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New Year Greetings

From: Lynn Li
 
Wider Pro Bono Legal Service Center
 
Chapter I
 
Let us start by turning the time back to January 1st, 2014.
 
At that time, while the Wider Pro Bono Legal Service Center (the Wider Center) beenfounded for no more than half a year, 89 volunteer lawyers had already come together to commit to a promise of providing free legal service(“free legal service of one case a year or 30hoursof free legal consultation for a year”). But where were the cases and where could we find the people that needed our legal support?
 
Established for just six months, the Wider Center had only received just over ten cases. On one hand, our volunteered lawyers were ready and motivated. While on the other hand, very few cases appearedfor registration. At the time of Wider Center’s inception, we were initially concerned that there might be too many people in need of our support, and our lawyers may become too burdened to handle all of the cases. The reality, however, was completely the opposite. I think back to when a fire in a market near Guangmingtook 16 innocentlives and damaged valuable property. We went there to distribute flyers offering free legal consultations, but the suspicion was visible on the sad faces of many of the victims we encountered. No one knew who the Wider Center was and why we would want to provide free legal services.
 
This challenge was just one of many that I had to face as I transitioned into my roleas Executive Director of the organization.As a result of being a lawyer for more than ten years, my working style was very independent. While I embraced “Team Cooperation”, “Project Management”, “Workflow Design” and “KPI Target Planning”, I was overwhelmed by the management terminology, and was quite anxious aboutbeing in charge while still new to this unfamiliar territory of administration. I cannotbegin to count how many sleepless nights I spent trying to figure out how to operate a small scale NGO with a staff of no more than four or five people. What would I do when encountering basic administrative challenges, such as when, right before New Year’s Day, one of my most critical staff members notified me that she was pregnant and would like to take a maternity leave soon!
 
What followed next was the first board meeting in late January of 2014. During a presentation by our finance director, he underlined the following sentence: “the fundswithin our account will only support the Center through the end of February!” I remember glancing at the board members trying to interpret their expressions.
 
 
 
 
After the 2014 Chinese New Year, the core of volunteer lawyers was divided into different groups. The 100th volunteer lawyer to sign up, Feng Jiang, challenged the Center regarding the direction Wider needed to take. He believed that,rather than gettingtangled up with providing general assistance and then becoming “a free legal tool that provides benefits to individual interests”, the Wider Center should focus on cases that aim to solve publicwelfare issues that offer a “greater good” to the public as a whole. The concern that Mr.Feng brought forward was echoed by many of the other lawyers: “What would the vision for volunteer legal services be?” “How long would we be able to hold this up as an offering?” Many important questions and challenges were placed before us.
 

 
Over the course of a year that felt somehow simultaneously slow moving yet quickly dissipating, we dealt with many unexpected situations. In fact, during the most challenging period of time, I came very close to quitting the board.
 
Chapter II
 
What a reliefit was when, as we approached January 1st 2015, the Wider Center was able to publically announcewhat we had achieved during the year of 2014:
 
By the end of 2014, the amount of Wider Center volunteer lawyers had increased from 89 to 256. Lawyers from 104 different legal institutions committed to providingeither legal service free of charge for one case,or 30-hours of free legal consultation over the course of a year.
 
By the end of 2014, the Wider Center had responded to legal consultation requests from 480 people, had greeted more than 180 visitors seeking legal advice, and had accepted140 cases based on legal consultation inquiries. Among all of the inquires, 20 cases were about helping victims receive public welfare, 40 cases provided legal consultation to public welfare organizations,and 71 cases involved legal support free of charge for victimsstruggling from financial difficulties. Althoughmany of the cases could be somewhat routine and tedious, all of our volunteer lawyers contributed great effort and serious commitment.
 
By the end of 2014, the Wider Center had successfully held 14 public welfare legal consultation gatheringsand organized 23 charity public relations events. We had also formed the “Occupational Illness Volunteer Assistance Committee”, and provided consultation and training on various topics, including anti-domestic violence, anti-discrimination, protection for underage youth, and environmental protection.
 
 
 
 
 
During the second half of 2014, two key projects promoted by the Wider Center - “Seed Plan” for law school students and “New Rain Planning” for elementary and middle school students - received positive feedback and recognition.
 
