By Lewis Truong

Lewis Truong is a qualified Australian lawyer who has worked for various multinational companies in Australia and Europe. Currently, Truong is the Country General Counsel for IBM Viet Nam and reports to the ASEAN office in Singapore. Truong is fluent in both English and Vietnamese.

Question: “How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?”

Answer: “How many can you afford?”

As lawyers, we might think that lawyer jokes like this are dull and at best only enjoyed by non-lawyers.

Yet, it is this very stigma of the ambulance-chaser that casts a shadow over the legal profession — and even the countless pro bono hours altruistically volunteered by so many lawyers. Therefore, in an effort to promote pro bono work and further help our collective reputations (and hopefully without sounding too self-serving), I would like to take this opportunity to share with you my Viet Nam pro bono experience.

In mid 2011, I received an invitation from the ASEAN Regional Counsel to assist with pro bono initiatives in the GMU. Initially I was quite hesitant about accepting the invitation (albeit delighted). I almost frightened myself into saying, “Sorry, I’m not sure I am up to the job”. But ultimately, I bit my tongue and the decision was made.

Fortunately for me, at the time, I was volunteering with a US-NGO. They were focused on introducing clinical legal education to law schools in Viet Nam. The organization has a long but impressive name: “Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia Com-munity Legal Education Initiative” (BABSEACLE).

To me, the marriage between BABSEACLE and IBM’s pro bono culture was perfect. It didn’t take an IQ of a Cloud Architect to see the compatibility between BABSEACLE and the Legal Department’s pro bono principles:

    1. Positive impact on the community, locally & globally.

    2. Support of the Company brand and reputation.

    3. A chance to meet some very intelligent and interesting people.

    4. Improving access to justice to marginalized people.

    5. An opportunity to feel good about myself.

My calling towards pro bono was simple – it was my exit, my little sanctum away from the everyday grind. Too often I found myself entangled in the momentum of work: contracts, meetings, emails, research, updates… and the list continues. Pro bono work has helped me keep my sanity.

Every Tuesday evening after work, I prepared and held CLE classes for a group of 12 – 20 budding lawyers at the National Economics University of Viet Nam. The teaching followed a set syllabus on practical lawyering skills (i.e., client interviewing, drafting, negotiation, etc.). In more fortunate jurisdictions, these skills are considered typical of a good legal education. However, in other jurisdictions, they are considered “co-curricular”.

More than just keeping my sanity in check, I actually came to enjoy conducting the classes. The difference in jurisdiction was not an impediment. Good lawyering skills are universal and transferable. The students` enthusiasm for learning, coupled with my healthy understanding of what they could offer to their community, is what I really enjoyed.

So, what lies ahead for this compelling couple?Today, BABSEACLE is registered with IBM’s Corporate Affairs group and was granted a small fund by IBM in 2011. Over 100 students in at least five universities in Viet Nam suc-cessfully completed their CLE curriculum in 2011. At least two universities have agreed to incorporate the CLE program into their official syllabus, a momentous achievement, given that most local law schools still exercise a rigid syllabus inherited from the post-war era.

BABSEACLE is hoping to replicate the successful collaboration with IBM in other markets in which both have a presence: Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and Singapore.

As for IBM-VN, in 2012 BABSEACLE and IBM Corporate Affairs will organize a senior GBS Project Manger to host a full-day workshop on Project Management. This workshop will be the spring-board for servicing the marginalized community. It will be my honor to monitor and supervise the roll-out of this project. If successful, we hope to replicate this model to other Law Schools in Viet Nam.

Before ending, I would like to acknowledge and thank the strong leadership, support and encouragement from the IBM Law Department and IBM Corporate Affairs Department for providing a supportive working environment that is conducive to staff engagement in pro bono activities.


Originally published in The IBM Client Server: IBM Services Legal Affairs News and Information, reprinted with permission