The National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Law (NUS Law) has launched 'Start Now Law', an online portal for pro bono projects to encourage and enhance students' involvement in legal pro bono activities. The portal is the first of its kind on pro bono work in Singapore. Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State, Ministry for Law and Ministry for Education, launched the portal in the presence of NUS Law students, faculty and alumni.
An initiative by NUS Law's Pro Bono Office (PBO), the portal will be a springboard for the upcoming Mandatory Pro Bono Scheme, which requires law students to fulfil 20 mandatory hours of pro bono work prior to graduation. PBO was established in September 2012, with the support of the Singapore Academy of Law and the Singapore Institute of Legal Education, to coordinate the mandatory pro bono scheme.
Professor Simon Chesterman, Dean of NUS Faculty of Law, said: “NUS Law has a long tradition of pro bono service, including through the NUS Pro Bono Group and the NUS Criminal Justice Club. Our students have initiated many projects in which they render legal assistance to the disadvantaged. These projects offer a chance to experience law 'in action' rather than just 'in the books'. But pro bono work also helps our students to see the impact that a good lawyer can have on society. It makes them better lawyers — and perhaps better people. The 'Start Now Law' portal will enable even more students to get involved in such pro bono activities.”
About 'Start Now Law'
On 'Start Now Law', NUS Law students and pro bono host organisations can post pro bono opportunities in the portal and students can sign up for these opportunities directly with the host organisations. Students will also be able to track their own pro bono activities on the portal throughout their education at NUS Law, which they can present as a record to future employers. Upon completing the pro bono activities, students will also be presented with certificates of participation.
The portal was developed over a period of 12 months since February 2013, involving consultation with student groups such as the NUS Pro Bono Group and the NUS Criminal Justice Club. For a start, there are more than 40 pro bono activities available in the portal that students can start signing up for, such as the Healthserve Legal Clinic, Legal Awareness Talk at TRANS Family Service Centre (Bukit Timah), HOME Legal Education Workshop for Domestic Workers, and the Law Society of Singapore Pro Bono Services Office Community Legal Clinics.
Promoting student-led pro bono projects and the spirit of volunteerism
Currently, many of the pro bono initiatives are led by students groups, such as the NUS Pro Bono Group and the NUS Criminal Justice Club. These include activities such as legal clinics for the elderly and migrant workers, assisting litigants-in-person with procedural matters at the Court through the University Court Friends Scheme, and working with the Law Society of Singapore and the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore to provide recourse to individuals who believe they have been wrongfully convicted of a crime through the Innocence Project.
The PBO hopes to encourage NUS Law students to self-initiate pro bono projects and the pro bono portal can be a starting point.
Associate Professor Lim Lei Theng, Chair of NUS Law Pro Bono Committee, said: “The idea of developing this portal is to nurture students' commitment in initiating pro bono projects while facilitating the tracking of these activities. Voluntary Welfare Organisations and other pro bono host institutions will also be able to leverage on the 'Start Now Law' portal to provide pro bono opportunities for our students. Such a platform inculcates the spirit of volunteerism among students by contributing their learning back to the community.”