Category Archives: law

A Polite Practice

Now that I’ve practiced in Hong Kong for more than a year, I think I can adequately compare and contrast the practice here from that in NY.  One big difference I’ve noticed is that the practice is far more polite and “nice”. 

A big part of the NY legal practice is writing what one of my former partners called the “nastygram.”  Sometimes the nastygram is used to tell someone to stop infringing/breaching/otherwise affecting your client’s rights.  Sometimes it is just lawyer to lawyer correspondence in a dispute already taking place.  Either way, it is inherently designed to be “not nice” to make your point and hopefully get what you want.

I noticed a lot of the letters I would draft were being edited by my boss to take the nasty out of what I thought was meant to be a nastygram. In fact, the NY practice is so riddled with “nastiness,” that is not uncommon to include little snipes here and there in the motion papers (e.g., “the plaintiff is completely misguided in its interpretation of A vs. B…”) too.

But in Hong Kong I have found things to be quite the opposite.  Lawyers really do treat each other with much more respect and kindness, and avoid jabs at the other’s intelligence, even when it is so painfully called for. 

Even more “polite” — barristers will address opposing counsel as “my learned friend,” and tehcnically, solicitors ought to address each other as “my friend”. 

I even had this happen to me one time while doing a 3 minute hearing before the magistrate, where my very obnoxious and stubborn opponent – who LOST in my application – addressed me as his “learned friend” (I want to say I am learned, but I am no barrister”) before the judge.  I admit it just reeked of sarcasm because he was entirely disagreeable to me – but “friend” I was in the courthouse that day.

I’m not trying to say that NY lawyers are always rude and jerky to each other, and it is definitely not the norm.  Rather, you do see rude and jerky behavior here and there, whereas in Hong Kong, it is more like almost never! I’m also not trying to say that HK lawyers aren’t jerks either – but at least in the practice, the tone is rather courteous and professional – even if not always heartfelt!

Overall, I find the rude jabs and snipes do make the job less enjoyable and injects anger into my day – so the “niceness” in HK certainly helps me to enjoy my practice a lot more.


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 – 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!!

There’s No Such Thing as a Shortcut (Part 2)

This is part 2 of my multi-part series on what it takes to qualify from scratch (i.e., not via the OLQE).


Next up is the PCLL – a one year (or two years, if doing it part-time) practical law study course that is only given by one of the 3 universities listed above.  The first requirement is a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) or equivalent legal studies in either Hong Kong or another common law jurisdiction.

If you haven’t done that you can, in the alternative, take the Common Professional Examinations of Hong Kong or England and Wales (not a bad alternative for those who didn’t study law in college or are looking into a second career as a lawyer).

As of September 2008, the Hong Kong Standing Committee on Legal Education and Training requires PCLL applicants to demonstrate “competence” in 11 Core Subjects:  Contract, Tort, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Land Law, Equity, Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, Business Associations, and Commercial Law.  OK – easy enough, since just about anyone who has a law degree probably can demonstrate such courses.

But wait – there’s more.  The new rules also require demonstration of competence in three  ‘Top-up’ subjects: Hong Kong Constitutional Law, Hong Kong Legal System and Hong Kong Land Law. This gives home field advantage to anyone from Hong Kong, but then what for everyone else? Fortunately there are yes – you guessed it – MORE EXAMS! You can enroll in courses and prepare for the Hong Kong Conversion Examinations! (Sounds a bit more like a money making scheme to me, though).  

FINALLY –  all applicants (including native English speakers) must take the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test (the Academic module) with a minimum standard of overall band score 7.  The Department of Professional Legal Education considers that the candidate’s language ability as indicated in the Test Report Form is valid for only three years preceding the application deadline, i.e.  for a 2013 application, the IELTS results cannot be earlier than 30 April 2010.  No exemptions will be permitted

Wow!! That is a lot of work, PLUS, there is no guarantee of admissions, as with so limited seats, not everyone can necessarily get one on the first application! CRAZY!

AND this is still not all that is required.  Stay tuned for Part 3!

There’s No Such Thing As a Shortcut (Part 1)

I have come to really appreciate my law qualification in Hong Kong, and feel blessed that I could get here through what was actually a relatively “easy” path (notwithstanding all my whinging over having to take two OLQE heads versus one!).  It turns out that the “ordinary” pathway for one to become Hong Kong qualified is not just long and arduous, but fiercely competitive, as I’ve come to learn from speaking to the trainees and interns at my firm.  Below are the basic steps and hurdles required for an inexperienced person to become a lawyer in Hong Kong, i.e., not the OLQE route.

1.  Getting a Law Degree

First things first – getting your law degree is no easy feat in Hong Kong.  In Hong Kong, as with most former and current Commonwealth nations, the law degree is a bachelor’s degree, the LLB, and so you’re only just a teenager when you need to decide if you want to embark on this lengthy process.  Only three universities offer law programs in the first place (Chinese U, HKU, and City U), and when you make your college application you must apply in the program you intend to take.  I have been informed that the law class at HKU is only approximately 100 students. Changing majors later on is neither advisable nor guaranteed!

And to get to college itself is tough enough! There are only 8 colleges in HK overall (at least that are funded by the University Grants Committee – the advisory committee to the Government on university funding).  It’s no joke that kids growing up in Hong Kong are stressed, as without starting at the right play group, let along the right pre-pre-school, you can forget about going to college at all! (I may be exaggerating, but education in Hong Kong is just insane – probably worth a follow-up post).

Given this, many Hong Kongers have no choice but to go abroad to get their LLB in law, a requirement for step 2.

CDotD: Women May Wear Pants!

So I knew that there was a special outfit I was required to wear when I got sworn in as a solicitor, but who knew that there were rules on what I could wear in attendance at court – especially important considering all the “to peep-toe or not to peep-toe” discussions that are all over law blogs based in the US!

Okay, there isn’t exactly an explicit guide or requirements — but the Guide to Professional Conduct actually includes a section on “court dress” under the chapter on the Litigation Solicitor. 

All it says is that:

A solicitor appearing in court as an advocate should appear duly robed where this is customary and must always wear suitable clothing.

“Suitable clothing” – oh gee thanks, ok! But “duly robed”?? I wonder when any solicitor ever must be robed… I’ve yet to see a solicitor robed in court, and so far cannot find any guidance on the matter.

But if you check out that provision further, there is aparently also a circular on the litigation solicitor’s dress, and it pertains to women:

The Chief Justice has advised the Society that he has no objection to female lawyers wearing decent and suitable black long trouser suits in court.

Oh phew! I was wondering if I had been violating some rule that I wear pants! Sheesh! Well, I suppose it’s natural that there would have been such circular in 1995! I would have thought our times had long passed since we’d need such an explicit order on what women could wear.  I wonder if there is some history to this circular (like some nasty old crotchety judge (or perhaps a pervert) who required all female solicitors to wear dresses!).

Though I wonder if black trousers are really the only trousers women solcitors may wear in court! In that case, I have to rethink whether or not I’ve committed any violations!


For all the debate on whether peep toes are proper court dress on Above the Law, I suppose one might welcome