Legal knowledge a professional niche

by Mayse Lam

Anthony Upham, associate professor, School of Law
City University of Hong Kong
Photo: Ringo Lee

Steering China's growth requires large numbers of legal professionals

Law graduates are always in demand, though in Asia never more so than now. With Hong Kong's healthy economy and the mainland's much publicised growth, lawyers and legally aware professionals are increasingly required throughout public and private sectors in the region and beyond.

City University of Hong Kong's School of Law offers a range of degrees that cater for people in all stages of life.

"Over the past few years there has been a steady increase in demand for legal professionals in Hong Kong mostly due to the financial reforms and economic growth of China," says Anthony Upham, associate professor, School of Law, City University of Hong Kong (CityU). "Lawyers are not limited to settling disputes or handling divorces and real estates cases. They can play a significant role in the strategic planning for businesses and problem solving for other commercial enterprises. Many law graduates enjoy successful careers in industries such as accountancy, business, finance, management and even the civil service."

Professor Upham received his law education in England where he worked for more than 14 years as a solicitor. Now in Hong Kong, he says that Asia needs more people with law degrees. "More and more law professionals have been brought into Asian countries from Europe in recent years, especially into China, to manage the rapid development of both private and public sectors," he says.

Ample opportunities

Given the enormity of the changes in the systems that support these sectors, Professor Upham notes the transforming roles that law practitioners are performing are not surprising. Law graduates are required not just as lawyers but as specialists who can navigate the many rules and regulations companies must comply with. This becomes especially challenging as cross-border trade volumes increase. "Our school places special emphasis on common law scholarship and comparative and international law scholarship, concentrating distinctively on Chinese law. In addition, our school has developed expertise in a wide range of fields, including commercial law and international economic law to cope with the multiple challenges posed by commercial globalisation," Professor Upham says.

The school confers several degrees, each meeting different needs, though its principal objective is still to develop and train new talents for Hong Kong's legal sector. "Our four-year Bachelor of Laws with honours programme (LLB) provides graduates with the fundamental knowledge of the common law and the legal system in Hong Kong, while also introducing the law of China," Professor Upham explains. "Our Juris Doctor programme (JD) is an internationally recognised degree programme designed for students who are already graduates in a non-law discipline. We also offer the Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (PCLL) that prepares our students to enter the legal profession as trainee solicitors or as pupil barristers. Besides these basic programmes we also offer Master's degrees including the Master of Laws (LLM), and the Doctor of Juridical Science (JSD) which really enhance the expertise and knowledge of legal professionals."

The school emphasises experiences that encourage students to understand the cross-cultural dimension of legal practices around the globe. It has an exciting range of exchange programmes with leading law schools and institutions in Europe, North America, China and many other countries. "We have also developed close links with the legal profession in Hong Kong and with agencies of the legal system. As well as academics, many lawyers and judges from Hong Kong and abroad visit the school regularly to deliver talks and lectures to our staff and students," Professor Upham says.

Global gateway

With a particular focus on China, the school has created the Global gatewayR programme to provide multi-jurisdictional opportunities for legal study. The programme strongly encourages students from China to pursue international legal studies in Hong Kong and overseas. At the same time, it also provides opportunities for overseas students to undergo postgraduate legal education in Hong Kong and China.

"Through increased exposure and cooperation with exchange students from different countries, we anticipate that our students can learn and understand more about other cultures' practices. We also hope to foster a harmonious and diverse academic learning environment for all students," Professor Upham explains. "In our university we strive to provide students with an excellent education, teaching them not only the fundamental professional skills and legal knowledge needed to succeed in today's world, but also putting great emphasis on educating them on their ethics and morals."

The school's academic staff have qualifications from a variety of countries, including the UK, US, Canada, Australia, China and Hong Kong. "With a team of dedicated teaching staff, great facilities such as a library with an extensive selection of law books, an actual court room setting for students to practice in and advanced technologies including computers and video recorders to assist their education, our school aims to foster a comfortable yet superlative learning environment for all our students," Professor Upham says.

He adds that law is an essential part of any successful society and that obtaining a law degree requires a high level of thinking. "Law graduates and legal practitioners must learn continuously and appreciate that learning is not simply memorising but understanding and most importantly being able to apply the skills and knowledge in their professions to improve the quality of life for people around the world," Professor Upham concludes.


Taken from Career Times 09 November 2007
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