Panelists for Seminar 1, from left to right: Chan Hian Young ’86, Lim Tanguy, June Lim ’08, and N. Sreenivasan ’85
The NUS Pro Bono Group organised two seminars on issues facing lawyers who are engaged in pro bono work. Chiam Yee Sheng ’13 and Serene Huang ’13 report on the Seminar Series 2011, “All About Doing Good.”
In 2011, the NUS Pro Bono Group inaugurated its Seminar Series, aimed at bringing lawyers (junior, experienced, and everything in between) together to discuss the various issues relating to the practice of pro bono work in Singapore.
The first of the seminars, moderated by Lim Tanguy, Director of the Law Society Pro Bono Services Office, was held on 7 September 2011. Entitled “Doing Good While Doing Well”, the seminar addressed concerns faced by lawyers doing pro bono work; and whether pro bono work should be made mandatory.
Sreeni shares his experience in pro bono workN. Sreenivasan ’85, Managing Director of Straits Law Corporation, pointed out that lawyers should naturally feel that they have a responsibility to help others in need. His exact words (which may ring a bell with Spiderman movie fans): “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Chan Hian Young ’86, the full-time pro bono partner at Allen & Gledhill, felt that while pro bono work is to be strongly encouraged, it should remain voluntary as volunteerism plays an important role in society.
Conversely, from the perspective of a young lawyer, June Lim ’08 from Eldan Law LLP felt that pro bono work should be mandatory for young lawyers to introduce them to pro bono work. She likened pro bono work to the mandatory Community Involvement Programme (CIP) work in secondary school: “Not everyone liked it, but people did it and other people got help.” She pointed out that it would also help young lawyers to build their legal skills.
While law firms are ultimately concerned with the bottom-line and each individual firm’s culture determines their attitude towards pro bono work, the panel agreed that support for pro bono work is growing in Singapore.
Panelists for Seminar 2, from left to right: Sheik Mustafa Abu Hassan, Cyril Chua ’95, Thio Shen Yi SC, Asst. Prof. Helena Whalen-Bridge, Malathi Das, and Gregory Vijayendran ’92
The second seminar, entitled “Doing Good Well”, was held on 14 September 2011 and was moderated by Asst. Prof. Helena Whalen-Bridge, Faculty Advisor to the NUS Pro Bono Group.
The seminars introduced the student audience to issues facing the local pro bono sceneMalathi Das, from Joyce A Tan & Partners, and Cyril Chua ’95, from ATMD Bird and Bird LLP, both agreed that opportunities for pro bono work would always be present regardless of one’s specialisation. Cyril said, “As long as [you] want to stand up and be counted, then [you] can contribute.”
Thio Shen Yi SC, Joint Managing Director of TSMP Law Corporation, stressed that encouragement from one’s firm, resources and support for the lawyers, and appreciation for their pro bono work are key in any successful pro bono programme. Shen Yi’s firm is an excellent example, as it works with organisations like HOME (Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics) and TWC2 (Transient Workers Count Too) on a pro bono basis. He also pointed out that pro bono work is something which should be engaged in throughout one’s entire career: “[It] is a continuum which you can do the whole of your career.” As one’s expertise increases, one is able to take on more complex pro bono work, such as public-interest litigation.
Giving his thoughts on how lawyers could do pro bono work well, Gregory Vijayendran ’92, from Rajah & Tann LLP, said that lawyers have to be prepared to equip themselves outside their conventional area of expertise, strike a time balance between the firm’s work and pro bono, and treat their pro bono clients with respect and with equal dignity as fee-paying clients.
Sheik Mustafa Abu Hassan, Senior Assistant Director of Legal Aid in the Legal Aid Bureau, provided an uplifting perspective on pro bono work, by sharing how the few hours a lawyer spends on each case alleviates months of grief suffered by that particular client. He did, however add this word of caution:
“Don’t expect everyone to be grateful because you’re doing something you think is noble. You’re not doing this because you want the client’s approval or gratitude – you’re doing it for … society, or for a greater purpose.”
To sum up the seminar, every one of us can “do good”. It is important to facilitate access to the law, and every bit contributed towards this aim is valuable.
With the support of Dean Tan Cheng Han SC ’87, the NUS Pro Bono Group has grown to be one of the largest student groups in Law SchoolA special note of thanks goes to Dean Tan Cheng Han SC ’87, for his invaluable support to the Pro Bono Group from the very beginning. It has been with the foundation of his unwavering support over the years that the Pro Bono Group has grown to be one of Law School’s largest student groups.