Pro Bono Lawyers Work Without Fee... Why Would Someone Take It Up?
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Pro Bono Lawyers Work Without Fee... Why Would Someone Take It Up?

Ming Feng
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Who Are Laws Really Made For, The Rich or the Poor?

Laws are generally made for everyone and made to protect both the rich and poor.

However, it is clear from history that the law does not always provide justice.

While the ultimate goal of the law is to provide a fair system for everyone, the fundamental flaw of it lies in the imperfection of us as human beings. This can happen when laws are made by people who do not always want fair treatment for others, or in cases where laws are practised unfairly.

Sue someone
Source: giphy

In society today, the system does have a slight advantage for the rich. Think in terms of their influence on policy makes or even getting themselves a highly paid lawyer, an option not available to the majority of the people.

But do note that this is never the fault of the law, but more on the people who tries to exploit the system to their advantage.

On top of that, understanding the law requires years of studies and a certain level of education. This means that the perfect information is only available to a small group of the population, and there is an imperfect flow of information in the public.

Despite the possible imperfection in the system, there are lawyers who act pro bono to those in need of legal assistance but do not have the luxury of getting one.


A Singaporean lawyer recently successfully appealed against the conviction on an Indonesian helper, Parti Liyani. The domestic worker was accused of stealing over $34,000 worth of items from Changi Airport Group (CAG) chairman Liew Mun Leong and his family. 

This legal battle lasted for four years and Parti Liyani is finally free of the charges against her.

Singaporean lawyer who defended pro bono
Source: Mothership

The Singaporean lawyer Anil Balchandani acted pro bono for Parti Liyani and has won the internet and the respect of many.


How Are Pro Bono Lawyers Being Paid?

Pro Bono lawyer in Singapore

The term pro bono is derived from a Latin phrase pro bono publico, which can be translated to “for the public good”.

It is legal assistance provided to the community or organisations in Singapore with the ultimate aim of providing legal service to the needy or the disadvantaged.

This legal assistance and advice are without fee, or expectation of a fee in situations where:

  • The client has no access to the courts or legal system
  • The client’s case is of public interest
  • The work done involves free community legal education or law reform
  • The advice or assistance is given to an institution of a public character, such as charitable and community organisations

Source: lawsocprobono.org

Despite that, there are cases where the High Court has ordered the losing party to pay the legal costs of the winning party backed by a lawyer on pro bono basis. The costs recovered in such event will go to the Legal Aid Bureau.

The Benefits of Lawyers Taking up Pro Bono Work

You must be wondering.

Why will someone take up pro bono work if he is not going to get any monetary reward for his work?

Given that pro bono cases are usually not assigned to the attorney, the attorney gets to choose the causes, the cases or the clients he or she wish to take on. This means that they usually take up causes for a greater good they feel strongly for.

There are also some benefits that come along with pro bono work such as professional development or strengthening their practise.

An example will be the recent Prti Liyani case. Her lawyer Anil Balchandani received recognition for his hard work islandwide and there are people who even went on to drop him really good reviews for his work.

Reviews for Anil Balchandani
Source: Singaporelegaladvice.com

What Can You Do If You Cannot Afford a Lawyer?

There are various organisations and agencies that run legal aid and pro bono advice schemes.

If you wish to get a pro bono lawyer, here are the main Pro Bono Schemes in Singapore:

 Law SocietyGovernmentOthers
Civil Legal Aid-Legal Aid Bureau
- Most civil matters
- Formal means and merits
test
- Citizens and PRs only
-
Criminal Legal AidCriminal Legal Aid Scheme
- Most criminal offences
- Formal means test
- All nationalities
Supreme Court Assigned
Counsel Scheme
- Death penalty offences
- No formal means test
- All nationalities
Association of Criminal
Lawyers of Singapore
- Community Court
referrals
- No formal means test
General Legal AdviceCommunity Legal ClinicsLegal Aid BureauAware, Catholic
Lawyers’ Guild, Jamiyah, SAWL
Corporations
Legal Aid for CorporationsProject Law Help
- Corporate matters
-Joint International Pro
Bono Committee
- Cross Border Corporate
matters
The Kind Exchange
- Corporate matters

Do take note that the decision to take up your case ultimately lies in the lawyer’s hand.

Another way will be to get legal aid. Legal aid is similar to pro bono lawyers except that this time, the cost comes from the government.

For legal aid, you can either register your case online or head down to Minlaw Services Centre.

How To Qualify?

Do note that for some of the application, you need to pass a means test.

The applicant will need to meet the following criteria:

  • The average of the applicant’s PCHI must be $950 or lower for the last 12 months prior to the date of application for legal aid
  • The annual value of the applicant’s place of residence must be $13,000 or lower
  • The applicant’s savings and non-CPF investments must be $10,000 or lower

On top of pro bono lawyers or legal aid, you can also represent yourself in court as long as you are above the age of 18 years old.

If you plan to represent yourself in court, here are some resources where you can get free advice:

About Ming Feng
A stint in Bloomberg gifted me with a beer belly, which only grew larger when I moved on to become a Professional Trader. Now I turn caffeine into digestible finance-related content.
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