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SMU Pro Bono Centre’s new premises officially unveiled

9 Oct 2017
Five-year partnership with RHT Rajan Menon Foundation to cultivate pro bono spirit among law students and within the legal fraternity

“Pro bono legal services represent the highest form of social work that the legal profession can perform in service to the public.  Everyone needs some form of legal assistance or advice at one time or another.   It is not just free work, but free work for our poor ‘neighbours’ without expectation of any kind of material reward – it is the work of the Good Samaritan.  It is free work, given from the heart,” said Mr Chan Sek Keong, former Chief Justice and current Senior Judge at the Singapore Supreme Court, at the official opening of the SMU Pro Bono Centre’s new premises on 6 October 2017.  Mr Chan was speaking in his capacity as Advisor to the Centre, an appointment he recently accepted.  As Advisor, he will be providing counsel and guidance on its activities and plans.

[Photo: Mr Chan Sek Keong, Advisor to the SMU Pro Bono Centre.]

The launch ceremony also marked the beginning of a five-year partnership between SMU and the RHT Rajan Menon Foundation, which affirms both organisation’s commitment to nurture pro bono spirit among law students and within the legal fraternity.  Under the agreement, the RHT Rajan Menon Foundation, a Singapore registered charity and grant-making philanthropic organisation, will support the Centre with a gift of $300,000 starting from the current Academic Year 2017-2018.

Since its inception in 2013, the SMU Pro Bono Centre, headed by SMU Associate Professor Rathna N Koman, has been instrumental in cultivating the pro bono culture at SMU and in sensitising students to social justice issues.  The Centre involves law students in regular legal clinics which serves indigent members of the community, and trains students in client interviewing skills and in managing the clinics.  Through these activities, SMU law students are exposed to legal aid work and have the opportunity to integrate academic work with real-life experience.  At the regional level, the Centre also collaborates with Asian universities, such as through internships, to raise pro bono consciousness among students.

  

[Left photo: Mr Chan Sek Keong (centre), unveiling the Centre signage together with Prof Lily Kong (left), and Mr Tan Chong Huat (right).]

Right photo: Assoc Prof Goh Yihan, Assoc Prof Rathna Koman, Prof Lily Kong, Mr Chan Sek Keong, Mr Rajan Menon, Mr Tan Chong Huat.]

Associate Professor Goh Yihan, Dean of SMU School of Law, said, “As stakeholders of the justice system, and in line with the University’s ethos, our School advocates a pro bono culture among students through various pro bono programmes which we have nurtured since our inception in 2007.  We are grateful to RHT Rajan Menon Foundation for their generosity and vote of confidence towards our efforts.  I am confident that together, our work will go a long way in nurturing law graduates with a strong sense of empathy and service.”

“SMU is not new to the pro bono scene,” said Associate Professor Koman.  “When the School of Law started in 2007, the foundation was already laid for a strong commitment to pro bono work.  By 2008, SMU’s law students were already actively participating in pro bono work organised and managed by the Law Society of Singapore and were participating as student assistants in free legal clinics nationwide.  By 2009, SMU students were already doing an average of 22 hours of pro bono in addition to the University’s requirement of 80 hours of community service.”

Today, the Pro Bono Centre has more than 550 student volunteers serving at the Centre, as well as SMU alumni serving at its legal clinics with other volunteer lawyers.  While students are required to do at least 20 hours of pro bono work before graduation, the 2017 graduating class of law students clocked an average of 37 hours each.  The Centre has also handled more than 600 cases to date. 

[Photo: SMU Provost, Prof Lily Kong.]

Addressing the students, faculty and guests at the ceremony, Professor Lily Kong said, “Through this (partnership), our students will gain a greater understanding of the needs of our society and the less privileged, and there will be more meaningful programmes in place to serve the community, and a cultivation in our young lawyers of a sense of service – of what it means to give without expecting anything in return.”

[Photo: RHT Rajan Menon Foundation Chairman, Mr Tan Chong Huat.]

Mr Tan Chong Huat shared that his Foundation’s collaboration with SMU Pro Bono Centre ‘came about naturally’.  “Both parties shared a common objective of instilling social responsibility in law students and lawyers towards the underprivileged.  The Foundation’s support towards the SMU Pro Bono Centre embodies the philanthropic community spirit which we endorse.  We are excited to work with and engage the students from SMU School of Law, guiding them to use their legal training to help those in need,” said Mr Tan.  He added that the Foundation and the Pro Bono Centre will be teaming up in an Eldercare project later this year, which will see students assisting lawyers in the drafting of wills and Lasting Power of Attorney documents.

  

[Photo: Mr Chan Sek Keong (right) taking questions from the audience, which comprised SMU students and faculty, as well as guests from the legal fraternity, at a Question-and-Answer session moderated by SMU Law Dean Assoc Prof Goh Yihan (left).]

On Mr Chan’s appointment as Advisor to the Centre, Assoc Prof Goh said, “We are extremely honoured and humbled to be able to benefit from Mr Chan Sek Keong’s wealth of experiences.  A highly-respected and eminent figure, he has 50 illustrious years of legal experience under his belt.  I have no doubt that, under his guidance, and through the combined efforts of all at our Pro Bono Centre, we will be able to make an even greater impact.”

In his previous public roles, Mr Chan had been a strong advocate of pro bono work by lawyers for the less fortunate in our society.  He also advocated the establishment of a mandatory pro bono programme for all Singapore law students as realistic and simple for law students to learn from first-hand experience about the legal problems that the poor encounter in their daily lives.

[Featured Photo: (L-R) Professor Lily Kong and Mr Tan Chong Huat at the gift agreement signing ceremony.]

 

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Last updated on 20 Oct 2017 .