By the end of 2014, Wider Center received rewards fromShenzhen Special Zone DailySouthern Metropolitan News and Southern Daily, mainstream media outletswhose articles are regularly syndicatedhundreds of times by other media distribution channels. The result of this coverage was that the Wider Center’s reputation increased steadily.
 
In solely the month of December 2014, the Wider Center received 19 legal inquiries, an amount already exceeding the annual total for 2013. Subsequently, we have good reason to believe that there will be a significant jump in legal requests for 2015.
 
After an initial growth and developmentstage in 2014, the Wider Center has gradually been accepted as standing closely in support of average citizens. Meanwhile, the slogan of “let law serve everyone” has found its way into people’s hearts and minds after ayear of deliberation regarding opinions and theories. At this time, our volunteer lawyers have already reached a collective vision:
 
The Wider Center is committed to building a professional platform for nongovernmental legal aid that makes full use of social resources and efforts to enable the disadvantaged to secure increased access to free legal services and successfully obtaintheir constitutionally allowed access to “equal justice under law”.
 
Chapter III
 
As for my personal experience, the growth and progress that I was fortunate to gain over the past year was so much more than any other year of my life. Starting out in 2014 as a person who most enjoyed reading science fiction novels alone, I had the opportunity to grow into a person who embraced attending dinners surroundedby a multitude of strangers (Jefferson Dinner), giving public speeches every month (to recruit volunteer lawyers, raise funds, apply for projects and so on), hosting a TV program (for the Asia Volunteer Legal Service Discussion Forum), and teaching elementary students (New Rain Planning Project)… After numerous instances of facing my own fears and laziness, I gradually learned to become calm and persistent. These two qualities I gained also happen to be the exact characteristics my father, who recently passed away, had always expected from me.
 
Looking back on all that Wider has achieved, I wanted to first express my gratitude for all of the support provided by the Wider executive board. The board members have not only provided funds in a timely fashion, but have also delivered the maximum support that I could possible hope for in all of the events and activities Wider has promoted. Board Chair Li Qing Hua ran from pillar to post to build our network and raise funds for Wider. Board member CaiWensheng spared no effort in hosting all of the events. Board member Zhu Lanchun took on many cases by herself. Board member Huang Xuetao provided invaluable advice on how to operate anNGO. Board member CaiHua gave an amazing speech for the New Rain Planning program. Board member XieWeibo provided free financial advice for the Center. Board member GuJiayang made a donation to support the 20 “Jefferson Dinners”, and board member XuYiqun has made“chicken soup for the souls” of volunteers every day…
 
To have accomplished such a steady and speedy pace of development for the Wider Center in 2014, we would also like to thank three government officials: Chair Deng Xiangyang from the Social Work Committee in Fu Tian District, Assistant Chair Ma Xiaoge and Luo Zhan from Judicial Bureau in Fu Tian District. We are truly grateful for all of the sincere support from these three officersfor this relatively new concept that Wider has presented.
 
To avoid having thisannual greeting letter become a long speech by someone who’s not even an Oscar nominee, I am not able go through the countless achievements and contributions made by every single stakeholder in our organization. Instead let me just emphasize one thing: “it is much more important to achieve the team and partnership than the destination itself.” Xiaoxin, Jieying, Bujing, Yongshan, Linna and our solid foreign supporters, Yuki, Zhanqing and Qingqing, the Wider Center would not be what it is now without the energy, creativity, passion and persistence you all have demonstrated and contributed. (Readers are all welcome to read the Wider Team New Year Speech that was provided in Wider We Chat format, and to get involved with our experience).
 
Finally, all of the accolades belong to our admirable Wider volunteer lawyers. Thank you very much for your recognition, support and endeavors to provide volunteer legal services. Thank you so much for your passion, generosity and all of yourhard work. “The educated man may not be without breadth of mind and vigorous endurance. His burden is heavy and his course is long.” In this New Year, may our path of volunteer legal service become wider so thatwe can continue to walk further together!
 
Happy New Year!
 
Wider Pro Bono Legal Service Center
Executive Director    Lynn Li
January 1st, 2015