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Legal Work Experience: Hong Kong

In the summer of 2014, I interned at the Hong Kong Department of Justice for two months. Unlike the usual selection criteria for summer vacation placements at law firms (CV/application form, followed by interviews and assessment days), an internship place with any governmental department in Hong Kong requires only three types of information from applicants:

  1. GCSE and A-level grades in each subject
  2. A list of former work experiences
  3. A list of extra-curricular university activities or otherwise

There are no interviews, either on the telephone or face-to-face. Successful applicants receive a phone call or a formal letter from the government informing them that they have been selected before the internship which starts in the middle of June each year.

A newly introduced selection criteria now means that the Department tends to select interns who can demonstrate fluency in Mandarin. Those who are best at Mandarin among all other interns now have the opportunity to be selected to go on secondment to the judicial governmental department in Mainland China.

When I was at the Department, there were two groups of interns. One group of interns focused on research work, whilst the other group carried out mostly practical work. I was in the latter group. I rotated between the High Court Unit and the Magistrate Court Unit.

Working at the Hong Kong High Court Unit

My daily work at the High Court Unit would always start off by organising legal files and committal bundles for the High Court counsels who mostly prosecuted on criminal matters. I also had to update the internal digital database of decided and pending cases every few days.

For example, I had to flag cases that were still waiting to be heard at court, and as for the decided cases, I would have to enter the relevant information about their verdicts, such as what exactly was the penalty of a particular case. I was trained to be familiar with searching for information on this internal database so that I would be able to answer questions straight away about different cases posed by police officers when they phoned the Unit.

As the High Court counsels had to prosecute on criminal matters regularly, I was also responsible for contacting the police officers weekly to inform them about the progress of pending trials. This was done in order to remind the officers that they had to be prepared to be summoned to courts as witnesses. I also had the opportunity to shadow counsel to the High Court to hear a case prosecuting individuals who were involved in drug dealing activities.

Working at the Hong Kong Magistrate Court Unit

At the Magistrate Court Unit, my work was more writing-based. I assisted the legal secretaries in vetting and proof-reading the bilingual English-Chinese indictments. I would share their workload by helping them to write to magistrates on behalf of the Complaints Against Police Force Unit (CAPO) to request details of their judgement. From time to time, I also had to carry out administrative work, such as photocopying documents.

Being able to secure an internship place with the Department of Justice does not make it easier to apply for a training contract at the Department; you would have to make a completely separate application for a training contract or a pupillage with the Department. Applications open around one month after the first semester at university has begun for students in their penultimate or final year of study.

Words: Jenny Yan Yu Leung

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