How to blow your cash and time on Earth (2/Finale)
Tuesday 7 May 2013, 2.44pm HKT
Continuing the explanation about the desperation to become lawyers…
MOST lawyers I meet frequently take the first available opportunity to find out— (a) if I’ve ever practised law before, and (b) whether I have “5+ PQE” (the industry jargon for ‘five years or more of post-qualification experience’).
I’ve come to learn that I get
anally probed like that because these guys want to know if they could somehow hire me. They could see in me my bilingual ability and (just to toot my own horn) the raw hunger of someone who gets things done whilst working 80-hour workweeks in financial printing. In short, they want to know if I’m interested in practising law — so that (I suspect) they could jettison some of their local mattress hay.
No, I don’t have 5+ PQE — and highly unlikely I’ll ever get that too, considering—
(a) I have to convert my foreign qualifications for Hong Kong admission,
(b) the current non-availability of Articles or pupillage for anyone to build up PQE, and
(c) I have a running commercial concern.
But I’m very flattered with the interest.
But many others ARE interested — desperate even — to become lawyers, despite the conditions and prospects mentioned in Part 1. So much so that many legal hopefuls are devising workarounds — then finding themselves in a bind later on.
The (not much of a) workaround
The Legal Practitioners Ordinance (Cap. 159) [L.N. 60 of 2005] (‘LPO’) governs the admission and registration of local, overseas and foreign lawyers in Hong Kong (including their employees).
Overseas Lawyers (Qualification for Admission) Rules (Cap. 159Q) (operating under Section 73 LPO) governs the admission of ‘overseas’ lawyers (i.e. overseas-qualified lawyers who are based in Hong Kong and practise Hong Kong law).
The Foreign Lawyers Registration Rules (Cap. 159S) (operating under s. 73 LPO) governs the registration of ‘foreign’ lawyers (i.e. lawyers who are simply based in Hong Kong but don’t practise Hong Kong law).
Trending for around three or four years now among some legal hopefuls is this workaround routine:—
- do the local secondary-school exams
- do the GCE locally (because locals tend to score higher grades on them than on local exams)
- do the LL.B. overseas
- do the P.C.LL or GDL or whatever post-LL.B. qualifications overseas
- secure the Articles or pupillage overseas
- get the Practising Certificate (the lawyer licence) overseas
- return to Hong Kong
- do the OLQE (Overseas Lawyer Qualification Examination) to convert the licence
Basically, do everything overseas, come back, and hope for the best in landing a job here. The biggest stumbling block is the OLQE, which is one big hassle even if you’re actually a local-born local.
Neutering the workaround
- Your fantastic overseas legal qualification and/or experience are virtually put to a trial by ordeal when you try to go through the conversion process.
We all know this:— If your livelihood is even remotely threatened, you’d rob, cheat, kill and do everything under the sun to protect it. It’s very understandable.
So the local licensing process is designed to make things hard for the overseas types.
Any common law lawyer (say, from the UK or USA) is expected to have practised law for two years PRIOR to being allowed to sit for the OLQE.
The whole idea behind this 2+ PQE (which expressly excludes paralegal work) is to reflect the two-year traineeship that all local lawyers must undergo in the ‘local’ Hong Kong pathway after the LL.B. degree.
The local pathway essentially is the same as the UK’s 3-year LL.B. + 1-year Legal Practice Course + 2-year Articles (in a solicitors’ firm) or 2-year pupillage (in a barrister’s chambers).
That’s dynamite on paper. In reality, the opinion even from the local cynics’ camp is that the whole admissions process is protectionism designed to prevent overseas types (especially bilingual overseas types) from muscling in on the local lawyers’ action. Bank on the ability of lawyers to disguise this with some feel-good, non-controversial reasons.
Everybody in their heart of hearts knows the overseas types have the skills and personal charm to outgun the locals even in just clearing the desk paperwork. Overseas qualifications still have snob appeal in Hong Kong. Add everything up together, and the home-brewed local lawyer understandably stares piercingly at all overseas types as a livelihood threat.
Indeed, the prodigal son who returns to home turf from abroad is viewed with even greater suspicion than the outright overseaswag, simply because the overseas localwag also actually understands local conditions just a bit too well for comfort.
That’s actually the case from the 1950s right up to the ’80s. No one wants a repeat broadcast.
