While life-long learning is now being promoted in every industry, it is nothing new to practitioners in the legal field, who have long acknowledged its values.
To cater for the special educational needs of Hong Kong's legal professionals, a variety of postgraduate programmes are offered by the School of Law, City University of Hong Kong (CityU SLW). Over the past decade, the CityU SLW has established itself as the premier centre for the teaching of law in the Asia Pacific region, hosting conferences and conducting research on contemporary issues. Its distinguished academic team includes teachers and scholars from Hong Kong, the mainland and other parts of the world.
Among the programmes of CityU SLW, there is an increasing demand for the Master of Laws (LLM) programme from professionals wanting to upgrade and expand their competency. Zhao Yun, assistant professor and programme leader of the university's LLM programme, points out that the number of applicants is rising steadily every year. "In addition to the higher qualification it brings, the intensive programme enables students to strengthen their specialist knowledge through studies of issues and practices relating to different aspects of law. By choosing the appropriate stream of studies, the students also benefit by creating a clearer career focus," says Dr Zhao.
These five streams of studies are offered to participants: Chinese and Comparative Law; International Economic Law; the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Law; Common Law; and a General stream.
The Chinese and Comparative Law stream stresses on a comparative understanding of the law and regulations of the PRC, and was the most popular in the past enrolment. "This trend confirms the growing interest in the legal aspects of the China market now the mainland has lowered its trade barriers," says Dr Zhao. "Furthermore, the increasing economic exchanges between Hong Kong and the mainland have underlined the importance of mutual understanding of their respective legal systems. As a leading commercial and financial centre in Asia, Hong Kong's vibrant economy and equally vibrant regulatory regimes provide rich elements for studies."
Turning to the International Economic Law stream, Dr Zhao explains that it opens participants' eyes to previously unknown international legal issues concerning business transactions. It also provides a comprehensive study of problems related to Asian jurisdictions.
The WTO and Law stream draws on the legal framework of international trade and investment as stipulated by the WTO and related international organisations involved in the process of economic globalisation. More specifically, it addresses legal issues arising from China's membership, and thorny problems springing from its increasingly important role in the global economy. "Since China's membership of the WTO is relatively new, this stream of study is also quite popular, and applicants face keen competition for places," Dr Zhao adds.
In the Common Law stream, participants are given a grounding in the origins, practices, values, principles and theory of Common Law. They also acquire the capability to compare Common and Civil Law systems and methods. This programme attracts a number of law graduates from non-common law jurisdictions, particularly the mainland.
The General stream provides a diversity of topics of interest to participants.
To foster a cross-cultural environment, both English and Chinese courses are available for the Chinese and Comparative Law stream, the International Economic Law stream and the General stream. However, only English courses are available for the other two.
"Our LLM programme has drawn students from all over the world who are interested in China's legal development and its interface with the West," says Dr Zhao. "Currently, the mix of students comprises one-third locals, one-third from the mainland and the balance international students." The main student body is made up of attorneys, law graduates, corporate executives and professionals from other law-related disciplines, all of whom see the value of upgrading their qualifications because of the professional advancement this will bring.
Dr Zhao points out, the internationalisation of CityU SLW is a result of a long established linkage with prestigious law schools in North America, Europe and the mainland. LLM students have options to further their studies through linked programmes offered by these law schools. Likewise, students of these law schools may enrol in the LLM programmes. "It is part of our 'global gateway' programme which aims to provide students with an international edge to their legal education. As a bonus option, our students can obtain the dual LLMs offered between CityU SLW and the Washington College of Law at the American University, the Chicago-Kent College of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the School of Law of the Bond University in Australia or the University of Aix-Marseilles in France," says Dr Zhao. "This means that besides gaining the global exposure that is essential to the practice of law nowadays, our LLM Programme is also a fast track to two Master titles."