Doing an LL.M. in Hong Kong
17 February 2020
Associate Sara Soini from our M&A group is currently doing an LL.M. in Hong Kong. She is now halfway through her studies, so we asked her how she is doing.
Hi Sara, how is it going?
Hi! Thanks, it is going great. My first semester of LL.M. studies is completed, and it is currently Chinese New Year’s holiday (happy year of the rat!). On a more serious note, it was declared a few days ago that the novel coronavirus has caused the Hong Kong response level to be lifted to emergency level. At the moment, people are taking precautionary measures to stop the virus from spreading in HK, so a face mask has become a standard accessory whenever leaving home. The University has extended the Lunar New Year holiday in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus, so I am currently waiting for further information on when classes will resume.
Could you tell us why you decided to do an LL.M. degree?
After a couple of years of working, it felt like the right time to return to school and gain knowledge in a completely new field of law. I was also enthusiastic about the opportunity to live abroad for a year.
How come you chose Hong Kong as the destination?
I actually spent a semester in Hong Kong as an exchange student during my earlier studies, so the city and the university (Chinese University of Hong Kong, CUHK) were already familiar to me. As most visitors to HK do, I got swept away by all the exciting things this city has to offer, so it was an easy choice to come back. In addition, choosing HK was largely because of the programme I am studying here, an LL.M. specialised in energy and environmental law, which was launched a few years ago. On a high level, the programme is built around recognising the importance of law in addressing the global challenges of sustainable development and energy security. I was fascinated by the opportunity to study these topical subjects here, in the proximity of China and other growing Asian economies, i.e. countries with huge energy needs and increasing environmental problems.
How have the first six months been?
Time has flown by. During the first semester, I had two courses in energy law and two courses in environmental law. One of the environmental law courses had an international perspective and the other one focused specifically on China. This was a really interesting mix and a good way to get familiar with a wide range of new legal concepts and challenges.
Of course, no one in HK has been completely unaffected by the anti-government protests that have been taking place in the city for more than six months, since last summer. Although the effects of the protests on my daily life have generally been minimal, the situation escalated around mid-November to such an extent that the University decided to suspend all in-class teaching for the last three weeks of the semester. Luckily, it was possible to complete all courses through online lectures and take-home exams.
What has surprised you?
I have always cared about environmental matters on a personal level, but never before pursued this interest academically. The LL.M. is focused on two areas of law, environmental and energy law, and I had initially imagined that I would find the environmental part more interesting. However, I discovered that the energy law courses, which focus not only on traditional energy businesses (oil, gas, etc.) but also on legal questions concerning the transition towards a green economy, were at least as interesting.
What has been the best or the most challenging?
The best part has definitely been having the opportunity to concentrate and focus full time on learning something new. The studies have opened my eyes to completely new global issues, e.g. topics relating to decarbonisation and the myriad of legal challenges facing the green economy transition. Having worked mainly within private M&A, I did not have any particular work experience in the field of energy or environmental law, so it has been a very valuable experience to get to learn something completely new.
The most challenging part was probably the intense workload at the end of the semester, which involved a lot of essay writing. It has been a couple of years since writing my master’s thesis in Finland, and I found it challenging to return to conducting academic research especially since, this time, the word count was much more limited. However, in general, the transition back to being a full-time student was not as radical as one could have imagined.
How was the application process and where did you get financing?
The application opened quite early, about 10 months before the start of the programme. However, it was open for a few months, which made the application process more flexible. The application included a personal motivation letter, official transcripts of previous university studies, and recommendation letters. I contacted some of my former professors for recommendations and was pleased to discover that they were happy to help. I managed to receive a couple of stipends directed specifically to lawyers’ postgraduate studies, which helped me finance the LL.M. studies.
How would you describe the study culture in Hong Kong?
Students are generally very ambitious and hard-working. The majority of students in this programme come from mainland China and they are generally very friendly and interested in getting to know the few of us overseas students. It has been interesting to get to know and try to understand the perspectives of both local HK students and mainland Chinese students, especially during the on-going anti-government protests. The postgraduate law courses are not taught on the main CUHK campus but in a building in central Hong Kong, which is nice because of the proximity to the hustle and bustle of the business, commercial, and entertainment districts.
What would you say is the biggest benefit of doing an LL.M. abroad?
The studies are quite different from law school studies in Finland. For instance, preparation before classes in terms of assigned reading materials is necessary to be able to follow the lectures, something that is not emphasised very much in Finnish law schools. Overall, I would say it is a great opportunity to get exposed to more international perspectives on legal issues, and it is an invaluable chance to meet and discuss with like-minded people from all around the world, who might be working in the same industry in the future.
What is it like to live in Hong Kong?
Living in HK is fun; the vibe of the city is very international and there is a lot to do. I think the fact that apartments are generally very small makes people spend a lot of their free time outside socialising, which creates a vibrant afterwork and restaurant culture. Personally, my favourite part is that there is such amazing nature so close to the city. There are great hiking opportunities within 30 minutes' reach, and there are good beaches to do day trips to in the weekends.
Of course, last autumn has been a bit unusual, with the social unrest that has been going on in the city since last summer. However, despite the extremely violent footage presented by international media, the protests have actually affected my daily life surprisingly little. The biggest impact has been the need to avoid certain areas in the weekends due to huge gatherings of protesters disrupting the traffic, in addition to which public transport quite regularly stops running earlier than usual. But as I have not taken part in any protest-related public gatherings, personal safety has not been an issue for me.
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