Special Report: A Slight Lawyering Problem (2/2)

Workarounds and the changing landscape for everybody.

Continuing the explanation for the desperation to become a lawyer.

Return to Part 1

Workarounds and the changing landscape for everybody


Everything’s a dildo too if you’re brave enough…

Most lawyers I meet frequently take the first opportunity to find out two things about me. One is if I’ve ever practised law before. And the other is whether I have “5+ PQE.”

“5+ PQE” is the industry jargon for 5+ years of post-qualification experience.

I’ve come to realise I get anally probed like that because those guys want to know if they could hire me (as a lawyer, not a prostitute, which pretty much comes to the same thing in my view).

They could see the bilingual ability in me and — not to sound too immodest — the raw hunger of one who gets things done whilst working 80-hour weeks in financial printing. In short, they want to know if I’m interested in practising law — also meaning (I suspect) if in the process they could discard some of their local mattress hay.

Never mind my PQE, thankyouverymuch. I got issues—

One, I have to convert my foreign qualifications for Hong Kong admission.

Two, the current non-availability of traineeships or pupillage to build up PQE.

Three, I have a running commercial concern, mate.

But I’m very flattered with the interest.

Yet many others ARE interested — desperate even — to become lawyers, notwithstanding the conditions and prospects already mentioned in Part 1. So much so that many legal hopefuls are devising workarounds —then find themselves in a bind later on.

The (not much of a) workaround

For those who don’t know this yet:—

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” are those based in Hong Kong whose foreign legal qualifications have been ‘converted’ for practising Hong Kong law. Their admission is under the Overseas Lawyers (Qualification for Admission) Rules (Cap. 159Q) (‘OLQ Rules’) operating under Section 73 of the LPO. The conversion process is the Overseas Lawyers Qualification Examination (OLQE).

“Foreign lawyers” are simply those based in Hong Kong and DON’T practice Hong Kong law. Their registration is governed by The Foreign Lawyers Registration Rules (Cap. 159S) (operating under s. 73 LPO). If the foreign lawyer passes the OLQE, it doesn’t necessarily mean the status converts to the overseas lawyer because it has to be applied for.

Hong Kong has a split legal profession. Any of the above lawyers are either solicitors (the non-trial lawyers) or barristers (the trial advocates), but not both. Solicitors are supervised by The Law Society of Hong Kong, and barristers by the Bar Council of Hong Kong.

Because of the statutory category of “overseas lawyer,” the trend since around 2009 or 2010 is this workaround routine:—


Do the local secondary-school exams.

Do the GCE locally (because locals tend to score higher on them than on local exams).

Do the 3-year LL.B. (Hons) overseas.
Do the 1-year vocational stage of training overseas.
Secure the 2-year Articles or pupillage overseas
Get the Practising Certificate (the lawyer’s licence) overseas.

Return to Hong Kong.
Do the OLQE to convert to a local licence.

In short, basically do everything overseas. Then 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 qualifications and/or experience are virtually put to a trial by ordeal when you try to go through the conversion process.

We all know this in life. If your livelihood is even remotely threatened, you’d rob, cheat and kill — do anything and everything under the sun — to protect it. It’s all terribly human.

can-you-break-through-road-sign1Overseas qualifications still have professional cachet and snob appeal in Hong Kong, and for good reason.

Everybody in their heart of hearts know the overseas type have the skills and the personal charm to outgun the locals even if it’s just clearing the desk paperwork. Add everything up, and the home-brewed local lawyer can be forgiven for eyeing piercingly at all overseas types as a livelihood threat.

Indeed, the prodigal sons and daughter back from foreign shores are viewed with even greater enmity than the outright foreigner. That’s because the overseas localwag actually understands the local conditions only too well by virtue of being an overseas type and a localwag all rolled into one.

