Andrew Godwin and Richard Wu
Journal of Legal Education
Winter 2017, Vol. 66, Number 2, pp. 212-236
Introduction: It appears axiomatic that as legal practice becomes more globalized, so too must legal education. One of the byproducts of the globalization of legal practice, involving both an increase in cross-border activity and also changes in the way the legal profession is structured and regulated, is that law schools are increasingly expected to prepare graduates for the challenges of global practice. An important question that arises in this respect is the role law schools should perform in preparing graduates for admission and, in particular, equipping graduates with the practice skills that lawyers need to operate effectively in a cross-border context. A substantial body of literature exists concerning the globalization of legal education and the globalization of legal practice. This paper contributes to the discourse by examining the relationship between the design of pathways to admission—namely, the processes by which graduates qualify for admission to legal practice—and legal education, particularly the incorporation of practice skills into the law school curriculum. This paper examines three jurisdictions in Asia that share a common-law heritage but adopt substantially different pathways to admission: Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia. All three jurisdictions share a requirement for graduates to obtain practical training before they gain admission to practice.Singapore is unique among the three jurisdictions in that its pathway to admission involves a bar examination that follows a compulsory preparation course. Hong Kong and Australia, by contrast, currently do not adopt a bar examination and, instead, require completion of postgraduate professional legal training as a prerequisite to admission. However, two important points of difference exist between Hong Kong and Australia. First, enrollment in Hong Kong’s postgraduate certificate in laws (PCLL), an intensive one year full-time legal qualification program, is through competitive application. The existence of caps at each of the three providers means that not all graduates are guaranteed of winning a place in the PCLL and, therefore, gaining admission to practice. By comparison, enrollment in the practical legal training (PLT) course in Australia is not capped and all law graduates are therefore able to enroll in the course and gain admission to practice upon successful completion of the course. The second point of difference is that graduates in Australia can undertake supervised workplace training as an alternative to the PLT course and gain admission to practice on that basis without the need to complete a postgraduate professional training course. Interestingly, Hong Kong is currently moving closer to the approach of Singapore with the announcement by the Law Society of Hong Kong in January 2016 that a common entrance examination will be introduced and will come into effect by 2021. Critical questions in all jurisdictions are the role that law schools should play in preparing graduates for admission and the extent to which practice skills are expected to form part of the curriculum for the academic degree, as distinct from the professional training course that follows graduation and precedes admission. In this respect, the similarities are closer among the three jurisdictions. Unlike the American Bar Association, which requires students to complete at least six credit hours of experiential education, all three jurisdictions to date have avoided a prescriptive approach and have instead given the law schools discretion to determine how practice skills should be incorporated into the curriculum. However, some interesting points of difference exist among the three jurisdictions in terms of the extent to which the design of pathways to admission has been driven by perceived deficiencies in the teaching of practice skills within the academic degree and, therefore, the need to supplement these deficiencies as a prerequisite to practice. This paper examines the development of pathways to admission and identifies a number of interesting countervailing trends and contradictions. A central question raised by the comparative analysis is whether professional admission courses should serve as a gatekeeper in terms of assuring quality and competence or whether they should serve simply as preparatory courses for admission to the legal profession. The comparative analysis reveals a number of countervailing trends and contradictions concerning fundamental issues such as the function of a law degree and the impact of globalisation on legal education and legal practice. This paper argues that it is important for legal education to strengthen practice skills while maintaining a rigorous focus on legal doctrine and general skills such as analysis, problem-solving and research. This paper is structured as follows: Part II explores the relationship between legal education and legal practice by examining the emergence of professional training courses and the increasing expectations for law schools to incorporate practice skills into the curriculum. Parts III, IV, and V consider the pathways to admission in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia, respectively, and track the debates in each of those jurisdictions concerning the relative importance of practice skills in their design. Part VI sets out the findings of the comparative analysis and offers some observations by way of conclusion. Click here to read the full article.