Tag Archives: hk law

Hong Kong Solicitors By the Numbers

Taken from the November 2014 issue of Hong Kong Lawyer (the official journal of the Law Society):

  • Total members of the HK Law Society (not barristers): 9.261
  • Members with practising certificates: 8,111
  • Trainees: 837 (shows a growth in HK lawyers of around 10%)
  • Registered foreign lawyers: 1,340 (less than 10%)
  • Hong Kong law firms: 829
  • Registered foreign law firms: 79 (again, less than 10%)

OLQE Update

And it’s official – the 2015 OLQE will now include a sixth head on the Basic Law (i.e., Hong Kong constitutional law).  So if you were hoping to get away with not having to study for this, then I’m sorry!


HK Solicitors Stood Up

After organizing a legal sector march, solicitors went ahead and organized an extraordinary general meeting (“EGM”) to urge Law Society president Ambrose Lam step down for his very pro-Beijing/anti-Hong Kong comments in support of the recent controversial white paper.

In response, Mr. Lam has resigned as Law Society president, and it seems there are people in Hong Kong ready to fight back against actions that impact its steps towards democracy.

And yet, my outlook on Hong Kong remains pessimistic and fearful. I left HK about 4 months ago, and as much as I still love HK, and as enticing as so many things about HK still is for me (more on that later),  I just can’t see my long term future there.  I still see something dark and scary looming ahead.

I’ve recently read (and nearly at the end of the second novel) a two-novel historical fiction, “Shanghai Girls” and “Dreams of Joy”, by Lisa See, about WWII and post-war China, and the Chinese American immigrant experience.  I did not expect much from the novels.  I just picked up the first novel at random at a thrift shop, looking for something interesting to read.

I related quite a lot to the first book, which focused on the immigration of two sisters from Shanghai, escaping Japanese terrorism, their experiences at Angel Island, and the difficulties faced in LA’s Chinatown.  I had heard a lot about these experiences from my family, and studied a lot about the Chinese American experience in college.

The second novel, has more to do with the Great Leap Forward in China, and Mao’s scare tactics and methods to weaken and frighten the masses to achieve his goals — something I’m unfortunately not as familiar with.  For some scary reason, I did not think Communist China has changed very much since these days, except that millions are no longer starving to death in the way they once did, and that capitalism has made its own way into Red China. Today you still have a large population of people who feel no trust in the media and what news they hear, and feel an urgent need to always compete for resources and goods. 

I digress on these novels because the contents have really gotten me thinking about the future of Hong Kong, as it enters into its next stage.  I even wonder if I really want to keep up my cross-border practice, and fear what that means for me. Though my “Asia practice” is primarily about Hong Kong, what will happen to Hong Kong law in 2047? In 2027?

And what about Big Brother China? Modern China is becoming something even scarier, I’m afraid.  The memory and fear of death by starvation is still strong in most older Chinese, yet the young have no clue about earning your keep, being the completely spoiled “little emperors” they are. There is still a fairly heavy restriction on Western goods, but Chinese are now allowed finally to travel and go buy those goods (in huge quantities) outside.  Corruption is still high among the upper classes, and yet there is a fast growing middle class that just want more than ever. 

While these recent actions, especially the solidarity of HK solicitors, warms my heart, I am still afraid for HK.

I hope my fellow solicitors don’t stop fighting, and don’t look the other way. There are huge challenges ahead.

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 – 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.