Indeed, that has always been the case from the 1950s right up to the ’80s and even today. In the old days, British lawyers (especially barristers) were just flown out here on some package deal to advocate a local case without so much as subject to local confirmation hearings for professional articulation. No one wants a repeat broadcast.

The private opinions even from the local cynics is the whole local licensing process is protectionism. It’s designed to frustrate the foreign-educated from muscling in on the local action — especially the bilingual overseas type. Same story worldwide, all told.


The UK qualification pathway for lawyers

The Hong Kong pathway mirrors the UK one — law degree 3 years + vocational stage 1 year + apprenticeship 2 years (altogether 6 years).

Compare that to the U.S. pathway — first degree 3–4 years + law degree 3–4 years (or 6–8 years in all).

Or compare the generic European one — law degree 5 years + apprenticeship 18 months (or 7 years in all).

One precondition of the OLQE is the exam candidate must have practised law for minimum 2 years if from a Common Law country, or minimum 5 years if from a Civil Code country. That expressly excludes paralegal work.

The whole idea behind this 2+ PQE is to reflect the 2-year apprenticeship in the Hong Kong pathway.

That’s dynamite on paper. Bank on the ability of lawyers using feel-good, non-controversial reasons to explain things away.

In reality, the whole OLQE conversion is pointless convoluted, as one New York attorney in Hong Kong has discovered to his dismay:—


get-shafted-and-carry-onThe 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 or US$425], 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 or US$700] 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 inFebruary, 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 placeuntil 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, 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
All 5 Heads (subjects) at HK$5,500 × 5 = HK$27,500
Total nominal cost HK$38,000 (say, US$5,000)


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 then, the person will have spent 6–8 years abroad getting qualified, 2 years getting experienced, and then another 2–3 years locally to gain admission. That’s 13–15 years in all to be a lawyer in both the home country and here locally. That’s 25% of a 60-year-long lifespan.

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 are likely to be removed altogether soon.

Many overseas or foreign lawyers seem to miss a crucial point — they’ll soon be unable to get any exemptions on the OLQE because of the new Hong Kong-specific ‘core’ heads (subjects).

So everybody from overseas will then have to live through the hell of doing all 5 heads on the OLQE in order to qualify for local practice.

There’s another point about the PQE precondition that can turn out a hellish problem if you return to Hong Kong just a bit too early from abroad:—


The 5+ PQE that remains the biggest stumbling block for the overseas-qualified lawyer. Overseas Articles and pupillage typically last 2 years or so (just as they are locally), and then you’re jettisoned like a diseased ship rat. With only 3 years off the mark, anyone who comes (or returns) to Hong Kong pre-5+ PQE will find it tough-going to make up for those missing 3 PQE years.

That’s why I said I got issues about converting my overseas legal qualifications for local recognition.

Changing landscape for lawyers


Help the firm to help you. Go with the Overseas Lawyer admissions route. The local-to-overseas lawyer ratio is crucial for a law firm to keep its statutory registered status and continue operating here.

If you’re lucky enough to know lawyers who actually know and care about things, their default advice is for junior and midlevel overseas-qualified candidates to follow the Overseas Lawyer route — sign up for the OLQE while you’re still in your current job position at the current workplace.

The OLQE is a once-a-year exam. The time from start to finish is just too demoralisingly long to ‘think things over’ and wait.

Tscrew-calmhe reason for the delay-no-more stance is simple.

It relates to the law firm’s licensure.

Discounting the 100% local law firms, the bigger law firms in Hong Kong mostly maintain a 50–50 ratio of local and overseas/foreign lawyers. This is to preserve their licensure as a Hong Kong solicitors’ firm.

Indeed, various lawyer groupings and The Law Society were telling candidates to start sitting for the OLQE by October 2009 so that they could be licensed by 2011 at the earliest. They point out that—

After 2011, “the train will have long left the station for many law 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.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what’s going on.

Fewer and fewer traineeships and pupillage will be available for locally trained lawyers to finalise admission. So it results 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 to complete — because exemptions will be increasingly removed even for experienced lawyers sitting the licensing exams.

