Restructured postgraduate law certificate programme focuses on skills

Sharon Ng

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The Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (PCLL), within the School of Law at City University of Hong Kong (City U), is a key programme allowing one to qualify as a Hong Kong lawyer. Successful completion of the PCLL entitles the graduate to work as either a trainee solicitor or a pupil barrister. Five electives will be introduced next semester, starting in January 2009, to further refine and complement the skills and knowledge acquired in the eight compulsory core courses. The programme was restructured in September this year to provide an even greater emphasis on the requisite practical skills required for legal practice.

The changes were instigated in response to the transition to a four-year undergraduate law degree. This allows undergraduate students to study subjects in addition to those comprising the three-year LLB, which previously formed part of their PCLL. From September 2008, it is a requirement for all students seeking entry to the PCLL offered at three local universities to pass 11 core subjects instead of the previous eight. This change allows the PCLL to focus on preparation for practice, by placing the emphasis on "how to do" legal transactions, rather than focusing on "what is the law".

The Civil and Criminal Practice and Procedure course has been renamed Civil and Criminal Litigation Practice. Instead of civil and criminal procedure law, the students have exercises in civil and criminal litigation practice. Teaching has now shifted from focusing on the various ordinances and court rules to the actual litigation process. Similarly, the Commercial Law and Practice course has now been transformed into Corporate and Commercial Practice, with the same guiding principle applied.

The programme deliberately focuses on teaching generic skills and tasks in certain core "skills" courses. These courses include Legal Writing and Drafting; Advocacy, Interviewing and Negotiation and Intensive Advocacy. The skills learned in those courses are shared and applied in the other courses in the programme to ensure that students are well prepared for the tasks their employers assign them or those required of them as barristers.

The five new electives introduced by the School in January 2009 are Foundations in Mainland Related Legal Transactions, Bar Course, Litigation Practice II, Understanding Financial Statements and Mediation Practice.

Foundations in Mainland Related Legal Transactions will train students to deal with basic mainland-related matters that Hong Kong lawyers could expect to encounter in their practice. Bar Course and Litigation Practice II are for students becoming pupil barristers or trainee solicitors involved in litigation practice. Mediation Practice is very much in demand by the students as a result of a statement by The Hon Mr Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang, Chief Justice, that disputes need to be resolved if possible without litigation.

"The restructured programme is aimed at providing the students with a focus on how to become effective graduate practitioners of the law, by exposing them to the sorts of skills they must possess when they finally practice. This is achieved through exercises that require the application of those skills and even more interactive work in classes than was previously included in the programme," said Mr Michael Robert Sandor, Visiting Associate Professor of School of Law and PCLL programme leader at CityU.

The School held an introductory briefing for more than 20 legal firms last month to present the new features of the programme.

"CityU and the School want to continue to build on their strong reputation in the legal profession for producing sound and valued CityU graduates of the PCLL programme," added Mr Sandor.

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