Many people have asked me this question over the years. When I explain, some people thought the process was quite complicated. But the process to be a lawyer in Hong Kong is actually quite simple: (1) law degree + PCLL + traineeship/pupillage or (2) foreign lawyer + overseas lawyers qualification examination (OLQE).
Solicitors and barristers
In Hong Kong, the legal profession is split into solicitors and barristers. I won’t go into the historical differences between the two professions, but in modern day legal practice, both solicitors and barristers have to go through practically the same legal training in law school (except the bar requires an extra “trial advocacy” elective in PCLL).
Common law degree
Hong Kong has three law schools: HKU, CUHK and CityU, which offer both the 4 year Bachelor of Laws (LLB) and the 2 year Juris Doctor (JD). Both are qualifying law degrees. Overseas law degrees (LLB, JD, and some BA/MA law degrees) or equivalent (CPE, GDL, etc.) are also qualifying law degrees, subject to passing conversion exams before PCLL.
PCLL (postgraduate certificate in laws)
HKU, CUHK and CityU all offer the PCLL programme, as required by the Law Society and the Bar Association prior to commencing traineeship/pupillage. Each year, they admit about 650 students (full and part-time) into their PCLL programmes. Statistically, there are about 1300 applicants each year, so about 1 in 2 gets admitted into PCLL.
The Law Society requires law graduates to undertake 2 years of training at a law firm. This is called a “training contract.” An alternative to the training contract is to train under the Department of Justice’s legal trainee scheme (solicitors), where the trainee will train under the civil, prosecutions, and other legal departments of the government.
The Bar Association requires a law graduate to complete 6 months of pupillage before being called to the bar. Normally, a pupil will seek 3 pupil-masters practicing different areas of law. The pupil must continue a further 6 months of pupillage under supervision of his pupil-master (limited practice period) until he may commence full practice.
A foreign lawyer of a common law jurisdiction must have 2 years of practice experience before eligible to take the OLQE. A lawyer from a civil law jurisdiction would require 5 years of practice before he can take the OLQE. Work experience may include working as a lawyer in the overseas jurisdiction or as a registered foreign lawyer in Hong Kong.
The process of becoming a lawyer is actually quite straight forward. The hardest part is usually studying law, which can be a difficult subject. And as the PCLL is the “gatekeeper” of the legal profession, getting into PCLL can be competitive. Some people think that it takes a long time to become a lawyer, but there are also accelerated law degrees/certificates (e.g. a 1 year CPE/GDL in the UK). Whether you should be a lawyer though — that’s a totally different question.