All in all, there will just be an increasingly shrinking pool of eligible lawyers (local and foreign alike) 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 skill set of applicants for employment.

Walk the local plank — that only gets you a long wait at the back end because, even if you’ve aced your studies, there’s little or no traineeship or pupillage to finalise your qualifications.

Walk the overseas plank — again, that gets you a long wait because the strictures on converting licenses will get tougher over time. Experienced lawyers from abroad won’t want to downgrade to a trainee in order to qualify locally. 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, pouting things because young pouties are easier to hire and fire at lower economic cost.

It doesn’t matter whether you did your law studies locally or overseas. Ultimately, the end prospect equalises.

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.



The Common Law of Hong Kong expires in 30 years’ time. Whether it will or not is irrelevant. The hope is that it stays, but no facts exist to indicate either way.

It’s open to extreme conjecture whether the Common Law in Hong Kong will or won’t come to an end on 30 June 2047, the date when the “One Country, Two Systems” (OCTS) arrangement for Hong Kong officially and doctrinally expires. Not even China, our overlord, knows. No one knows simply because nobody is even conjecturing.

In 30 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 everyone dreads the truth.

Lipsync Lawyer would dearly welcome anyone explain why it isn’t nice to start thinking about this now. In our view, 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 30 future years’ worth of thinking, arguments, politicking — even rioting, if you like that sort of thing — to form a solid basis for a happy, stress-free, politically nutritious workable solution.

Start later, and then prepare to train your children to welcome The Mother of Chaos and Extreme Economic Butthurt in 30 years’ time.

flag-of-hong-kong-1959I mean, we’ve seen the same movie before.

Nobody in The Disco Era (the 1970s) wanted to even hypothetically explore the issue of Hong Kong’s return to China — a topic that apparently resulted accidentally from China’s rebuff to (then Sir) Murray McLehose when he stepped off the train in Guangzhou city in 1971/72 when visiting in his official capacity as the Hong Kong Governor.

The whole matter of the retrocession (dubbed “rectumcession” by the wags) got shoved in the backburner until Maggie Thatcher’s visit to China in 1982 — then everything went Warp Factor 5 chaotically. If it hadn’t been for some seriously professional planners on both the British and Chinese sides, 1997 would have ended up a total balls-up.

We’re not seeing the same high calibre of people today. We’re unlikely to see any of the such in future owing to the degraded education systems anywhere in the world. So we should start the ball rolling now about 2047.

About that eventuality with the OCTS, it’s a little silly to operate on denialist or avoidant mode.

To talk about the changing landscape for licensing lawyers whilst completely ignoring the ultimate lifespan of the while legal system itself is like treating parietal lobe tumour with 2,000 mg of Vitamin C on an as-needed basis.

“Anybody who thinks talk is cheap should get some legal advice.” — Franklin P. Jones (1908–80), American reporter, PR executive and humourist

Vitamin C is good for you, of course … but useless to stanch a growing tumour. Got to do something RIGHT NOW while the tumour is still early and treatable, never mind if Vitamin C has any actual useful effect.

Let’s be insufferably self-entitled for a bit. Three decades ago, Hong Kong had been promised 50 years of autonomy and no change — that’s barely two generations. As a comparison, the New Territories of Hong Kong had been leased to the UK in 1898 for 99 years, or four generations. It’s been 20 years since the handover. The taxi meter is ticking.

Back to my acquaintance


To those of us who in some way resemble my acquaintance (the degree holder backtracking to secondary-school qualifications), I say this:—


Take the shortest path to your destination. Because you only live once. Because you don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Because it always costs money. Because you’re paying good money, better save time too. Because you only live once.

“I mean, we all have to operate on some realistic level,” as Richard Burton’s character nicely puts it in the movie The Night of the Iguana (1964).

