Supporting the Asia Pro Bono Movement

Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia Community Legal Education Initiative (BABSEACLE) has asked me to provide some comments on the Asia Pro Bono Conference and, in particular, my involvement in the final Plenary session of the Conference titled “Supporting the Asia Pro Bono Movement”. Herbert Smith Freehills was a co-founder of the Asia Pro Bono Conference and we have been very proud of our association with it over the past 5 years. We are also very proud of our involvement with BABSEACLE’s major projects over many years and our continued work with them and others in the area of justice education throughout Asia.

Our original involvement with BABSEACLE began as part of our firm’s desire to increase our involvement in building and supporting the rule of law in the region. We saw BABSEACLE’s work of supporting and educating the next generation of lawyers in the region as key to the future of the pro bono movement in Asia. Our involvement with BABSEACLE started when we had only one office in Asia. As the merged firm Herbert Smith Freehills we now have 12 offices in Australasia and have been delighted to involve lawyers from our other offices into  BABSEACLE projects.

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From our earliest involvement with BABSEACLE the intention was to be collaborative. We partnered with BABSEACLE to aid their capacity building and development of university legal clinics in Vietnam and Laos, introduced them to our friends at DLA Piper, and we have been working collaboratively with them and other partners ever since. The ethics curriculum, mock trial curriculum and evidence curriculum we have developed with BABSEACLE, DLA Piper and others are now polished resources which can be adapted for different purposes and jurisdictions and used by other institutions and firms to further the objectives we all set out to achieve when we first put pen to paper. The resources are designed to maximise impact in the region, and the task of expanding footprints takes many feet!

Another limb of our original objectives in working with BABSEACLE was to create a collaboratively driven forum or symposium where ‘pro bono spirits’ in the region could connect with each other, collaborate, learn, brainstorm, articulate their shared vision, exchange ideas and further build and bolster the pro bono movement in Asia. The Conference has gone from strength the strength since its origins in Laos and through its exponential growth in Vietnam, Singapore, Myanmar and now Indonesia where, for the first time and as a great expression of the collaborative model, it sat shoulder to shoulder with the PILnet Forum as part of the Asia Pro Bono Exchange.

img_3921Our session on ‘Sustaining the Pro Bono Movement’ sought to draw on this background and the lessons learned over time and to focus our energy on what is necessary to support and maximise the impact of pro bono in the region. During the session, Miriam Chinnappa from Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) discussed how ASF’s programs with BABSEACLE have drawn on their shared vision for the reinforcement of legal institutions and justice systems to guarantee fundamental human rights, particularly through their work with BABSEACLE in the Myanmar Rule of Law Centres. The other speakers in the session (Marlon Manuel from the Philippines’ Alternative Law Groups, Thip Nouansyvong  (Law and Development Partnership) and Bruce Lasky (BABSEACLE) gave further examples of the collaborative model and their vision for the future of pro bono in Asia. Marlon Manuel then encouraged all conference participants to provide written pledges of the concrete ways each individual would support the pro bono movement going forward. The growth of the movement over many years means that, at the next Conference in Malaysia in 2017, there will be plenty of witnesses to these pledges who can hold us all to account.

A huge thank you to the Asia Pro Bono Conference and PILnet teams who worked to make the Asia Pro Bono Exchange such a great success.

By Lynn McMahon, Senior Associate-Pro Bono, Herbert Smith Freehills

Author: Vietnam Team

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