The whole OLQE conversion is pointlessly convoluted, as one New York lawyer living in Hong Kong has discovered:—
“The process is rather tedious. First, one must make an application to the Law Society of Hong Kong by early July to take the [OLQE], including any application for exemptions. […] only civil code lawyers with 5 years’ experience may even attempt at the exams, while common law lawyers (such as Americans) are instantly entitled to sit for the exams AND […] who have 5 years’ experience, and can prove it, […] may submit “evidence” that they have the experience requisite to be exempted from [certain subjects]. […]
“The application itself costs [HK$3,300], is extremely tedious, requires a lot of running around (original certificates of good standing from each jurisdiction you are admitted!), nagging former employers to sign letters [for] you, of course, draft yourself, etc. etc. Not nice. I managed to convince the Law Society to exempt me from 2 of the 3 exemptable Heads, and am now taking a prep course at IP Learning for Heads I and III. Obviously, these courses are not cheap.
“In addition to costs for the application and preparation, you then pay the Law Society an additional [HK$5,500] to take a Head, and an additional $1,100 for each subsequent Head! This must be done by mid-August.
“The exams are given just once a year in the Fall, with results not coming out until some time in February, and then once you have your hopefully happy results, you then make an application for admissions — which I believe involves yet another fee! What extortion!!!
“And just to take up STILL more time, the admissions ceremony does not even take place until the following July! So all in all, the whole process for a foreign lawyer to get locally admitted is extremely tedious, time consuming and expensive. […]
(P.S. — I’m not sure what a civil code lawyer who doesn’t have the 5 years’ requisite experience has to do. Does one have no choice but to qualify as a brand new lawyer in Hong Kong? That is, obtain a law degree, take the one-year PCLL and then a 2-year traineeship?? Now that I’d never do!)
— via mybitblog.wordpress.com, 06 AUG 2010
In other words, assuming all goes well and you have the correct repertoire of experience and qualifications, the total cost and time for conversion is:—
- OLQE application fee HK$3,300
- assuming all five OLQE Heads (subjects): at HK$5,500 × 5 = HK$27,500
- total nominal cost HK$38,000 (say, HK$40,000)
NOMINAL WAITING TIME
- 6 months from sitting exams to results out
- 17 months from exam results to admissions ceremony
- total waiting time is 23 months (say, 2 years)
Altogether, the person will have likely spent 6 years overseas getting qualified and experienced, then another 2 or 3 years locally to gain admission. That’s 8 to 10 years in all.
A missed point
- The OLQE has been undergoing reform since around 2009 to reflect new developments in the Hong Kong constitution and legal system, therefore subject exemptions is likely to be removed altogether soon.
Many overseas or foreign lawyers seem to have missed a crucial point — they’ll soon be unable to get any exemptions on the OLQE because of new Hong Kong-specific ‘core’ subjects. In short, everybody from overseas will have to do ALL five OLQE subjects in order to qualify for local practice.
Even so, it’s the 5+ PQE that remains the biggest stumbling block for the overseas-qualified lawyer. Overseas Articles and pupillage typically last two years or so (just as they are locally), and then you’re jettisoned like a diseased ship rat. With only three years off the mark, the bummer who comes (or returns) to Hong Kong pre-5+ PQE will find it tough-going to make up for those missing three PQE years.
“Not trying to put you off, but I’m about 5½ years PQE with solid experience in my field and I’ve sat the OLQE. Even that won’t help me because of the language issue (at present anyway). I really want to move jobs but without language skills I’m finding it pretty hard. […] I was lucky in that I only had to sit Property [Law] and even then that was 4 months of very hard studying. I also took a course run by LexOmnibus (which I paid for). The courses are not cheap. I suggest [an overseas-qualified lawyer] come out here and find a job as a registered foreign lawyer (which many people do) and then get your firm to pay for your OLQE and course fees.” — Pin, 14 AUG 2011
Changing landscape for lawyers
- Go for the ‘Overseas Lawyer’ admissions route to help the firm to help you. The ratio of local to overseas lawyers in a firm is crucial to keeping their officially registered status to keep operating here.
If you’re lucky enough to know lawyers who actually know AND care about things, their default advice now to junior and midlevel overseas-qualified candidates is to follow the Overseas Lawyer route and sign up for the OLQE whilst still in their current positions at their current workplaces. Since the OLQE is a once-a-year exam, the time from start to finish is just too demoralisingly long to delay or ‘think things over.’
Apart from the purely local law firms, most of the sizeable law firms in Hong Kong currently have a half-half ratio of local and foreign lawyers. The ratio is mainly to keep their official registered status as a Hong Kong solicitors’ firm.
