To put it in President Chan Yi Cheng’s light-hearted analogy, the NUS Pro Bono Group is like Pokémon.
No, we are not mice that can generate electricity; neither are we critters that can teleport away at the first sight of danger. Rather, we are a group that has “evolved over the years”, as Yi Cheng repeatedly emphasised.
Together with Yvonne Lian, the Secretary, Yi Cheng traced the history of the group, stirring the memories of past and present NUS Pro Bono members at the inaugural Pro Bono Homecoming session, seven years since the Group’s inception in 2005-06. While some aspects of the Group had remained constant, others were refined and still some introduced. Legal clinics, an accessible way to get involved with Pro Bono activities, had been and remain core to the Group. Projects such as the Moot Parliament Programme were introduced as NUS Pro Bono grew, and continue to expand and evolve. “Like a Pokémon, yes,” said Yi Cheng.
The Pro Bono Group has also received much attention from the media, drawing attention to the need and availability for Pro Bono activities. For example, the Law Assistant Pilot Scheme, now known as University Court Friends, was featured in the Straits Times in 2007.
Having built up a substantial history, the club gave us a sneak peak to a future project: the NUS Pro Bono archives.
Joseph Wong (2005/06 President and the Group’s founder) followed Yi Cheng’s speech. Joseph’s story was short, but engaging: from his inspiration when starting the group, to truly realizing the spirit of giving, he shared his personal reasons and passions for this greater cause. Such thoughts resonated amongst current students. For many, it wasn’t about personal glory or fame, but to give back to the society that helped put them in a privileged position.
The heart factor was stressed by many and is of great relevance in light of a key discussion topic for the night: making Pro Bono work a mandatory scheme in NUS. While some of the alumni welcomed it as a good measure that would increase the pool of lawyers engaged in Pro Bono work in the local legal scene, they also cautioned that it may kill off the spirit of voluntary work.
“Making [Pro Bono work] mandatory would expose current students to Pro Bono, which can help to increase their level of awareness and willingness to help in the future,” said Hao Jun, the 2008/09 Vice-President. “However this is primarily dependent on how well they structure the programme such that students wouldn’t see it as a chore, or as a “must-do” factor just to graduate.”
The alumni expressed hopes that such engagements would lead to greater numbers of lawyers doing Pro Bono work in time to come. For Cassandra, the 2006/07 President, a regret on her part is the lack of time among other difficulties in balancing work with Pro Bono. “It is difficult to do Pro Bono when you have to work till past midnight so frequently,” she said. “But after the initiation period as a lawyer, there is more time for such work to be done.”
The NUS Pro Bono Homecoming session was a happy and memorable evening for all of us. Engaging in conversation with ex-NUS Pro Bono members provided an insight to their underlying passion, and inspired many of us to continue with our projects. Perhaps as Joseph Wong suggested, helping students to find their own inspiration is where Pro Bono “can, should and will continue to shine”, for the eighth generation and beyond.
Contributed by Jermaine Ng and Ng Wan Qing, 1st year law students.