Guide for in-house lawyers on helping out

Move by Law Society and law firm DLA Piper to draw more to voluntary work

To get more in-house lawyers to take up voluntary work, the Law Society of Singapore and law firm DLA Piper will launch a free guide today explaining how they can help.

The 29-page Singapore In-House Legal Counsel Pro Bono Guide will be available online and in hard-copy form.

It includes regulations on voluntary legal work, how to communicate with such clients and case studies of companies offering programmes on it.

Law Society president Thio Shen Yi said that in-house counsel can use their expertise to help voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) or charities.

Mr Thio, a senior counsel, said: "They have certainly got expertise in governance or transactions and, in fact, they have commercial sensibilities which they can apply to the (organisations), or even international projects for charities which cut across borders.

"Some in-house counsel may be used to dealing with international jurisdictions, so they can help with initial structuring and planning."

DLA Piper's pro bono director in Asia-Pacific, Ms Catriona Martin, said: "The guide provides practical guidance on establishing a pro bono programme.

"(In-house counsel) can volunteer with pro bono schemes through the Law Society, work directly with local community service organisations and legal aid bodies, or partner with a law firm on pro bono projects. "

In-house lawyers do not need practising certificates. Only lawyers with practising certificates, which have to be renewed annually, can attend court. As legal counsel do not need to register with the Law Society, there are no statistics on how many such lawyers there are here.

A spokesman for the Law Society noted that a "very gross estimate is that there should be a few thousand".

He added that there are about 120 in-house lawyers volunteering with the Law Society Pro Bono Services Office, which currently helps about 50 charities and VWOs as well as social enterprises, through clinics and law awareness talks.

The Legal Profession Act was amended in 2013 to allow Singapore-qualified lawyers without a practising certificate to provide pro bono legal advice in certain circumstances, such as for the benefit of a charity or welfare organisation. Previously, they were not allowed to do so.

One company which works with the Law Society on community legal clinics and other projects is technology firm Hewlett-Packard Enterprise.

Ms Jayne Kuriakose, its senior counsel for enterprise services in Asia-Pacific and Japan, said: "Many in-house counsel have a holistic experience in dealing with persons from varied backgrounds on a day-to-day basis.

"These soft skills translate into a very usable attribute while providing pro bono services, where understanding the client's needs and communication skills make a remarkable difference."

YMCA of Singapore general secretary Lo Chee Wen said volunteer lawyers are a "key resource" for all VWOs.

He said: "The (pro bono guide) is a wonderful initiative that will facilitate greater volunteerism and giving from the legal sector in Singapore, and give VWOs greater access to quality and professional legal advice which they otherwise may be unable to readily afford."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2016, with the headline 'Guide for in-house lawyers on helping out'. Print Edition | Subscribe