Back around 2009, lawyers were heavily discussing the lawyer ratio in relation to the firm’s licensure. The Law Society and other legal groupings at the time were telling candidates to start sitting for the OLQE by October 2009 so that they could be licensed by 2011 at the earliest. After 2011, these people say, “the train will have long left the station for many firms considering licensure as a Hong Kong Firm of Solicitors by then.”
If you’re smart enough, you will notice…
- Our Department of Justice will have a succession issue in a few years’ time because its recruitment will be from a shrinking pool of eligible lawyers.
Fewer and fewer Articles and pupillage will available for locally trained lawyers to finalise admission, resulting in fewer and fewer practisable lawyers available for hire.
Likewise, fewer and fewer eligible overseas-qualified lawyers will be available because the local licensing process will become harder and harder (as exemptions will be increasingly removed even for experienced lawyers sitting the licensing exams).
All in all, there’ll just be fewer and fewer eligible lawyers (local or foreign) because the back end of the various pathways is cockblocking the finalisation for admission.
- There will be little or no availability of traineeship or pupillage in the short to medium term because of rising costs, running political developments, and the deteriorating skills set of applicants for employment.
Go through the local pathway — that only gets you a long wait at the end because, whilst you may have flied through your studies, there’s little or no traineeship or pupillage to finalise your pathway.
Go through the overseas pathway — again that gets you a long wait because the strictures on converting or recognising licenses will get tougher as time goes by. Experienced lawyers from abroad won’t want to downgrade to a trainee in order to qualify, and firms won’t like to hire experienced hands because of their (shall we say) ‘independent-mindedness.’
- A practical dimension too — you wait, you grow older.
Older johnnies are less hired because Hong Kong (like everywhere else) likes to hire young things, because young things are easier to hire and fire at lower economical cost.
What to do, man, what to do?
This is the part that relates more to my acquaintance, but applies nonetheless to the whole picture for all legal hopefuls.
“Anybody who thinks talk is cheap should get some legal advice.”
— Franklin P. Jones
It doesn’t matter whether you ddid your legal studies locally or overseas. Ultimately, the end prospect equalises.
- The common law of Hong Kong will expire in 33 years’ time. Whether it will or not is irrelevant. The hope is that it stays, but no facts exist to indicate either way.
Whether Common Law in Hong Kong comes to an end in 33 years’ time (on 30 June 2046) is open to extreme conjecture. No one knows (including China, our overlord). No one knows simply because nobody is even conjecturing.
In 33 years’ time, at least three generations of leaders in Beijing will have come and gone who will have decided and undecided what shots to call.
The truth means responsibility — which is why everybody dreads it.
But explain to me why it’s not nice to start thinking about this now. In my mind, it’s better to start broaching the subject now so that Our Future Landlords will know what shots to call.
Start now, and there will be 33 future years’ worth of thinking, arguments, politicking, rioting or whatever to form a solid basis for making a happy, stress-free, politically nutritious workable solution. If not, then train your children to welcome the Mother of Chaos and Extreme Economic Downgrading in 33 years’ time.
I mean, we’ve seen the same movie before.
Nobody in the 1970s wanted to even theoretically explore the issue of Hong Kong’s return to China that accidentally resulted from China’s rebuff to (then Sir) Murray McLehose when he stepped off the train in Canton City in 1971/72 when he was visiting in his official capacity as the Hong Kong Governor. The whole matter of retrocession just got shoved in the backburner until Maggie Thatcher’s visit to China in 1982, and then everything went Warp Factor Five chaotically. If not for some seriously professional planners on both the British and Chinese sides, 1997 would have ended up a complete balls-up.
We’re not seeing the same calibre of people today, and unlikely to see any of the such in future because of our degraded education system, so we should start the ball rolling now about 2046.
Personally, I think it’s a little silly to operate on denialist mode as an avoidant personality about that eventuality. To talk about the changing landscape of licensing lawyers whilst completely ignoring the ultimate lifespan of the whole legal system itself is like treating parietal lobe tumour with 2,000 mg of Vitamin C on an as-needed basis.
Vitamin C is of course good for you … but useless to stanch a growing tumour. Got to do something RIGHT NOW whilst the tumour is still early and treatable, never mind if Vitamin C actually has any useful effect.
For pete’s sakes, Hong Kong had been promised 50 years of autonomy and no change — that’s just barely two generations. As a comparison, the New Territories of Hong Kong had been leased to the UK in 1898 for 100 years. The taxi meter is ticking.
