“I’m a Singapore qualified lawyer without a local practising certificate. Can I participate in pro bono work?”
Yes, you can, and you definitely should.
Legal Profession Act Cap 161 and the “Pro Bono exemption” for Singapore qualified lawyers without PCs
The Legal Profession Act establishes, among other things, the rules relating to the legal profession in Singapore. Section 33 prohibits any “unauthorised person” from acting as an advocate or solicitor, and section 32 provides that a person is “unauthorised” if his/her name is not on the roll of advocates and solicitors of the Supreme Court, or if he/she does not have in force a practising certificate (PC) that is issued annually. Under section 26, only solicitors who are intending to practise in a law practice may apply for a practising certificate.
Until 2013, Singapore qualified lawyers without PCs were held to be “unauthorised persons” for the purposes of providing pro bono legal advice. However, recognising the “pro bono potential” of non-practising Singapore qualified lawyers (working as in-house counsel or otherwise), the Legal Profession (Pro Bono Legal Services) Rules 2013 have
created a specific exemption from section 33 of the Act.
Section 3 of the 2013 Rules provides that
“non-practising solicitors” may provide pro bono legal services under schemes administered by either or both the Law Society and the State Courts, and for the benefit of registered charities, public institutions and eligible voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs).
The prohibition from appearing or pleading in a Court/quasi-judicial body hearing however remains.
Pro bono work at the Law Society Pro Bono Services (LSPBS)
Singapore qualified lawyers can volunteer with any of the activities listed on the LSPBS website. There is a wide range of activities available:
Community Legal Clinics (CLCs) are free basic legal advice sessions for the needy that run from Mondays to Thursdays. The CLCs address a wide variety of legal topics for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of Singaporean society.
Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) provides criminal legal assistance to accused persons who are unable to afford a lawyer, in order to ensure that no individual is deprived of access to justice simply because of his or her limited financial means. Singapore qualified lawyers can volunteer to assist with statement taking of accused persons and with paralegal assistance
Community Organisations Clinic is a free basic advice session for non-profit organisations with community-related objectives (this includes charities, VWOs and social enterprises). It is a one-off 30-minute consultation where applicants meet with our volunteers at our LSPBS office.
Project Law Help offers free non-litigation commercial legal assistance to non-profit organisations in Singapore with community-related objectives and limited financial resources.
LegaleSE is a new initiative that aims to enable the social enterprise sector by providing social entrepreneurs with legal information required to run a business with a cause in Singapore.
- The Joint International Pro Bono Committee is an initiative facilitating cross-border pro bono projects involving economic and social development in emerging markets.
Pro Bono Research Initiative provides research support to pro bono practitioners undertaking complex and important criminal and civil litigation.
Our volunteer lawyers have provided consistent feedback about the rewarding nature of the pro bono work they have undertaken at the LSPBS. Many of the LSPBS’s initiatives would benefit immensely from the contributions and expertise of Singapore qualified lawyers in particular. The LSPBS also offers support for volunteer lawyers through resources such as comprehensive clinic manuals, as well as research and paralegal support for certain LSPBS initiatives.
“I’m a Foreign Qualified* lawyer. Can I participate in pro bono work?”
In a nutshell: Yes, although less diverse, there are still pro bono opportunities that exist for Foreign Qualified lawyers (in-house counsel or otherwise).
Legal Profession Act Cap 161 and Foreign Qualified Lawyers
As established above, Section 33 of the Legal Profession Act prohibits any “unauthorised person” from acting as an advocate or solicitor, and section 32 provides that a person is “unauthorised” if his/her name is not on the roll of advocates and solicitors of the Supreme Court, or if he/she does not have in force a practising certificate that is issued annually. Under section 26, only solicitors who are intending to practise in a law practice may apply for a practising certificate.
lawyers who are not on the roll of advocates and solicitors of the Supreme Court (i.e. called to the Singapore Bar) are not authorised under section 32 of the Act to act as an advocate or solicitor, there is still a number of meaningful initiatives that you can get involved in at the LSPBS:
Joint International Pro Bono Committee assists international NGOs and larger international social enterprises/charities who are seeking to establish themselves in and/or around Singapore. Matters that the JIPBC deals with can range but will generally involve cross-jurisdictional areas, and may or may not involve Singapore law. JIPBC matters greatly benefit from the assistance provided by international and high-profile foreign law firms, who bring their international resources and contacts to assisting a great cause (ranging from establishing companies to changing employment contracts, etc). Generally, JIPBC matters involve specific areas of foreign law, and volunteers must be qualified to practice in the areas required by the applicants before committing.
Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) provides criminal legal assistance to accused persons who are unable to afford a lawyer, in order to ensure that no individual is deprived of access to justice simply because of his or her limited financial means. Lawyers can volunteer to assist with statement taking of accused persons and with paralegal assistance.
- The Pro Bono Research Initiative operates in tandem with CLAS requests and generally involves researching unique or novel issues in criminal case law. Because this is a research program, all lawyers and legally trained individuals can volunteer to assist. Research can range from Singaporean case law, to matters of foreign law (ie. the Indian penal code), as well as decisions from other countries. Although infrequent, PBRI requests can be quite interesting and engaging, and lawyers who participate do not have to have practicing certificates, or even be Singapore qualified.
- From time to time, the LSPBS will work with a law firm or several volunteers to do
Ad Hoc Research and Publication Work. These projects can vary, but the LSPBS welcomes any Foreign Qualified lawyers who are seeking to share their expertise be it in the form of a presentation, online media, or printed publication. For more information on specific examples, please contact the LSPBS.
If you are interested in knowing more about these initiatives, or would like to volunteer, please email
*A Foreign Qualified lawyer is defined as an individual who is duly authorised or registered to practise law in a state or territory other than Singapore by a foreign authority having the function conferred by law of authorising or registering persons to practise law in that state or territory."