Going above and beyond, pro bono
For going above and beyond, and exemplifying a strong pro bono spirit, deserving students and volunteer lawyers were recognised by Singapore Management University’s (SMU) Pro Bono Centre (PBC) at PBC’s Annual Appreciation Dinner held on 24 October 2023. The event recognises lawyers and students for their contributions, as well as thank community partners and the law fraternity for offering a wide range of pro bono placement opportunities to SMU’s law students.
Professor Lee Pey Woan, Dean of Yong Pung How School of Law (YPHSL) commended students and graduates for the exemplary service and contributions in her welcome address. “The Class of 2023 has collectively completed a total of 7,762 pro bono hours, averaging an impressive 42 hours per student. Now, to put that into perspective, this is more than double the mandatory 20 hours required of law students.”
When thanking volunteer lawyers who participate in SMU’s legal clinics, Prof Lee highlighted that many of them are SMU alumni. “Thank you for choosing to give back to SMU,” she said.
She also acknowledged the fraternity for its unwavering support. “As mentors and supervisors, you have played a pivotal role in guiding our students through their pro bono journeys. The strong pro bono spirit that you exhibit by your volunteerism is not only inspiring but is also directly shaping the culture and ethos of the next generation of lawyers.”
This was echoed by SMU President, Professor Lily Kong, who iterated that pro bono is an important part of the legal education of SMU law students. “It allows students to appreciate how the law that they learn in the classroom applies in real life, that this is what they will encounter when they get out to work. It also helps to foster a sense of social and community responsibility, and very importantly, I think a deeper understanding of issues that are out there in the community,” said Prof Kong, who was the guest-of-honour for the evening.
She added, “As with our community service, our students who volunteer in pro bono have reflected back to me that very often they are learning and gaining much more from the process than perhaps the beneficiaries.” She ended her speech by thanking everyone in the audience who are involved in the work of the Centre, including “those who come seek help at the centre, because in turn you are helping our students”.
Prof Kong also gave out awards to five deserving individuals who stood out for their outstanding pro bono efforts. Among them were recent graduates Mohamed Khairulnizam Bin Abdul Jaffar and Gini Wong. They were conferred the Spirit of Pro Bono Hero Award (JD) and Spirit of Pro Bono Hero Award (LLB) respectively.
During their time at SMU, despite their busy academic schedules, Khairulnizam contributed 208 hours of pro bono, while Gini contributed 144 hours, the most number of hours in the 2023 graduating class for Juris Doctor and Bachelor of Law respectively.
Three volunteer lawyers – Matthew Teo, Christian Teo and Jasper Chan – were conferred the Spirit of Pro Bono Bronze Award for having volunteered at the PBC Legal Clinic for at least five years. Alvin Ong was conferred the Spirit of Pro Bono Champion Award for having participated the most number of times in the PBC Legal Clinic in 2023. All four of them are alumni of SMU YPHSL.
The host of the dinner, Professor Chan Wing Cheong, Director of the SMU Pro Bono Centre, said, “The Pro Bono Centre is glad to be in a position to lend a helping hand to those in need, and facilitate access to law and justice. I thank all our partners for entrusting our students with the invaluable opportunity to utilise their legal knowledge in giving back to society meaningfully.”
It has been a busy year at the PBC. SMU Law students gave more than 30 legal awareness talks, assisted volunteer lawyers in certifying over 100 Lasting Power of Attorney documents, supported around 20 families to apply for deputyship orders via Singapore Courts’ Integrated Family Application Management System, or iFAMS, helped lawyers in about 20 pro bono criminal or family cases, and worked on about 25 wills for Special Needs Trust Company beneficiaries this year.
“Pro Bono has an important place in the nurturing of our future lawyers; by gaining a deeper understanding of the needs of our society and the less privileged, it cultivates in them a sense of service – of what it means to give without expecting anything in return,” said Prof Chan.
Last year, the weekly free legal clinic held at SMU provided assistance to about 200 applicants, with the most common types of cases seen in the same period were those related to Family, Civil Claims, Employment and Tenancy. Of those who sought help, three in four are Singaporeans, and nearly half area under 40 years old.
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