t know the process for becoming eigible to take the NY bar exam as a foreigner.  My understanding was that most people – including already practicing lawyers in foreign jurisdictions – have to take a 9 month LLM program from a an ABA-approved law school before they are eligible to do so.  However, I just had a look at the rules myself, and it looks like those with a foreign legal education background may qualify by EITHER showing that their law education was similar in duration and substance OR that they are admitted to practice in a common law jurisdiction, upon completion of an accredited law education.

However, note that to be eligible via this route, there is an application and review process that can apparently take at least 6 months and a non-refundable fee of US$750.  This is probably one of the most common reasons so many UK lawyers still opt to do an LLM.  Also, if you enroll in a strong LLM program, your likelihood of finding a good job in the US are also increased, as these schools are typically supported by wonderful employment programs.

So based on what little I’ve been able to interpret from some very complicated rules, it appears that you can either go through a legnthy process to try to prove that your legal education is equivalent or yes, you do have to be admitted to practice in HK (which would require the PCLL and training) and have gone to an accredited school.

I have heard, though that quite a lot of HK grads DO take the NY bar exam, and there is even a NY bar exam review course given locally.  So it certainly is a possible path.

2. am i eligible for the NY bar exam as i am only a llb holder? must i study llm in the states?

I think given the above analysis, you don’t HAVE to have an LLM from the US.  However, your extension course – the graduate diploma in law or CPE –  which was 1 or 2 years in duration, is highly unlikely to meet the durational equivalency, since JD programs in the US are 3 years.  It appears you can take courses to supplement and “cure” this insufficiency, but yit also appears that you have to take these courses from ABA approved schools in the United States.

I think chances are, without taking further education in some shape or form, you are probably ineligible to take the NY bar exam — but don’t quote me on it, since my so-called “expertise” is on foreign lawyers becoming HK qualified!

Stay tuned for Part 3…

There’s No Such Thing as a Shortcut – You Asked I’m Answering (Part 1)

If it wasn’t ridiculous enough that I wrote an addendum to my There’s No Such Thing as a Shortcut, well here I write another addition under the You Asked I’m Answering series.  And this too comes in parts, as I try to answer a rather long multi-part question that brings me back to the whole idea – there’s no such thing as a shortcut (when becoming a solicitor in Hong Kong).

The question was asked quite a while ago, and I reprint it from my About page below, and try to answer it within the text below too:

bella fu | July 3, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Reply | Edit

i am really happy i came across your blog while searching ‘ how to become a lawyer in hk’. i have some questions and hope you could help me with them ;) i am a hong kong citizen and have always wanted to become a lawyer so i took the external LLB program offered by the university of London and have just finished my final year in May ( pending result) i also have a philosophy degree in a local university in HK ( which is irrelevant haha) anyway, as i did not do well in my LLB, i guess i would have a really slim chance to enter PCLL this year, although LLM in alternative dispute resolution from the city University of HK has admitted me. since a LLM is expensive and would not really help me get into PCLL next year, i have decided not to take this offer. ( sadly only after i hv paid a non refundable deposit!! )

First off – I am terribly apologetic for taking so many months to answer this set of questions.  I had been meaning to work on it, but I guess a lot of life and laziness got in the way.  I am sorry and hope that if I don’t help you, I help someone else who is in similar shoes as you!

I want to say to everyone out there who believe that law is his or her calling, to keep following your dreams.  But just know it can sometimes be a long and tough path.  The law is not an easy profession and lots of obstacles may be thrown in your path – it seemed that way for me quite a few times as well.  But if you believe truly in it and want to be a part of it, don’t get discouraged.  On the flip side – if it starts to get in the way of life, then you should consider calling it quits (e.g., far too much expense, time, happiness).

As I wrote in the first part of this series, an LLB is not required, and there are extension programs and other means to get around that requirement.  And you can take conversions to prove your capability for the PCLL.  This can be quite arduous if you don’t have an LLB, of course, but it should not stop you.

Also, you are not the only one who will be applying to the PCLL more than once.  Because there limited seats and so many candidates, not everyone can get in the first go.  However, you are right to try to improve your chances – because one way or the other, you are going to have to take the PCLL if you are not an experienced foreign lawyer.

It turns out that this LLM may be your best shot in improving your chances of getting into the PCLL, Bella.  I’ve come to learn that only students who have graduated with at least 2:1 honors (as they call it here) can get a place in any of the city’s three PCLL programs, so you will have to do something to show a chance from previously poor LLB grades, which make up the bulk of a PCLL application (as I am told).

