Amendments to the Overseas Lawyers (Qualification for Admission) Rules

The Overseas Lawyers Qualification Examination (“Examination”) offers an overseas qualified lawyer a means to gain admission as a Hong Kong solicitor.

The Examination is held annually, generally in November and December. Currently, it comprises four written Heads: (Head I) Conveyancing; (Head II) Civil and Criminal Procedure, (Head III) Commercial and Company Law; and (Head IV) Accounts and Professional Conduct. For candidates qualified in non-common law jurisdictions, they have to pass an oral examination on Principles of Common Law (Head V).

The Examination is conducted on the basis of and is governed by the Overseas Lawyers (Qualification for Admission) Rules (“OLQE Rules”).

As a result of a comprehensive review conducted on the Examination some time ago, the Law Society will be introducing amendments to the OLQE Rules via the Overseas Lawyers (Qualification for Admission) (Amendment) Rules 2014 (“2014 Amendment Rules”).

The major amendments are as follows:

  • (a) To become a solicitor in Hong Kong, a person should also be required to have an understanding of the Basic Law. It is not uncommon that in overseas jurisdictions, foreign lawyers seeking admission in those jurisdictions are tested on the constitutional law of the jurisdiction before they are admitted. Rule 7 of the OLQE Rules has therefore been amended to include “Hong Kong Constitutional Law” as an additional written Head of Examination.
  • (b) Most overseas lawyers are qualified in a number of jurisdictions. In calculating the five (5) years of experience in an application for exemption under Rule 4(1) of the OLQE Rules, the experience in the practice of law in all the common-law jurisdictions in which the common law applicants were qualified to practise should be counted.
  • (c) Similarly, the experience in the practice of law in all the non-common law jurisdictions in which the non-common law applicants were qualified to practise should also be counted for the purpose of the five (5) years of experience in an application for exemption under Rule 5(1) of the OLQE Rules.
  • (d) Most jurisdictions provide for a period of practical legal training in lieu of traineeship as a requirement for admission. Rule 4(2)(b) of the OLQE Rules have been amended to clarify that the practical legal training which satisfied the admission criteria in an applicant’s jurisdiction of admission can be recognised by the Society as experience in the practice of law for the purpose of the Examination. The period of pupillage however cannot be recognised as post-admission experience to satisfy the eligibility criteria to sit the Examination.
  • (e) A prerequisite requirement for non-common law applicants is that they must have completed a one-year full time study of Contract, Tort, Property, Criminal Law, Equity, Constitutional and Administrative Law. Rule 5(2) has been amended to extend recognition to similar studies on a part-time basis.
  • (f) Some applicants are admitted in more than one jurisdiction. Currently, the jurisdiction in which an applicant was first admitted would be taken as his jurisdiction of admission for the purposes of the OLQE Rules. If an applicant was first admitted in a non-common law jurisdiction, he would be treated as a non-common law applicant unless he has been admitted in another jurisdiction for more than three (3) years, and he has chosen that as his jurisdiction of admission. Rule 8 has been amended to enable an applicant who has been admitted in more than one jurisdiction to elect any one of those jurisdictions as his jurisdiction of admission.

The 2014 Amendment Rules were gazetted on 25 April 2014 and were laid before the Legislative Council on 30 April 2014. No amendments were made during the negative vetting period which expired on 28 May 2014. The President has appointed 2 January 2015 as the day for the 2014 Amendment Rules to come into operation. The Commencement Notice was published in the Gazette on 17 October 2014. Accordingly, the changes introduced by the 2014 Amendment Rules will apply to any Examination to be held from 2015 onwards.

The Law Society is taking steps to establish an Examination Panel to oversee the new written Head of Examination on Hong Kong Constitutional Law and to compile the syllabus, standards and reading list. The Law Society will in due course consider the guidelines which govern the granting of exemption to applicants who apply for exemption from sitting this new Head.

As usual, we will publish the Information Package for the 2015 Examination in March / April next year and it will contain all the relevant information on the 2015 Exmaintion including the timeline, application form and exemption guidelines.

Secretary-General, Law Society of Hong Kong