Free Legal Advice Scheme 2010-09

Free Legal Advice on HKU Campus

Think of lawyers - and you may have the word "expensive" coming up almost simultaneously. Many people who need to seek legal advice, no matter how desperately, have to face the harsh reality that they could not afford the costs involved. Despite the existing legal aid and legal services schemes available in Hong Kong, it is well recognized that there is a need to improve public access to justice, which calls for more pro bono work by the legal community.

The University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law has introduced, on a pilot basis, a Free Legal Advice Scheme on campus under the Duty Lawyer Service, since January 2010.

The objective of the Scheme is two-fold: (i) to offer members of the University or the public having legal problems preliminary advice as to their legal position; and (ii) to allow the University's law students taking the Clinical Legal Education Course an opportunity to develop their lawyering skills and to promote pro bono culture.

Under this pilot scheme, preliminary legal advice will be given by qualified lawyers, with the assistance of our law students.

Any person wishing to seek free legal advice from the Scheme must first attend an interview to be conducted by our law students, who will take down detailed background of the case and obtain relevant documents. The students will not give any legal advice at the interview session (normally around 20 to 30 minutes).

At an advice session to be scheduled normally within two or three weeks after the interview session, qualified lawyers will provide advice to the clients. Each advice session will normally be around 30 minutes.

To assist in running of the Scheme, our students will receive instructions and training in basic lawyer skills, e.g. interviewing, fact investigation, negotiation, file management, drafting witness statements, etc. They also need to attend the Small Claims Tribunal and the Municipal Services Appeal Board to observe how the hearings are conducted there and receive instructions on their jurisdiction and procedures. All students are required to attend a group review session with the Course Coordinator once every two weeks for briefing, debriefing, evaluation and reflection. Feedback and further training will be provided by the Course Coordinator. When handling clients' works, our students, working in pairs, will be closely supervised by the qualified lawyer responsible for the case.

The Scheme will not only open the door of justice to the less fortunate people of our society, but also contribute to nurturing the pro bono culture among our future lawyers. The potential impact of this pilot scheme in bridging the legal services gap in Hong Kong was covered by The Pearl Report on August 29, 2010: "For the Public Good".

The Scheme also represents our Law Faculty's attempt to embed clinical elements in the education programmes so as to expose students to the practical side of law. Clinical legal education has in recent decades become a well established part of legal education provided by universities globally. However, Hong Kong is lagging behind. After extensive discussions on the development of clinical legal education, our Law Faculty launched a clinical legal education course (CLE Course) as one of the LLB electives in January 2009 as a pilot run. With the experience gained in the pilot run, the Faculty formally launched the CLE course in the LLB as a 6-credit elective course in January 2010. Apart from continuing with the pilot service at the Small Claims Tribunal, the work that participating students may do is expanded to cover the aforementioned Free Legal Advice Scheme on campus; assisting appellants in hearings before the Municipal Services Appeal Board and the Administrative Appeal Board; assisting in cases handled by a law firm on a pro bono basis, and assisting in cases handled by the Bar Free Legal Service Scheme.

Commencing on September 14, 2010, the pilot Free Legal Advice Scheme will have case intakes until October 28, 2010 in this semester. Click here for more details.