- Take the shortest path to your destination. Because you only live once. Because it always costs money. And since you’re paying good money, it better saves time too. Because you only live once.
“I mean, we all have got to operate on some realistic level,” as Richard Burton’s character says in the movie “The Night of the Iguana” (1964).
To those of us who resemble my acquaintance in some way, I say no one knows what will come tomorrow, so we should take the shortest path to our destination. Even though at this moment we see little or no glad tidings for finalising lawyer licensing, it pays to have the mostest of the requirements soonest in hand. No one knows what opportunities may arise in the meantime. Anything that IS lacking when opportunity knocks usually can be remedied.
What cannot be remedied is time itself. Doubling back to school qualifications whilst holding a degree is just plain, wasteful stupidity. It also looks pretty career-limiting on the CV, by the way.
- If you have a choice, learn to carry on your parents’ trade or family business (if feasible or gainful enough). That might actually be a wiser decision than to fly off the handle and go into a time-delimited field like law, where the supply of lawyers traditionally outstrips demand by 17 to 1 for most of the last 50 years.
Everybody wants to be a ‘professional’ — understandably so. I say, make money professionally, whatever the trade or calling. The easiest way to be a professional moneymaker is to ride on existing efforts.
If existing efforts have been reasonably successful, so much the better.
To my acquaintance (and anybody else who cares to listen), let me say that a person with a going family concern (such as my acquaintance has) usually discovers that it pays heavy dividends in the long haul to learn the family trade and to think about when and how to take over the reins.
- You’ll find success is much easier riding on something existing than starting from the bottom, or nothing.
Remember those clear NZT pills that guy was constantly plonking down in the movie “Limitless”? It’s fantasy.
Rely on your own brainpower and a little luck instead. If you’ve invented or have access to thallanylzirconiomethyltetrahydrotriazatriphenylene (NZT), then you don’t need to listen to me.
The likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and our own Li Ka-shing are unique individuals who made good under unique circumstances. Likewise, the dotcom bunch makes for great reading and great entertainment … and little else.
In reality, the absolute majority of successful people are more like your local newsagent who’s been running his store for the past 50 years and able to pay off the mortgage, send kids to school, and have something left for the kids to take over in the fullness of time. At the high end, they’re more like Arianna Huffington and our Ronnie Chan (of Hang Lung Group) — people who started early to learn and carry on their parents’ work.
Of course it might be a different story if your folks don’t have a going concern for you to take over. But if there exists a business, then maximise on it.
Example:— I didn’t take over my father’s architectural practice because I couldn’t. I had to resit my physics. In my day, a resit was poison for entering architecture school. Likewise, I couldn’t take over my mum’s textile business because it was sold off before I was grown up enough. So I took over the family printing business instead.
Lawyering — if your lawyer friends are being honest with you — often DOESN’T pay nearly as well as running your own business, generally speaking. Not unless it’s at senior partner level in an international law firm — that takes REAL TALENT.
The high money and super high lifestyle that so many people in Hong Kong seems to be mesmerised with — that thing we Hongkongers dubbed 打工皇帝 (daa gung wong daie, ’employment emperor’) — is usually the result of…
a fairly TALENTED individual
with the RIGHT CONNECTIONS
who did the RIGHT THINGS
at the RIGHT TIME
in the RIGHT PLACES
in front of the RIGHT PEOPLE
after listening to the RIGHT ADVICE
AND thinking right
I don’t think I have that right mix myself — yet I’m explaining this to you right now. Think about that for a mewling minute.
If a person has to backtrack to getting secondary-school qualifications, pretty much on balance of probability that person hasn’t got that talent.
Life is limitless
… but only if you don’t limit your circles, or the advice you’re getting
© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2013. (B13129)
Updated 28 JUL 2014 (typo fixes)
Images: (1) Limitless UK movie poster adapted from the sci-fi gene (2) Urinal signs via The Connected Librarian (3) Can You Break Through Roadsign via EnergyXchange (4) Get Shafted and Carry On via Keepcalm-o-Matic (5) Screw Calm and Get Even via haiitssarahh.tumblr.com (6) Union Jack Face via Zastavki.com (7) Chairman Mao and chick via China Daily (8) Old Hong Kong Flag 1959 via Wikipedia (9) More Less More via Sererra.com (10) NZT pills via FirstShowing.net (11) Tattoo beach girl via Guideless.