With the return of sovereignty on 1 July 1997, Hong Kong's unique standing has created a new era for law and legal education.
To meet local demand for greater numbers of legal experts, the School of Law at the City University of Hong Kong offers an array of programmes accommodating law students' academic needs and long-term professional goals. One of the programmes is the postgraduate certificate in laws (PCLL), which enables students to become either trainee solicitors or pupil barristers. "The purpose of the PCLL programme is to prepare people looking to enter the legal profession, facilitating learning through instruction and experience, so they can fulfil both their professional and social responsibilities," explains Anthony Upham, associate professor at the School of Law, City University of Hong Kong.
The programme is offered on a full-time basis over one year, or on a part-time basis spanning two years. Students are required to complete seven modules so as to gain practical experience via simulated situations plus the necessary skills which are fundamental when carrying out legal services in the workplace. "The programme is designed to reinforce understanding and application of the principles of substantive and procedural law and their relation to the institutions of the legal system as a whole. Effective mechanisms are also exemplified illustrating how to manage work comprehensively and how to tackle new situations efficiently while ensuring individual professional responsibilities are met," Professor Upham says. "The PCLL programme is constantly under review to ensure it meets the needs of the legal profession and Hong Kong society."
Voice of experience
Aside from the distinguished international team of faculty, the school also works closely with the bar and law society. Local practitioners are involved in the delivery of the PCLL programme and in the assessment of students' abilities. "Our 40-plus faculty members are from various jurisdictions including those in Australia, the UK, Germany, Canada, the US, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and of course Hong Kong and the mainland," says Professor Upham. "We also bring in a wealth of visiting lecturers and professors on all our programmes."
The school's outstanding academic environment supports and contributes to the advancement of knowledge and superlative education and training. One example is the university's renowned law library where students have full access to the extensive selection of law materials and reference tools such as law reports, statutes, and major legal databases.
Another attractive benefit of the programme lies in small class sizes. "This allows us to put greater emphasis on group exercises and individual attention. The programme also prioritises continuous assessment.
"We always emphasise honesty and respect for colleagues. PCLL students are bound by the honour code which requires them to behave as if they are already legal professionals in the field," Professor Upham underlines. "A lawyer has to be confident in both the knowledge of substantive law and the ability to use it. We also value listening skills and sensible questioning," says Professor Upham. "After all, the idea is that a lawyer should do for the client what a client would do for themselves if they had the lawyer's skill and training. Fundamental though, is a lawyer's duty to represent the client's interest to his or her best ability and in accordance with correct professional practice."
In terms of enhancing the public image of the legal profession, the PCLL programme places great emphasis upon professional and ethical obligations. Barristers are now increasingly concerned with human rights and civil liberties. Many law firms take on pro bono work, even though they know in advance that they will lose out financially. "Firms feel that this is a way of giving something back to the community," explains Professor Upham.
Career prospects in the legal field are also improving. Law students can choose to qualify as solicitors and work towards partnership status with a firm or alternatively, they can become barristers. Statistically, most graduates become trainee solicitors rather than pupil barristers due to salary expectations. "More of our students sign training contracts as solicitors rather than going to the bar because they can earn a living comparatively quickly. Those who become pupil barristers usually take around two years from the completion of pupillage before they start to earn a reasonable income due to many factors," says Professor Upham. However, he also notes that hard work eventually pays off whichever path a graduate chooses.
City University of Hong Kong recognises the need for its graduates to possess a good standard of spoken and written English and this is particularly so in the legal profession. "The higher the standard of English the better," adds Professor Upham.