NUS Law launches new Centre for Pro Bono & Clinical Legal Education

NUS Clerkship Programme established for NUS Law students to gain exposure to judicial work 

The Centre for Pro Bono and Clinical Legal Education under the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law (NUS Law) was officially launched by Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Law and Ministry of Finance.

The establishment brings together the ground-breaking work of the NUS Pro Bono Office and the faculty’s clinical legal education programmes under one centre. In doing so, the Centre aims to prepare NUS Law students for real world practice by exposing them to the challenges of delivering quality legal service while serving the disadvantaged in the community.

Professor Simon Chesterman, Dean of the NUS Faculty of Law, said, “The launch of the Centre is timely. Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon spoke recently of a need for law students to be committed to service. Many of our students and student groups are active in pro bono work, including the Criminal Justice Club’s Innocence Project and the Military Justice Project. The new centre, with additional resources such as staff and adjunct clinical faculty, broadens and deepens our efforts in reaching out to the community. We hope to create more opportunities for our students to see the law in action — and learn that the value of a lawyer is measured in people helped rather than hours billed.”

Helmed by Co-Directors Associate Professor Lim Lei Theng and Associate Professor Ruby Lee, the Centre will seek to develop best practices in both student pro bono work as well as clinical legal education. It will continue to develop, manage and oversee pro bono programmes of NUS Law students, including the management of the Mandatory Pro Bono Programme for Law Students, as well as other pro bono programmes.

Among its other key objectives, the Centre will seek to develop and enhance legal skills, particularly in community lawyering, and build legal awareness programmes that are primarily targeted at the social service sector, with the aim of strengthening legal assistance that can be provided to such organisations which are promoting the welfare of the vulnerable in society. It will also enhance the clinical legal education programme at NUS Law, and further develop clinical programmes, including the one already established in conjunction with the Legal Aid Bureau (LAB).

Clinical Legal Education at NUS Law

Since 2009, NUS Law professors have been working as volunteer Assistant Directors of Legal Aid at LAB with NUS Law students assisting them in providing legal assistance and representation to legally aided clients. This form of learning – clinical legal education – gives law students the opportunities to hone their legal advocacy, drafting and research skills while working with real clients, and accompanying their professors to Court. To date, the clinical legal education programme at NUS Law has assisted close to 600 cases at LAB with 267 involving court appearances.

With the support of lawyers, the clinical legal education programme has also expanded into criminal cases where NUS Law students assist lawyers in the legal aid scheme for capital offences; and in transactional work, where students also help charities and voluntary welfare organisations with legal advice. The beneficiaries of the NUS Law clinical legal education programme have included legally aided persons under the LAB, the Law Society’s Criminal Legal Aid Scheme and the Supreme Court’s Legal Assistance Scheme for Capital Offences and organisations such as such as MINDS, the Singapore Christian Home, the Asian Women’s Welfare Association, Tai Pei Social Services and the Singapore Art Museum.

Ms Lim Hui Min, Director of Legal Aid, Legal Aid Bureau, said, “LAB and NUS have had an excellent partnership for the past eight years. The students benefit because they get to learn lawyering skills alongside their academic lessons. They also get the opportunity to help the less fortunate. LAB benefits from the energy and enthusiasm of the students, and the expertise of NUS Law professors, in doing our cases.”

Prof Chesterman added, “Clinical legal education takes student learning beyond the classroom to work with real people, real problems, and real consequences. Students work with practising lawyers to draft affidavits and documents that they see being used in court. These clinical faculty bring professional expertise into the law school, helping students to develop the art and craft of lawyering.”

New Clerkship Programme with State Courts

In August 2017, the clinical legal education programme also broke new ground with the State Courts – NUS Clerkship Programme. Under the pioneer programme, three final-year NUS Law students attended classes at the State Courts and met the senior judges in weekly tutorials. These students shadowed the District Judges as part of their training. The unique programme has exposed the students to the practice and policy behind judicial work and offers students the rare opportunity to learn while assisting top State Court judges in their work.

Justice See Kee Oon, Presiding Judge, State Courts of Singapore, said, “The Clerkship Programme provides top law students with the opportunity to acquire experiential knowledge of judicial work. They will gain direct exposure to the deliberation and adjudication process and learn about the practical application of law. This is done through observing cases in real-life courtroom settings, reflecting on and reviewing existing court processes, and discussion and interaction with District Judges. The weekly tutorials with senior judges afford them a valuable opportunity to gain insights from the Judges’ wealth of experience.”

Pro Bono programmes

The NUS Pro Bono Office was established in September 2012 to oversee the implementation of the Mandatory Law Student Pro Bono Programme, which requires law students to fulfil 20 mandatory hours of pro bono work prior to graduation. It had launched the online portal ‘Start Now Law’ in March 2014 to further encourage and enhance NUS Law students’ involvement in pro bono activities.

The new Centre will continue to run workshops to equip NUS Law students with the skills required to carry out pro bono work. It will also support the myriad of student-led pro bono activities of the NUS Pro Bono Group, which is Singapore’s first student-run pro bono group, and the Criminal Justice Club.

The Centre will also support pro bono activities with several initiatives, including the In-Person Deputyship Programme in conjunction with MINDS, where law students assist parents of disabled children to apply to court for deputyship without the need for a lawyer. This programme has enabled the parents to take charge of their own legal needs and pay only court filing fees, saving them hefty legal costs. Other initiatives include a collaboration with the People’s Association to bring volunteer lawyers to community centres to assist in certifying Lasting Powers of Attorney.

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