The path to admission in Hong Kong involves a number of steps
Hong Kong Clerkships
The standard way for students who wish to begin their career in Hong Kong begins with obtaining a clerkship or vacation scheme with a law firm in Hong Kong. Clerkships are essentially a legal internship in which you will work full time at a firm for around 4 weeks during summer or winter vacation. These vacation schemes are meant to provide aspiring students with a taste of the work and culture at the firm.
Firms & Culture
Hong Kong is home to many U.K. firms (also known as “Magic Circle firms”) and U.S. firms. The culture difference between U.K. firms and U.S. firms is significant and should be a consideration when you apply to Hong Kong clerkships. In general, U.S. firm trainees and associates are expected to work longer hours but receive better remuneration. However, it is important to note these are just general industry trends and that each firm’s culture is unique. The nature of the legal industry in Hong Kong is such that you will be likely working much longer hours than if you were in Australia.
U.S. firms also tend to be less hierarchical compared to U.K. firms. UK firms have lower expectations for their trainees and associates and put greater emphasis on training and development. Whereas, U.S. firms expect their trainees and associates to learn on the job by being ‘thrown in the deep end.’
Winter & Summer Clerkships
Firms generally prefer to offer clerkships to students in their penultimate years. The first possible time for a Melbourne JD student to complete a Hong Kong Clerkship is during the Summer vacation of their second year in December, January or February.
Important note: in Hong Kong, the seasons are reversed so Clerkships occurring in the Australian Summer are actually advertised by firms in Hong Kong as Winter Clerkships.
While the clerkship process is very structured in Melbourne with the system of Law Institute of Victoria signatories, Hong Kong law firms vary in application open and close dates. Each Hong Kong law firm’s application dates must be manually ascertained through their websites. However, for a very large number of firms, applications for the following year’s vacation schemes will open in October-November and close in January. Firms which target Australian students may have application periods which are open between February and March. These firms often conduct on-campus interviews at the Hong Kong Law Fair. Some Hong Kong law firm’s applications are determined on a rolling basis, which means that the firm will assess, interview and give offers before the end of the application period. Additionally, not all firms offer both Winter and Summer vacation schemes. For example, Skadden offers both winter and summer vacation schemes, but King & Wood Mallesons only offers winter vacation schemes.
Firms also vary in the way they assess applications. For some firms, applications can involve a series of questions gauging the students’ interests, aspirations and backgrounds. For other firms, only a submission of a CV/Resume, Cover Letter and Academic Transcript is required.
After the Clerkship
After you complete the clerkship, you may receive an offer for you to complete a 2-year training contract at that firm. Completion of the training contract is the final step to admission in Hong Kong. Training contract offers are subject to entry into and completion of a Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (PCLL). Due to differences between the legal systems of Hong Kong and Australia, Australian students are required to pass a number of conversion exams before entry into a PCLL program.
PCLL & Conversion Exams
In order to begin a training contract, it is necessary to complete a PCLL at one of the three providers in Hong Kong, which are the University of Hong Kong (HKU), Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and City University of Hong Kong (CityU). The Course fees for international students are around $150,000 HKD ($30,000 AUD), however most firms which offer training contracts will pay for your course fees and provide you with a modest living stipend while you are studying in Hong Kong. PCLL courses have one intake in September each year and you must have completed a first law degree (LLB/JD) by the time you begin. Selection is made on the basis of your grades and personal statements.
Conversion Exams & Exemptions
A key requirement to gain entry into the PCLL is completion of either a Hong Kong LLB/JD from one of the three universities in Hong Kong, or by demonstrating competency in 11 core subjects by taking their respective conversion exams:
Commercial Law (Parts A, B, C)
And 3 ‘top-up’ subjects if you did not complete an LLB/JD in Hong Kong:
Hong Kong Constitutional Law
Hong Kong Land Law
Hong Kong Legal System
Conversion Exams are held twice per year, in January and June.
It is possible to gain exemptions to the core subjects. Generally, Melbourne JD students are able to get exemptions for all of the core subjects except for Commercial Law Parts A, B and C.
Failure to complete conversion exams or successfully be exempted will render you unable to gain entry into the PCLL. This will prevent you from beginning a training contract. Generally, firms are reluctant to defer your training contract offer for a year for you to attempt to gain entry into the PCLL the following year. It is possible to retake exams, so it is advisable to start preparing for the exams early. Evidence of preparation may be seen favorably by firms during the application process.
For more information on conversion exams and exemptions, please consult this website which includes recommended readings, course syllabi and past exams: http://www.pcea.com.hk/package.html