If the expense of the LLM is too burdensome, however,is it possible to take the LLM part time and work part time? Or if you’ve already written off your LLM deposit, can you get a paralegal job in a law firm (thoughI hear these jobs are also note easy to come by)?

Stay tuned for Part 2 and more on this Q&A.

There’s No Such Thing as a Shortcut – Addendum

I know I said the last post under this title was the last of them, but this addendum is related.  Some time ago, I was asked by a friend (more an acquaintance) to help with his friend’s daughter, a newly qualified NY lawyer with some career advice here in HK.

I did not know much about this young lady, but she sent me a resume in advance.  She got her law education in Australia and then went onto take and pass the NY Bar Exam.  She also was working on getting some other certifications in financial accounting that are not terribly easy too – so clearly she is an expert on test-taking.

Unfortunately, she had very limited work experience in the legal world.  She had two short internships, as I recall, one at a major Chinese law firm, but other than that – nothing.  She was a HKer but not interested in going through the process I described (the conversion exams, PCLL, and training contract).  But without 2 years’ experience, she would not be able to take the OLQE. 

She asked if I could somehow manage to give her a “job” at my firm, where she did not need a salary for the two years so that she could get “experience.”

I immediately expressed skepticism.  At the time I did not think my firm was set up for any inexperienced employees (this was at my last job, where we were ourselves very new to Hong Kong), and it would have been hard to give work to someone like her.  Also, when a foreign lawyer with under 2 year’s experience is registered to work in HK, she needs to have someone take a special undertaking to supervise her work.  It’s just a technicality that isn’t so hard, but still something to consider.

Finally, I told her that even if she gets those two yeras of so-called experience from us, takes and passes the OLQE, finding a “real” job might be really tough without more substantive experience.  Even if she learned a lot from us, the firm only did US litigation – and that might not be very useful for a very junior lawyer in Hong Kong.

I strove to advise her that there’s no such thing as a shortcut, and that it was in her best interest to go through with the hard work to get the good experience she would need to become competitive, otherwise, all her test-taking really was still all a waste! She also had youth to her advantage, and from the sounds of it, did not need to worry about money – so why not?

She didn’t seem to like my advice and moved on.  Based on my educated guess, she came from money and connections that could potentially find someone else to give her what she wanted.  Wherever she is, I wish her the best, but I think that when it comes to a career in law, no matter which jurisdiction you are in, hard work and passion are unavoidably necessary ingredients.


There’s No Such Thing as a Shortcut (Part 3 – and the last part)

This is the last part of my series on the “normal” qualifying route to become a solicitor in Hong Kong.  You can go back to Parts 1 and 2 for the prior steps, but here we are in Step 3 – which is essentially the last step.

Step 3.  The  Training Contract

After the schooling (or conversions), and a year of “practical” courses in the PCLL, it’s time to start your training contract with a law firm.  This prerequisite is a 2-year term, generally with 4×6-month rotations in different departments.  The firm must be able to provide mixed capabilities, so you cannot train at a firm that only specializes in one practice. 

Getting the Contract. This actually could technically be Step 2, or maybe 1.5  because you have to procure your training contract before you complete your PCLL, and therefore when you apply in your last year of law school (or college), you’re looking for a seat two years out.

The challenge in that is that you don’t know anything about law firms – probably not unlike 2nd year JD students, and the only source of information is the internet, word of mouth, and if you are based in HK at the time, the HK Law Fair.  There is no EIW, or Early Interview Week, where you at least go through a process of meeting some faces to the law firm (though one can easily argue how superficial and artificial that is).  If you are studying outside of HK, you are at a further disadvantage.  Hopefully you’ve gotten yourself an internship or two during your summer or winter break (these are usually only a few weeks long) so that you can get to know some people at the firm, though admittedly your work is really elementary and hardly realistic.

But what makes this process really tough is that when you choose a training contract, you’re usually not given much time to accept the offer.  A firm will let you know that they’ve accepted your application, but it’s not uncommon to give you only a few days’ notice to accept – leaving you little to no room to await any other potential offers. It really becomes a game of first come first serve (for both the law students and the firms vying for the best students), and generally students will accept the first offer they get, or potentially end up with none!

Even tougher – there aren’t that many training contracts out there, truth be told.  I work at one of HK’s biggest firms (only a handful have ~100 lawyers), yet they traditionally only have a class of about 8 trainees! Therefore, it isn’t uncommon for some firms to have as few as just ONE trainee per class!

