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UBC builds a bridge to Hong Kong

|Written By Matthew LaForge

The bright lights of Hong Kong are over 10,000 kilometres from the western tip of mainland Vancouver, but to a new class of law students at the University of British Columbia that famous Asian skyline will soon be closer than ever.

The UBC Faculty of Law has announced that it has joined with the University of Hong Kong in a “trans-Pacific legal education program” that, in putting its students on the fast-track to an overseas opportunity, promises to whet the appetite of any would-be law school applicant who yearns for the personal adventure and professional development that comes with practising abroad.

The joint program is being established simultaneously at both law schools, beginning in the 2009-2010 academic year. Under the agreement, students enrolled in the special section of UBC’s law school will be offered courses and qualified instruction on Hong Kong’s legal system. Most importantly, they’ll be given the opportunity to spend one additional year of study in order to become eligible, upon graduation, to apply for admission to the Hong Kong bar.

Also, just as the UBC students would graduate after four years with a law degree recognized in Hong Kong, their counterparts at Hong Kong University would earn the same recognition in Canada after six years (law school is normally a five-year process in Hong Kong). Over the course of study, law students will also be able to transfer their credits from one of the universities and be given advanced standing at the other.

In announcing this initiative, the faculties of UBC and HKU pointed to similar border-spanning joint programs between law schools in the United States and Europe as evidence of the growing importance of mobility in today’s legal profession. Lawyers who make themselves able to practise in more than one country will enjoy an undeniable advantage.

Mary Anne Bobinski, dean of UBC’s law faculty, says the content and focus of the additional coursework, the exposure to another legal tradition, will prove to be its own reward “even if the graduates practise here at home.”

The plan is for each school to accept up to five applicants into the program each year. Bobinski says beyond satisfying a high threshold of academic achievement, prospective students will not be expected to fit any particular or predetermined profile.

“Really what we’re looking for are the highest-quality students,” she says. “There’s no special or unique criteria that will determine who those are. We’re just looking for high quality.”

“We’re extremely pleased to partner with the University of Hong Kong,” UBC President Stephen Toope said in a release following the formal May 2 ratification of the program in Vancouver. “This program will equip students with the cross-cultural legal knowledge and professional contacts to foster even greater exchange between Canada and Asia.”

HKU dean of law Johannes Chan called the program “an exciting collaboration between HKU and UBC law schools, which also strengthens the links between legal education in North America and Asia. Our students will benefit both in terms of intellectual and professional development with exposure to a different jurisdiction and social and cultural environment.”

The decision by the UBC law faculty to enter into this joint legal education program is in keeping with both its geographic location and its reputation for expertise in Asian legal issues. The faculty is already home to the Centre for Asian Legal Studies, which is devoted to researching and teaching the legal systems of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. The centre attracts Asian judges, lawyers and professors as visiting scholars and, according UBC’s web site, is the largest group of academics teaching and researching Asian legal systems.

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