Lawyers offering advice for free say 'clients' broaden their horizons

Volunteers devote time and expertise to help those who cannot afford to pay

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 February, 2013, 4:09am

Once every three months, Chow Chun-man hurries away from his solicitor's firm in Mong Kok early in the evening.

The lawyer must be at the government district office in Tsuen Wan by 7pm, a routine he has followed since 2001. Every time he is there, he will see five clients - but he doesn't charge them.

Chow is among 900 lawyers - solicitors and barristers alike - who are on the list of the Home Affairs Department's free legal advice scheme.

More often than not he stays at the district office for at least three hours, almost double the official 100-minute session, before he can complete the five consultations.

The department advises lawyers to spend 20 minutes with each person, but Chow says this is "not enough, of course".

"Most of them have a sad story to tell me," Chow says.

"I need to adjust my mentality before entering the room; I keep telling myself I'm not a social worker."

Many cases Chow has handled concerned new arrivals from the mainland seeking a divorce from their local husband.

More trivial enquiries include water spills and community issues.

For Melissa Kaye Pang, a seasoned solicitor, participation in the free legal service scheme has broadened her horizons.

"An offspring of a concubine once asked me for advice on succession of estates," Pang says.

"Though legally interesting, I told him it's not worth the legal cost, which could end up exceeding the share of the estate."

She says the sessions give her another perspective on issues.

Barrister Bowie Yip Wing-san chose to volunteer with the Society of Rehabilitation and Crime Prevention after he left the government scheme a few years ago.

"I hope teenagers can get back on the right track, and not continue to commit offences so that I end up getting more business," he says.

The three are among 251 lawyers and 31 law firms who have been honoured for their voluntary work.