The Contract. Life as a trainee is hard work, though apparently better than in the olden days (where my boss complained of the countless hours of gruntwork he did).  But a trainee’s life is not that different from a first year associate, really – except you aren’t paid a fabulous sum as you are in the US. You are mainly doing legal research and other junior grunt work, but since rotations are only 6 months, you can only do so much.

But in each 6-month rotation you’ve got to do your best so shine.  Getting an offer after your rotations is not guaranteed.  Like with US Summer Associate positions, while chances are high that you will get an offer, it’s not guaranteed, especially in poor economies. 

Somewhere about 1.5 years into your contract you will get an offer from one of the groups you rotated in – even before you finish your last or last two rotations (which can cause you to miss out on working in a practice area or group that really suits you better), and you really need to accept asap as well (because if you don’t they may move on and find another just as eager to say yes right away).

Some firms make offers on a committee basis, and some make the decision no a per partner basis – so if you are so lucky to have worked with a partner who has a need for a junior, then that is how you will get your offer! It’s all very tricky, in the end, I am told.

So assuming you’ve made it through your two year training contract and got an offer, then all that’s left is the paperwork and admissions ceremony – which is where the OLQE passers meet up with the trainees.

So you see – I was a fool to complain about the OLQE and its arduous process. It is WAY easier to take a few exams than go through all that!!

First Wedding in HK

I suppose you’ve finally arrived in Hong Kong when you can say you’ve been invited to and have attended a wedding in HK.  That day finally came for me a few weeks ago, and while it wasn’t a very traditional wedding (neither of the bride nor groom were from HK, and the styling of the wedding was almost 100% Western), there were some very Asian aspects.

Upon arrival, you checked in and could leave your red envelope.  I’d previously been advised that there was a fixed expectation as to how much there should be in that red envelope depending on where the reception venue was (HK$1,000 for fancy hotels, HK$800 for most other banquet halls).  And if you forgot to bring your envelope, no worries, extras were not too far away at the check-in table.

Also upon arrival, you could find a beautiful photo book of pictures the bride and groom had taken with a professional photographer weeks earlier. This is a very Asian custom, though it clearly crosses cultures. There were also little photo cards guests could choose to take home.  This little photo memento seems to be more aligned with Taiwanese wedding practices, but I could see how some people would especially appreciate it, whereas, I unfortunately did not.

The ceremony was secular and took place outdoors, facing the South China Sea from the South side of Hong Kong Island.  The weather was perfectly cooperative, though a tiny bit hot, but the overall atmosphere reminded me of a wedding I attended in Hawaii a few years ago.  I sat there thinking how beautiful Hong Kong can be and how dreamy and romantic the moment was despite being in one of the busiest cities in the world.

The food was Western but in addition to the individually selected courses, there was also an appetizer and dessert buffet.  Again – not really a Chinese thing, but definitely a hit among the buffet loving Hong Kongers!

The dance session was not very popular, but the bride’s “Eurasian” qipao was a hit – there was an incredibly low and sexy back, but the material was an off-white almost beige colored lace – and not at all the traditional red silk.

I really enjoyed this wedding and wish the couple the very best.  They are an inspiration of love and hopefully I’ll get invited to a few more weddings in life

The Immigrant Experience

As I was celebrating Thanksgiving with colleagues last week, I began to realize as I explained my immigrant experience that though I was standing among friends who were also Chinese on the exterior, their experience as Chinese people was different from mine as a first generation Chinese American.

It may sound a bit naive at first –  but it was the realization that when in America and among other Chinese-looking friends, we generally all shared similar immigrant/first generation experiences that I could count on to bring us together.  But in HK, I can be among other Chinese-looking people, but our experiences as “overseas Chinese? (I’m using that to include Chinese Hong Kongers) will not have that commonality.

Many Chinese HKers have been in Hong Kong for enough generations that there is virtually no collective memory of the Mainland in their familires.  Also, these Chinese have been in HK enough generations to forget the inevitable hardship that immigration brings.

So while I was reminiscing about family Thanksgivings and certain behaviors of my Chinese family that almost all my Chinese American or even Asian American friends back home would be able to relate with, it was only the singular Chinese Australian and Filipino American colleagues who understood what I was referencing (think Russell Peters sort of humor).

For the first time, for some dumb reason, I realized how important that immigrant/first generation experience was for me in identifying with other Asians in America, but that that point of mutual bonding would be lacking among my friends and colleagues in Hong Kong.