Bill proposes that lawyers disclose pro bono hours

Lawyers could be required to disclose all the hours they work voluntarily, or "pro bono", each year under amendments to the Legal Profession Act being proposed by the Ministry of Law.

Public consultation on the proposed amendments opened yesterday and runs until April 11.

Under an amendment to Sections 59 and 25 of the Act, the Law Society would be able to require mandatory disclosures from lawyers on the number of hours spent doing pro bono work each year.

The change was recommended by the Committee to Study Community Legal Services Initiatives as "a first step towards greater involvement in pro bono work by the legal fraternity", according to a joint statement released yesterday by the ministry and the Law Society.

Details of the requirement will be spelt out in subsidiary legislation, but the committee recommended that every advocate and solicitor applying for a practising certificate be required to report the time spent on pro bono work in the preceding year.

There is no remuneration for such work though sometimes an honorarium is received.

Lawyers should not be subject to sanctions or adverse consequences for a report of zero pro bono hours clocked, added the committee, noting also that there is no consensus within the profession to adopt mandatory pro bono hours.

Criminal lawyer M. Lukshuayeh said pro bono work could be made compulsory in the future, and added that the proposed disclosure requirements will help to determine what the minimum number of hours should be.

"Having lawyers report the number of hours can only make the profession seem nobler, and encourage people to take up pro bono work, which is a way for us to give back to society," he said. The 55-year-old has been putting in 50 to 60 hours of pro bono work annually in his 23-year career.

The Bill also encompasses new professional conduct rules applicable to all lawyers, and the setting up of a Professional Conduct Council to oversee this area. The council will include senior representation from the Judiciary, the Law Society of Singapore, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC), and the Ministry of Law.

A Legal Services Regulatory Authority will also be established under the proposed amendments, to deal with what the ministry called "increasingly complex" law firm structures. This will regulate all law practice entities in Singapore. Existing regulatory functions performed by the Law Society and AGC - which oversee the regulation of Singapore-qualified and foreign-qualified lawyers, respectively - will be transferred over.

These are part of the Bill's attempts to streamline regulatory regimes into a single framework. The draft of the Bill can be viewed at www.minlaw.gov.sg and www.reach.gov.sg

 

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