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!!