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Providing Warmth through Law, Building Connections through Pro Bono
 [This is a summary of the speech made by Lynn Li, Lawyer and Executive Director of Wider Pro Bono Center ("Wider Center") at the Annual Meeting of Wider Pro Bono Lawyers on 30th December 2016, with minor changes in the content.]  
 
Hello, everyone! The theme of the Annual Meeting of Wider Pro Bono Lawyers in this year is:

"Providing Warmth through Law, Building Connection through Pro Bono."

This theme is the summary of our many reflections and understandings of Wider Center and Pro Bono legal services in the past one year. Today, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you more about that.

First of all, I would like to talk about "Pro Bono". Many of you here may not be clear about the meaning of this word and may not understand very well why Wider Center keeps saying that it is doing Pro Bono.

"Pro Bono" derives from the Latin phrase Pro Bono public, which literally means "for the public good" and may be interpreted as "working free for the public good". When this word is translated into Chinese, the most appropriate expression is "volunteer service" (志愿服务). Isn't it true that volunteer service is to work free for the public good? But why don't we just say volunteer service instead of using this hard-to-pronounce Latin word Pro Bono? Huizeren (an organization) in Beijing began to promote Pro Bono in China more than a decade ago, and its founder Ms. Zhai Yan once translated it as "Bo Luo" (菠萝, literally meaning pineapple), and then changed the translation as "Bo Neng" (博能, literally meaning abundant and capable) in a more elegant way. She tried her best to keep telling this word in a similar pronunciation within the context of Chinese language? Why did she do so? Did she have blind faith in foreign things? Not really.

The reason is "volunteer services" is just a word for expressing the concept of an act, while Pro Bono represents and embodies a culture that has a long history, which dates back to the ancient Roman Empire and originates from Corpus Juris Civilis. When talking about the food culture, tea culture and wine culture in China, we not only think about eating and drinking, but also simultaneously associate with the connotations behind these cultures. Likewise, when hearing the word Pro Bono, westerners not only get a picture of volunteer services in their minds, but also get a sense of a culture, the core of which is "the social responsibility of the intellects".

In ancient times in the west, one need to have certain privilege to possess knowledge, so usually aristocrats and monks had the opportunities to study for knowledge. Rights are always connected with obligations. Such being the case, ordinary people of course expected the intellects to make voluntary contributions to the community with their knowledge, and the intellects also considered such voluntary contribution as their glory and responsibility. And such voluntary contribution is called Pro Bono.

The word "Pro Bono" itself does not contain any legal meaning, but traditionally the Pro Bono culture is rooted in the law industry and only when in modern times does it gradually extend into other professions, such as IT, finance and design. This is because legal acts are more for the public than those acts in other professions. It does not matter much if one does not know the answers to any astronomical or geographic questions. Law exits in everyone's daily life and legal services are not only for the good of individuals, but also for the public good of the whole society. Therefore, lawyers as providers of legal services are particularly bound to undertake the "social responsibilities of the intellects". In European tradition, lawyers were deemed as aristocrats in long robe, who offered legal advices to those ignorant people, not for making money, but as contributions to the public. In ancient times, lawyers played the role of speechmakers to speak out on behalf of those who did not know how to defend themselves at the court.

Whether an act is backed up by a culture has a direct impact on whether such an act may continue to grow. Thanks to the Pro Bono culture, lawyers of generations after generations regard Pro Bono legal services as an accompanying duty of their profession and consider Pro Bono part of the DNA of a lawyer. So they take it for granted that Pro Bono should be not just a one-time-off duty, but a life-time duty.  

This is why Wider Center since its founding has always been advocating on building Pro Bono culture in China's law circle. Our long-term objective is to encourage all Chinese lawyers to participate in the campaign of 30-hour volunteer legal services every year and make Pro Bono an occupational habit of their own.

Since July 2013 when Wider Center was founded, the number of its Pro Bono lawyers has gone up from less than 40 at the very beginning to nearly 600 today, and these lawyers have provided Pro Bono services of nearly 20000 hours to the community and the scope of their services cover many areas including provision of legal aids for individuals in the poor and vulnerable groups, legal counselling for public interest organizations, acting as agents in public interest litigation cases, and popularizing law education on teenagers, workers, victims of domestic violence, persons serving a sentence in the community, disabled people, and college students who start up their own businesses.

This means that Pro Bono has been acknowledged and welcomed by Chinese lawyers regardless its foreign origin. I think one of the main reasons is that Pro Bono culture can be fully merged with Chinese local culture. Although rule of law is not thriving in ancient China and no lawyer group similar to those in the west has ever been formed, yet the pursuit and praise for "intellects to undertake social responsibility" is never missing in Confucianism in China. For example, it is said in Confucian tradition that "a public spirit will rule all under the heaven where the great way prevails", scholar-officials should "be the first to worry about the troubles across the land, the last to enjoy universal happiness", and gentlemen should "cultivate self, keep the family in order, govern the nation and realize world peace". All of the above are saying that the intellects should bear the world in mind and contribute to the community after looking after themselves. Therefore, Chinese lawyers as representatives of modern intellects in China easily resonate with Pro Bono culture.

