The Law Society of Hong Kong has announced that law students seeking to become trainee solicitors in the territory must pass a new qualifying exam from 2021: the Common Entrance Examination (CEE).
However, the announcement came before consultations were completed, and the Law Society has yet to provide a full rationale for the change, frustrating local legal scholars.
Currently, prospective solicitors must graduate from an LLB or JD programme in Hong Kong or another common law jurisdictions, then complete the Postgraduate Certificate in Laws and pass the internal examination set by schools before becoming a trainee solicitor.
According to the future scheme, “a person may only enter into a trainee solicitor contract if that person has passed a Common Entrance Examination. The CEE will be set and marked by the Law Society.”
Under this system, students will have to complete the PCLL course but will not be required to take the examination set by PCLL providers, which will be replaced by a single unified test that will bypass Hong Kong’s university programmes.
The Law Society said that as a regulatory body, it has a duty to maintain the standards of the profession and to protect the public interest. It also said that the purposes of implementing the exam are to uphold the quality of entrants to the profession and to make it accessible to those with ability.
In a statement to the media, the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law said that they were surprised the Law Society has decided to go ahead with the CEE when the legal education review, which only began last October, has yet to be completed by the Standing Committee on Legal Education and Training.
“It is regrettable that the Law Society did not wait for the Standing Committee’s consultants to finish their review of the current state of legal education and training in Hong Kong,” Simon Young, Acting Dean of the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law told HKFP. “The CEE proposal will add another hurdle for law students wanting to become solicitors… Much time and expense will be needed to establish a credible CEE. Students will also need to spend much time and expense trying to pass the CEE.”
“Why Hong Kong’s legal profession needs the CEE starting from 2021 has not been fully explained by the Law Society. Indeed very few details about the CEE have yet to be made public,” Young added. The faculty also said that they are waiting to learn more about the reasons justifying the need for the CEE, which has not been explained by the Law Society.
The Law Society did not respond directly to HKFP’s questions on the rationale behind the introduction of the CEE and the reasons for the change. “The purposes of introducing CEE are set out in the press release and the Law Society considers the implementation of CEE the right direction to achieve those purposes,” they said in their response.