2014 APBC&A2JX, Singapore
My work in access to justice is primarily in guiding and supporting law students. Providing real opportunities where students shoulder the responsibility and take the lead has allowed an awareness of the lack of access, and pro bono responsive to those needs, to grow and become an important part of legal education.
The APBC&A2JX is a constant source of support and inspiration. Its encouragement of student participation exposes students to the wider world of pro bono and tells them they are not alone.
The first APBC I participated in was the one organized in Vietnam in 2013, but I have volunteered for pro bono activities since 2008 when I was a third year law student. APBC is where you can find many stellar examples who have devoted their lives to lift up other people’s lives, who have sacrificed their private time for the public interest and who have tirelessly fought to combat injustice and unfairness. At APBC, I find lifetime friends and companions as well as like-minded people whose heart is always felt for the poor and the vulnerable. APBC has become a part of me and of the transformation which made me who I am today. At the present, when holding the position of Head of Dispute Resolution Practice in a boutique law firm in Ho Chi Minh City, I always try to balance between my billable work and pro bono work. My most recent pro bono client is Pacific Links Foundation, an NGO providing healthcare and education services for women and youth who are victims of human trafficking. I wish APBC will keep running and thriving to inspire more people to do pro bono for justice.
UNDP has always encouraged the growing pro bono movement in Asia and we actively engage with Bar Associations, civil society organisations and other partners in the countries where we work to support pro bono as a critical part of the access to justice ecosystem in our region. We are proud and long-time supporters of the Asia Pro Bono Conference and the A2J Exchange which have done so much to strengthen the movement and to help lawyers engage in it, and therefore to strengthen access to justice across Asia.
Tan Cheow Hung
Each one of us plays a vital role in this ecosystem; whether you are a member of an NGO, a volunteer lawyer, a CLAS Fellow, a member of the PBSO, a partner in a law firm that encourages or sponsors associates to do pro bono work, a veteran pro bono lawyer mentor, a member of a prosecutorial body, a member of the Judiciary, a volunteer psychiatrist, a volunteer at a soup kitchen, a volunteer doing bread rounds, a volunteer interpreter and/or a committee member in any committee that tackles issues related to access to justice to the under privileged and vulnerable (the list is not exhaustive). And, each one of us who does pro bono work is an ambassador for the cause in his/her own right and we are often each other’s inspiration and motivation. Alone, we cannot do very much. Together, we can do much, much more.
I remember speaking at a panel at the Asia Pro Bono Conference 2013 in Ho Chi Minh City and sharing that I found out the hard way, that when doing pro bono work, we need to be mindful that we are on stable ground ourselves before helping the under-privileged. I used the analogy of the standard safety instructions onboard an airliner, where we are reminded to put the oxygen masks on ourselves first before helping the young or the weak.