Code of Good Practice in Recruitment of Trainee Solicitors

It normally takes seven years to qualify as a solicitor in Hong Kong through the trainee solicitor route. Out of this period, nearly one-third (ie, two years) must be spent in a traineeship with a law firm.

A traineeship provides a Trainee Solicitor with the opportunity to learn basic skills and characteristics associated with the practice of law and the legal profession. This important stage in the solicitor qualification process allows not only a Trainee Solicitor to observe and develop the technical proficiency of experienced lawyers, but also gives the Principal an opportunity to nurture and role model the attitudes, habits and virtues that characterise the long-respected traditions of the profession. The traineeship experience can significantly shape the development of professionalism for new entrants, who will become the future leaders of our profession.

Competition among law firms for suitable trainees, and among PCLL graduates for attractive training offers, is fierce. On one hand, to secure the best candidates, law firms started recruitment earlier. On the other hand, to get into their dream firms, candidates renege on training offers they have accepted for other offers that appear more attractive to them.

To assist both law firms and candidates to achieve an effective, open and fair recruitment process, the Law Society published a Code of Good Practice in the Recruitment of Trainee Solicitors (“Code”), which has been available since 2013.

Law firms are advised to make offers (written or verbal) for employment of trainee solicitors no earlier than 1 August of the year which is two years prior to the intended year of commencement of the training contract, and to give applicants at least two weeks to accept an offer. Once an applicant has accepted an offer, he or she must inform all other employers who have made an offer or extended an invitation to attend an interview, make no further applications for a training contract and reject any further offers (para. 9 of the Code).

To a certain extent, a traineeship can be determinative of one’s career path in law. Applicants must carefully consider an offer before accepting it. If more time is required, they should seek agreement from the law firm to extend the deadline for reply.

On the other hand, as stated in the Code, law firms should give candidates at least two weeks to confirm whether or not they wish to accept an offer and sympathetic consideration should be given to a request for a time extension provided there is a good reason. However, there have been informal reports by students that they were given only a very short period to reply and in some cases, confirmation was required on the same day an offer was made. This is grossly unfair to the candidates.  It may rush them into making a decision which they feel unsure about, making them more vulnerable to being attracted to subsequent offers.

Nevertheless, candidates must note that once accepted, an offer becomes a commitment to a legal obligation. Reneging on it sheds doubt on the personal integrity to honour commitments, wastes all the resources the recruiting firm has spent on the recruitment process, deprives other candidates of the opportunity of an offer from the firm and disrupts the operation of the firm which has to reallocate manpower and resources to fill the sudden vacancy.

Despite the provisions in the Code, since its publication in 2013, the Law Society has received three notifications from law firms on candidates breaking the trainee employment contract for other offers. To ensure that any such conduct is drawn to the attention of the Law Society at the time when a trainee applies to register his or her trainee solicitor contract, the Application for Registration of Trainee Solicitor Contract has been amended with effect from 5 June 2017 to require an applicant to declare whether he or she has complied with para. 9 of the Code.

All circumstances including non-compliance with the Code will be taken into account when the Law Society considers whether an applicant is suitable for registration as a trainee solicitor.

Most of the international firms have structured recruiting exercises and they recruit two years before the commencement of the training contracts when potential candidates are in their penultimate year of the undergraduate law programme. The Law Society has provided the three law schools with a copy of the Code so their law students can remain informed. The Code, the Application for Registration of Trainee Solicitor Contract and other relevant documents are contained in the Information Package for Trainee Solicitors posted on the Law Society website. All law students about to go through the recruitment process are strongly advised to review the Code carefully.

Upcoming Deadlines

  • Solicitors to whom s. 5 of the Practising Certificates (Special Conditions) Rules (Cap. 159 Sub. Leg.) (“Special Conditions Rules”) apply must give at least six weeks’ notice to the Law Society before applying for their practising certificates. To ensure that the 2018 practising certificates will be issued in time, the Notice of Intention to apply for a Practising Certificate required under the Special Conditions Rules should be declared and returned to the Law Society by 6 October 2017.
  • The professional indemnity cover for Hong Kong law firms for the 2016/2017 indemnity year will expire on 30 September 2017. The contribution for the 2017/2018 indemnity year which commences on 1 October 2017 must be paid on or before 30 September 2017.

Secretary-General, Law Society of Hong Kong