    However, in the past more than 3 years as we are building a Pro Bono platform and pairing the Pro Bono lawyers and service targets, we have stronger and stronger feeling that it is far from enough to just arouse the social responsibility of the lawyers, because it only solves the issue of "why doing it", but not the more important issue of "how to do it".

If a lawyer only thinks about performing his social responsibilities or fulfilling his commitment to do something for the public good or meeting his own intention for benevolence or a higher level of Maslow's needs, then the lawyer is doing one-way, top-down acts without building any connection with the people they help, not to mention any heart-to-heart communication. When offering legal aids in the attitude of "I do it free of charge, good for you!", a lawyer will never feel that such a simple case for him may have a big impact on the whole world, the way of living and even the life of the person receiving his help.

At the beginning of this year, a worker suffering from an occupational disease passed away before a decision was made by the court. This worker was one of those workers receiving help from Lawyer Xin Junhui under occupational diseases. Lawyer Xin felt very upset and even had the symptoms of depression. In the past 3 years, Lawyer Xin led a team of more than 20 Pro Bono lawyers from Wider Center to handle nearly 100 cases of providing legal aids to those suffering from occupational diseases. The lawyers have established profound friendship with those workers, because they have fully devoted into this matter. Just now we have heard the sharing by Mr. Tao, one of those workers, which is very touching. Mr. Tao received the selfless help from Lawyer Xin and Lawyer Hua and then he opened his own small restaurant, ran it as a social business and helped other workers with occupational diseases out of employment issues and other temporary difficulties. Through this way he passes down the warmth and strength he has received from the Pro Bono lawyers to other people in need around him. This is a vivid example of "one life has an impact on the other life".

Among so many public interest programs launched by Wider Center, the New Rain Program entitled "Lawyer going to Campus" is the most popular one. Why? Because children are most unlike other recipients of legal aids in the normal sense, so we treat them as our own children when delivering law lessons to them. What kind of lesson on rule of law do our children need? What must-know legal knowledge do we wish to tell our children?

I remember that we once gave the lesson of Foreign Envoy and Constitution to the students in a Primary 6 class. One team of students chose to give up their rights of personal freedom during the game session. I felt very surprised about their choice and asked them why. The representative of the team said to me, "our team chose the right of equality, so who is entitled to take away other's right of personal freedom since everyone is equal? The answer from this child made me think a lot. When I stay with the children, I can feel the connection with them. My lesson might have an impact on their views on the world, and their feedbacks also have an impact on my view on the world. I believe that other lawyers in the New Rain Program should also feel similar connections, and that's why this program is the best and the most welcomed program.

We ask ourselves: what is the value and purpose of public charity? Is it just about providing free materials and services to the vulnerable so as to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor and lower the Gini index? If that is the only purpose, then the government should be the organization best fit for doing this. The government has such huge substantial resources that can be offered to the vulnerable through tax revenue allocation and fiscal transfer payment. As long as the government improves the efficiency of use of these resources a little bit, then there should be sufficient fund and resources to offset all of the charity donations from the society. Take legal aids as an example. Wider Center has received around 300 cases in the past 3 years, just equaling to a very small percentage of those legal aid cases handled by Shenzhen government.

Then, why do we consider public charity and Pro Bono so important? That's because its most precious value and the biggest significance is not in the material aspect, but in the spiritual and soul aspect. Though the government handles so many legal aid cases, however, most of the time those offering the legal aids and those accepting the legal aids are lack of mutual understanding, lack of heart-to-heart communications and lack of provision of warmth. If we could serve those who need aids in the attitude of "helping others means helping ourselves, you are my children, my brothers and sisters, and we are one family", then even if we could do a little thing, the warmth and strength we could provide would exceed our imaginations. And only when all these things are moving around could we re-build trust between each other and could our community become truly harmonious.

That's why we set the theme for this annual meeting as "Providing Warmth through Law, Building Connection through Pro Bono". Law and Pro Bono are only the means, and what we urgently need is warmth and connections, which are also the purpose of what we are doing and where the real value of our supplementary forces to the governmental legal aids lies.

If all of you Pro Bono lawyers agree with our viewpoints, then we will expect to make a major transformation in the Wider Center in 2017. We will work together with social worker organizations, connect with communities and get ourselves immersed into the communities, go deeply into the groups that need help, perform our services sound and well, provide love and warmth to those in need, and gain more power from it at the same time.

I really look forward to meeting you again at the Annual Meeting of Pro Bono lawyers in 2017. I hope every of you will come with a small story about warmth and connection to share with us at that time.

Happy new year!