What is pro bono?
Pro bono is defined as “work undertaken without charge, especially legal work for a client on low income.” In the context of law, it refers to lawyers who provide legal services for those who are typically unable to afford a lawyer.
Why does pro bono work even exist?
In Singapore, legal aid is considered a public service. This means even those who are less fortunate have a right to it because it helps to ensure a fair and effective justice system by giving them access to it. If it didn’t exist, only those who can afford a lawyer will be tried fairly.
In Singapore, there are various organisations and schemes to help the needy get pro bono lawyers to defend them. Pro bono work is typically work done for :
- People of limited means
- Non-profit organizations that serve those people
Ok, so do I qualify for legal aid?
Because everyone has different situations, it is best for you to assess yourself to see if you qualify for legal aid. We can’t quite summarize the answers better than the ministry of law already has, as it will cause lapses in our answer : Click here to see if you qualify for legal aid.
What are the different schemes available?
They are as follows. Click on each link to be directed to the respective pages.
General Legal Advice
- Community Legal Clinics
- Legal Aid Bureau
- Catholic Lawyer’s Guild
- SAWL (Singapore Association of Women Lawyers)
Civil Matters (For Singaporean citizens and PRs only)
- Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (All nationalities)
- Supreme Court Assigned Counsel Scheme ( Death penalty offences , All nationalities)
Legal Aid for Corporations/Non-Profits
- Project Law Help
- Joint International Pro Bono Committee (For international organizations based in Singapore)
- The Kind Exchange
While these are all well and good, there are still people who can afford a lawyer, but are somehow able to get pro bono help.
Secondly, some lawyers are being taken advantage of and pushed to their limits by their pro bono clients when undertaking some of these cases. A lawyer’s time is expensive. A simple hour’s consultation can run into the hundreds. Yet, they are devoting their precious time to help and serve the community because everyone has a right to be tried fairly.
In every type of service business, there are bound to be a few bad apples that workers (in this case, lawyers) have to serve. These people make pro bono work a less attractive option that it already is. They call their lawyers incessantly, asking for more than is needed, and overall create an unpleasant experience for their lawyers.
One should be appreciative that they qualify for or are able to get pro bono help, while most people are not able to and have to fork out thousands for a lawyer to defend them. Yet, lawyers have no choice but to put up with such characters because “Lawyers have a professional and ethical obligation to provide pro bono assistance in our community. “
If you are lucky enough to be given pro bono legal assistance, please be nice to your lawyers. They are not getting paid much (if any) for their time and effort, and are doing a service to the community. The least you could do is respect their time and space, and only contact them when truly necessary. They have a lot of other clients as well (some of which might be contributing more to their income) than you. So i urge those who receive pro bono help to be more considerate.