Former dean of the University of Hong Kong’s law faculty Johannes Chan Man-mun has slammed the Law Society’s introduction of a unified exam as having “conflict of interest and protectionism towards the industry.”

Currently, prospective solicitors must complete the Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (PCLL) and pass the internal examinations set by law schools. The Law Society announced on January 8 that students must pass the new Common Entrance Examination (CEE) from 2021 if they want to be trainee solicitors. They will have to complete the PCLL course as well but will not be required to take the examination set by PCLL providers.

Johannes Chan Man-mun
Johannes Chan Man-mun.

The announcement came before the consultations of the Standing Committee on Legal Education and Training were completed. The Standing Committee’s review of legal education in Hong Kong began in October 2015 and remains ongoing.

In a column in the Chinese-language daily Ming Pao published on Wednesday, Chan wrote that legal education was regulated by the Standing Committee, and criticised the Law Society for announcing the change before the Standing Committee publishes its consultation report.

He added that the CEE is basically a repetition of the PCLL exam.

“First, setting the CEE after PCLL increases the legal profession’s barriers to entry. It would be more difficult to enter the industry. The objective result is reduced competition, which protects [Law Society’s] vested interest,” he wrote. “Second, PCLL is now regulated by an objective system, while CEE will be controlled by the Law Society. Professional groups [like the Law Society] must have a certain degree of conflict of interest, as shown by the lower pass rate for Overseas Lawyers Qualification Examination.”

Chan went on to explain that if the Law Society really cared about the quality of lawyers, the exam should be sat after the traineeship instead. Students who passed the PCLL assessment currently are required to complete a two-year traineeship at a Hong Kong law firm before they are allowed to practice as a solicitor.

lady justice

In a press release issued on Monday, the Law Society said the decision to implement CEE was reached “after a lengthy process of research, discussion and consultation with all relevant stakeholders”, and the Standing Committee was kept informed about the conduct of the CEE consultation.

“The introduction of the CEE will ensure consistency in professional standards and enhance the quality and competence of those joining the solicitors’ branch of the legal profession,” the statement read.

Dennis Kwok, member of the Legislative Council representing the Legal functional constituency, told Apple Daily that the Law Society should wait for the Standing Committee’s report of consultation before deciding on whether to have the CEE.

“[Law Society] wants to unify the exams, but they didn’t make their consultation report public. There are problems in the procedure,” he said.

Koel Chu is a second-year journalism and fine arts student at the University of Hong Kong. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Koel is interested in the arts and urban design. She interned at China Radio International in Beijing and, at her university, she also works as Vice-President of Branding and Marketing in AIESEC, the largest youth-run organisation in the world.