Inns and outs

by Grace Chan

Sushma Sharma (left), teaching fellow
PCLL programme leader
Sara Tsui, teaching fellow, associate LLB programme leader
School of Law, City University of Hong Kong
Photo: Nolly Leung
Postgraduate studies prepare aspiring legal elites for cross-border contexts

Every business, regardless of size and nature, has legal aspects to consider. Unaffected by global economic volatility, the demand for legal experts continues to grow. However, today's lawyers are expected to demonstrate more than just fundamental knowledge. Outstanding interpersonal and critical-thinking skills, proficiency in languages and creativity are essential attributes.

Considering these factors, the Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (PCLL) offered by City University of Hong Kong's School of Law has a strong focus on practicality.
The full-time, one-year programme prepares students to enter the legal profession as trainee solicitors or pupil barristers. Training is skills-based, incorporating simulated case scenarios, presentations and seminars. Students are often divided into groups to hone their problem-solving abilities.

"Theory and application are equally important in the legal profession. We're particularly aware of the need to teach students to apply law in the real world," says Sushma Sharma, a teaching fellow and PCLL programme leader, School of Law, City University of Hong Kong.

"We're the first law school in Hong Kong to offer credit-based legal placements with international and mainland law firms," adds Sara Tsui, who is also a teaching fellow and an associate LLB programme leader of the university's School of Law. "The internships provide students with practical experience and familiarise them with the intensive nature of working as a legal professional," she explains.

Higher benchmarks

Students are given the opportunity to engage in competitive mooting competitions (arguing imaginary cases) with counterparts from other academic institutions within and outside Hong Kong, facilitating the application of their knowledge and skills in a courtroom-type context and preparing them for the competitive legal environment.

Written and spoken language skills are crucial in the industry, with law firms generally expecting lawyers to be highly proficient in English, Ms Tsui notes. As ties strengthen with mainland China, legal practitioners should also have a good standard of written Chinese and oral skills in Mandarin.

The PCLL programme therefore stresses practical legal writing and drafting skills. Drafting exercises in groups enable students to enhance and apply their critical thinking abilities and polish their verbal communication skills.

Meanwhile, interaction among students and lecturers is encouraged through simulation exercises, class discussions and group projects. "The legal profession is people-oriented. Lawyers are constantly meeting and dealing with people from all walks of life," Ms Sharma points out. "Our students fall into groups of two to 10 for presentations or dialogue and they're expected to learn to work well as a team and to appreciate each other's points of view and strengths."

Ms Tsui adds, "Our students hail from diverse educational and professional backgrounds, so they also learn from the experiences of their classmates."

Students also get the chance to learn from judges, partners in law firms and other legal professionals from Hong Kong and aboard. A highlight of the programme is the exposure to the mainland China legal system. This aspect of the programme is important as cross-border trade increases.

The law school entered into an exclusive agreement with the Supreme People's Court of China and National Judges College to offer advanced legal education to 30 mainland judges every year over here in Hong Kong. "This level of knowledge exchange affords our students the opportunity to gain insights into the practice of law in mainland China," Ms Sharma points out.

As part of a quality assurance system, the university adopts stringent admission criteria for entry to the PCLL programme. "Although our maximum intake is 100 students, we admitted 94 out of nearly 600 applicants in the last academic year," Ms Sharma says. "We only consider students who have achieved good results in their law degrees and have outstanding English-language skills."

As far as quality is concerned, the postgraduate students are assessed through coursework, presentations, projects and mid-term and final examinations.

The programme is under constant review by the school's international advisory board, comprising Hong Kong-based legal professionals and law professors from renowned overseas institutions.

PCLL graduates can choose to qualify as solicitors and work towards partnership status with law firms. Alternatively, they may become barristers or work for commercial institutions such as banks, accounting firms, or even non-profit organisations.

"Legal practice falls into the scope of service industry and, considering Hong Kong's position as a commercial hub, there is always a demand for lawyers," emphasises Ms Tsui. "During the recent financial crisis, for example, there was an increasing need for practitioners specialised in restructuring."

Legal eagles

  • First Hong Kong law school to offer credit-based legal placements
  • Students learn to apply knowledge and skills in real-life contexts
  • Practical studies offer opportunities to learn from local and overseas legal experts
  • Strict admission criteria ensures top-quality student intakes

Taken from Career Times 15 January 2010, A13

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