#aplec2013 Day 2 Parallel Session

Postcards from the Edge: Proposed DIY Devolutionary Changes to PLT in Hong Kong

Jack Burke

City University Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, law graduates are required to complete a post-graduate certificate in laws program to be eligible for admission to the profession. The Law Society of Hong Kong proposes to introduce a qualifying exam, with the aim of ensuring uniform standards. The timing of the examination is yet to be decided pending a consultation process. Uncertainty about the timing of such an exam raises the prospect of graduates being able to qualify for admission without completing a practical legal training requirement. In the present circumstances many law graduates are unable to obtain placements in the post-graduate certificate program. Jack argued against the potential abolition of mandatory practical legal training, and canvassed other approaches to ensuring uniform standards and parity of access to PLT and admission processes.

UK LETR 2013 – found current model of doctrinal law degree followed by post-graduate skills training works well. Recommendation that current system of apprenticeships be extended. Also recommended for greater focus on professional competencies, e.g. professionalism, professional standards, learning attainment, reflection, emotional intelligence, dealing with uncertainty. Concern with standardisation and integrity – query whether centrally-based assessment should be adopted. Urged great consultation between stakeholders, e.g. profession, educators, regulators, trainees etc. Need for greater consistency between what is taught and what occurs in practice.

Ontario – has system of articled training. 2012 report ‘Pathways to the Profession: A Roadmap for the Reform of Lawyer Licensing in Ontario’. Perceived problems with articles – patchy work experiences, large firm focused, lack of effective feedback and instruction to clerks, single rotation in one practice area common. Reports that good training is excellent experience, but inconsistency in quality of training. Collecting data over 5 years re merits of pathways to admission. Separate minority report recommended that articles be abandoned because outdated, inconsistent. Recommended introduction of some online instruction.

USA – educational debt and high graduate unemployment is the current crisis. American Bar Association Draft Report (2013) – urging move from academic to vocational focus in JD programs. What would be the outcome of shifting away from doctrinal study?

Hong Kong Рdiscussion of introducing a bar exam in 2018. Not clear whether in place of or in addition to the PCLL. Is the real issue a lack of standards, or a shortage of PCLL places? Situation in Hong Kong, many students do law school and PLT overseas and then seek to return to Hong Kong to practice. About 2000 students with law degrees, but only 600 PCLL places each year! PCLL is 26 week long intensive skills training. Benchmarked by law society and bar association. 1:10 teaching ratio; primarily F2F with some online instruction. Redmond Roper Report 2001 Рidentified problems in PCLL Рcriticised for overly being academic Рsince then instruction largely skills based and interactive.  Law society very interactive with PCLL Рexternal academic advisers (EAAs) assess all exam scripts, and check marked assessments before signing off on results, must vet all PCLL course materials. EAAs sit in on instruction and evaluate instructors. Personal experience of this is a bit scary but has improved standards of teaching. Standing committee on legal education and training.

Jack argues for increased training places in Hong Kong and against abolition of PLT requirement.