Pro-bono help over the phone

Asia Law Network's chief executive Cherilyn Tan and chief marketing officer Gabriel The. The legal start-up is among five technology solutions under the new Tech Start for Law scheme, and has introduced a pilot initiative where its existing Quick Con
Asia Law Network's chief executive Cherilyn Tan and chief marketing officer Gabriel The. The legal start-up is among five technology solutions under the new Tech Start for Law scheme, and has introduced a pilot initiative where its existing Quick Consult phone calls will be extended to a non-profit organisation from April 1.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Needy individuals can soon dial a lawyer for pro-bono legal help, under a pilot initiative by local legal tech start-up Asia Law Network (ALN).

ALN chief executive Cherilyn Tan told The Straits Times that its existing Quick Consult phone calls, where users can seek legal advice from a lawyer at $49 for 15 minutes, will be extended to a non-profit organisation from April 1.

ALN, which features an interactive database of lawyers, is among the five technology solutions under the new Tech Start for Law scheme.

About 20 lawyers across big and small firms have volunteered for its pilot run, said Ms Tan.

If it is successful, she hopes to roll out the platform to family service centres here while cross-border pro-bono work can also be carried out with regional non-profit organisations in the future.

This is an example of how lawyers can leverage technology to improve access to justice, said Ms Tan, 32, who founded ALN in 2014.

"The call reduces wait time for urgent cases, and is especially for beneficiaries who are unable to travel during office hours as they are working multiple jobs to make ends meet."

Others who may benefit include those who cannot afford to travel to meet their lawyers, the elderly and those with disabilities, she added.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon has said that legal practice will see an "uberisation", in reference to private-hire car service Uber, as new systems are better able to match the supply of and demand for lawyers.

Beacon Law Corporation director Tan Cheow Hung, who was LawSoc's Pro Bono Ambassador 2016, said he is hopeful that the pilot initiative would encourage more lawyers to do pro-bono work.

He said: "This is especially so if the system is able to match a lawyer to a pro-bono client only when the lawyer is available, thus ensuring that billable hours are not affected."

Added Mr Lau Kah Hee, 34, a partner at Derrick Wong & Lim BC: "Ultimately, as a lawyer, you want to help people solve their legal problems in a cost-efficient and effective way."

Mr Lau, who will be among the lawyers in the pilot run, takes about four Quick Consult paid calls a month.

Ng Huiwen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2017, with the headline 'Pro-bono help over the phone'. Print Edition | Subscribe