In our last article we discussed the attitude in the market towards the Bar qualification in China and highlighted the fact that many lawyers realise later on that the qualification is important and they should consider taking it. Unfortunately however, many lawyers feel that they are too busy to prepare for this exam. In order to avoid reaching a glass ceiling in their career, we are often asked by candidates whether it is worth taking a break from working for three to six months in order to take the bar exam, and then look for another job when they are qualified. Our consultant Li Ji discusses whether this is a good idea or not.

Although we have worked successfully with candidates who have taken time out, it doesn’t work for everyone and we would usually argue against leaving a role (unless the employer has said that the lawyer can return to their job) for a number of reasons:

  1. The cost. If you decide to study full time for the bar exam obviously you would not be receiving a salary, making this period of time fairly expensive. Psychologically this could make life even more stressful, which is unlikely to lead to good result in the exam.
  2. Taking even a brief amount of time out does mean that you lose some continuity of career development, which might make it harder to find a new position afterwards.
  3. The PRC bar exam is held towards the end of September every year, and results are released in November. The fact is that the legal recruitment market is relatively quiet at the end of the year; companies are busy focusing on salary reviews as well as their recruiting plan for the next year and typically many hiring managers are on holiday. Most candidates who want time to prepare for the exam would generally look to resign in March or April; they may then need to wait until the following March or April when the market becomes busier again. (This is particularly true for senior roles.) Lawyers will generally think they will leave their job for four to six months, but in reality, it could be over a year before you are back in a new role again.
  4. We find that candidates who have been away from work for six months or more find it much more difficult to be objective about which roles to go for. Usually, when candidates are still in a job and looking for a new one, they are selective about new opportunities, objectively evaluating the impact of each job and its impact on their career. For example, they evaluate the package of the new role, the company situation and the industry dynamics. Comparatively speaking, for those candidates who are out of the market for a period of time, if they begin to struggle to get offers they start to panic. In this situation, they may compromise where perhaps they don’t really need to and lose the capability of fair judgment. This then in some way makes the time spent doing the exam obsolete as the main general purpose of doing the exam is to be able to compete for the higher level roles and the ones that are more demanding.


It is preferable that lawyers have the bar qualification for all the reasons which we highlighted in our first article. We therefore generally suggest that lawyers should become qualified as early as possible in their career. For lawyers who feel that their work/life balance is already compromised and don’t feel like they have the time or energy, we suggest they work to a long-term plan and set an extended deadline, perhaps two or three years to fully complete the qualification alongside a full time job. The bar qualification is easily achievable, and having this will prevent the absence of the bar qualification from becoming an obstacle in your future career development.


If you would like more information on the current legal market or for an update on opportunities available at MNCs and other corporates and financial institutions, please contact Shawn Chen on +86 21 6103 7331 or via email [email protected].

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Shawn Chen


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