The Ministry of Justice has issued a notice urging lawyers to lower their fees for the poor and to take up more legal aid cases. It also calls on lawyers to 'protect the legal rights of the masses and build a harmonious society'. Law firms should cut their costs and fulfil their obligations in taking up legal aid services, the notice said. 'For those [appellants] with financial difficulties but who do not qualify for legal aid, law firms can charge a lower fee or waive the fee.' The notice also prohibits the charging of a contingency fee, except for civil financial cases, in which a lawyer can negotiate an additional payout with the client should he win the case. The reminder comes as most lawyers remain reluctant to take up criminal cases and prefer to focus on more lucrative commercial cases. Ong Yew-kim, a research fellow at Chinese University's Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, said: 'The poor cannot afford to sue at all and the government has no money for legal aid as there is a backlog of cases. 'The situation is very imbalanced. Lawyers don't want to take up criminal cases since they are worried that they may not get paid. They are all chasing the big corporations that pay handsomely.' Mr Ong said lawyers had become more materialistic since 1997, when the standardised fee system was scrapped, and only a handful would work pro bono.