US academic eyes fellowship for law graduates

Project aimed at offering legal advice to needy is having difficulty getting financial support

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 3:59am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 4:14am

An American former legal academic wants to set up a fellowship for law graduates in Hong Kong to allow them to assist the needy and minority groups.

But Rob Precht, one-time assistant dean of public service at the University of Michigan Law School, is having trouble raising money for his proposal.

While it is common for private donors and foundations in the United States to fund projects "this giving tradition is not as common in Hong Kong", Precht said.

Another barrier, he says, is the requirement for new graduates to become either a trainee solicitor or pupil to a barrister to become qualified lawyers.

The fellowship scheme would allow graduates to accept work contracts with non-government organisations that serve minority groups. "NGOs exist in Hong Kong, but typically they don't use legal resources or have lawyers on staff to further their causes," Precht said.

"As a consequence, there is less access to justice for vulnerable groups, and fewer avenues to use the courts to seek redress."

He said he hoped to set up the fellowship this year and has been in touch with local lawyers to seek their support. "The fellowship will produce an immediate outcome by giving NGOs legal resources to reach more clients and affect policy changes," Precht said.

"The fellowship funding, it is hoped, will be compatible with the salary of either a trainee or a pupil."

Precht, who moved to the city after working on the mainland for five years, said there was still a lot of room for Hong Kong to catch up in the promotion of public law.

"I chose Hong Kong because it has serious social problems but, unlike [mainland] China, there is still rule of law," he said. "So I feel there is great potential in Hong Kong. While it has problems, it also has rule of law and energetic young people."

Precht said that it was important to protect the rule of law because "it's like a muscle. If you don't exercise it, it will grow weak."