Well-balanced Regulatory Regime

The International Bar Association (IBA) issued a Directory of Regulators of the Legal Profession in 2016. The Directory contains a mapping of responsibilities for key stages of legal services regulation in 158 countries and 233 jurisdictions. It has a comprehensive coverage including, it claims, “83% of UN member states, 98% of WTO members, 97% of the world’s GDP and 93% of the world’s population”.

The benefit of a global overview of the variety of regulatory models for legal professions around the world heightens a deeper appreciation of the model currently in place for solicitors in Hong Kong. We have a well-balanced self-regulatory system that allows the exercise of the regulatory functions by the Law Society independently and at the same time, ensures proper checks in the process.

Adopting the IBA’s categorisation, there are broadly three aspects of regulation, admission to the profession, practice and discipline.

With respect to admission of solicitors, the power to admit solicitors in Hong Kong lies with the court (sections 3 and 4 of the Legal Practitioners Ordinance (Cap 159 “Ordinance”).

The role of the Law Society is to prescribe the detailed rules based on the requirements laid down in the principal legislation and to verify compliance of those requirements by applicants for admission to assist the court in exercising its power of admission.

On regulation in practice, adopting the definition in the IBA’s Directory of Regulators, this aspect of regulation includes the promulgation and monitoring against a code of conduct, renewal of practising certificates, the imposition and monitoring of continuous education training requirements and professional indemnity insurance.

Globally speaking, predominantly, bar associations are regulators in practice. Similarly, the Law Society of Hong Kong regulates solicitors’ professional conduct in accordance with the relevant statutory provisions. Principally, these are provisions contained in the Ordinance and its subsidiary legislation, the promulgation of which are all subject to the prior approval of the Chief Justice and vetting by the Legislative Council.

With respect to discipline, the Law Society has power to investigate professional misconduct of solicitors and registered foreign lawyers and their employees and to refer the matter to the Convener of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (“SDT”) Panel where the Council of the Law Society considers that the relevant conduct should be investigated or inquired into as a result of a complaint made to it or otherwise.

The Council’s powers of investigation and inspection come from statutes including sections 8AA and 8AAA of the Ordinance, the Inspectors Powers Rules (Cap. 159 sub. leg. T); rule 5B of the Solicitors’ Practice Rules (Cap. 159 sub. leg. H); rule 10 of the Foreign Lawyers Practice Rules (Cap. 159 sub. leg. R); and rule 11 of the Solicitors’ Accounts Rules (Cap. 159 sub. leg. F). The decisions of the Law Society are subject to judicial review.

The SDT Panel is established pursuant to the Ordinance and the SDT is empowered to make orders as it thinks fit in accordance with the legislative provisions. Members of the SDT Panel and its Convenor are appointed by the Chief Justice and members of the Law Society Council are not eligible to be appointed to or remain on the SDT Panel. It is a body independent of the Law Society. SDTs are appointed from time to time by the Convenor to hear and determine complaints. Out of the three members of a SDT, one member must be a non-lawyer. If a party so wishes, an appeal against the decision of the SDT can be made to the Court of Appeal.

Our regulatory system benefits with appropriate involvement of other stakeholders, like the Judiciary and the Legislative Council in vetting the legislative framework within which the profession exercises its self-regulatory functions, as well as the public through their membership in the SDT Panel, to achieve an effective and balanced regime.

Monthly Statistics on the Profession

(updated as of 31 March 2021):

Members (with or without Practising Certificate) 12,328
Members with Practising Certificate

10,751

(out of whom 7,955 (74%) are in private practice)

Trainee Solicitors 1,124
Registered Foreign Lawyers

1,529

(from 33 jurisdictions)

Hong Kong Law Firms

946 (48% are sole proprietorships and

40% are firms with 2 to 5 partners, 49 are limited liability

partnerships formed pursuant to the Legal Practitioners Ordinance)

Registered Foreign Law Firms

85 (14 are limited liability partnerships

formed pursuant to the Legal Practitioners Ordinance)

Civil Celebrants of Marriages 2,247
Reverse Mortgage Counsellors 448
Solicitor Advocates

78

(72 in civil proceedings, 6 in criminal proceedings)

Student Members 173
Registered Associations between Hong Kong law firms and registered foreign law firms (including Mainland law firms) 37

 

Secretary-General, Law Society of Hong Kong