Even though 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 or roadblocks 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 qualies while holding a degree is just plain, wasteful stupidity. It also looks pretty career-limiting on the CV, by the way.


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.


Learn to carry on your parent’s trade or family business, if you have the choice. That’s wiser 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.

In short, stop reinventing the wheel.

If existing efforts have been reasonably successful, run with it.

To anyone who cares to listen (but especially my acquaintance), let me say a person with a going family concern usually discovers it pays pleasant and profitable dividends in the long haul to learn the family trade and to plan for when and how to take over the reins.


Remember those clear NZT pills that guy was constantly plopping down in the movie Limitless?

It’s fantasy. Worse, it’s movie fantasy.


You’ll find success is much easier from riding on something existing than to start from the bottom, or nothing.

Rely on your own common sense, brainpower and a little luck instead.

If you’ve invented (or have access to) thallanyl-zirconiomethyltetrahydrotriazatriphenylene (NZT), then you don’t need to listen to me.

Otherwise, you can spend the rest of your Voyage in Life contemplating all possible meanings of the phrase “I should’ve.”

The likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Hong Kong’s very own Li Ka-shing are UNIQUE individuals who made good under UNIQUE circumstances. Similarly, the “dotcom” bunch makes for great reading and entertainment … but little else. They cannot be emulated — certainly not by the emulating types anyway.

In reality, the absolute majority of successful people is more like your local shopkeeper who’s been running his little shop for the past 50 years — 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 more like Arianna Huffington and our Ronnie Chan (of Hang Lung Group) — people who started early to learn and carry on their parents’ work.

Naturally, it’s a different story if you’re folks don’t have a going concern for you to take over. But if there exists a business, then maximise on it.


I didn’t take over my father’s architectural practice. I couldn’t. I had to resit my physics. In my day, a resit was poison for entering architectural school. Indeed, first-time passes were compulsory for all professional schools in the old days.

I couldn’t take over mum’s fashion design and textile business either. It was divested before I was grown up enough to take over.

So I took over the family printing business instead.

Maximise your available resources. And maximise on them.

Lawyering — if your lawyer friends are being honest with you — generally DOESN’T pay nearly as well as running your own business.

Not unless it’s lawyering at senior partner level in an international law firm — and that takes REAL TALENT.

The high money and super high lifestyle that so many people worldwide seem 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
… who did the RIGHT THINGS
… at the RIGHT TIME
… in front of the RIGHT PEOPLE
… after listening to the RIGHT ADVICE
… AND thinking right


Life is limitless
… but only if you don’t limit your circles, or the advice you’re getting

I don’t think I have that right mix myself — yet I’m explaining this to you right now. Think about that for a 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.



This special report first appeared in The Naked Listener’s Weblog on 6–7 May 2013. This is an updated presentation to reflect the developments that have taken place since then.

© Lipsync Lawyer, 19 Dec 2016. (B16323)
© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 07 MAY 2013. (B13129)

Images: Limitless UK movie poster adapted from The Sci-Fi Gene • Urinal signs via The Connected Librarian • Can You Break Through Roadsign via EnergyXchange • Get Shafted and Carry On via Keepcalm-o-Matic • Screw Calm and Get Even via Hai Its Sarah H • Chairman Mao and China Chick via China Daily • Old Hong Kong Flag 1959 via Wikipedia • Union Jack Face via Zastavki.com • More Less More via Sererra.com • NZT pills via FirstShowing.net • Tattoo beach girl via Guideless • Featured image courtesy of the Twenty Sixteen theme by WordPress.com.

How to cite this article

Lipsync Lawyer. (2016 Dec 19). Special Report: A Slight Lawyering Problem (2/2). Blog post ID B16323. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p8dCZK-6.

Author: thenakedlistener

Printbroker, financial printer & editor. Previously in London, Rome, Tokyo & Beirut. Motorbiker & non-practising lawyer. Wears cowboy boots & a ponytail. Fabulous.