A chance meeting over coffee with a fellow attorney led IBM Vietnam's Country Counsel Truong Lewis to an opportunity to share his legal training and experiences with law students in Hanoi eager to know about ethics and social justice. It was an opportunity that has quickly evolved into a series of ambitious projects benefitting law students throughout Vietnam, and the pro bono effort may spread across Southeast Asia.
Lewis, who moved with his parents to Australia from Vietnam shortly after the Vietnam War, received his legal training in Melbourne and joined IBM in Hanoi in 2010. He found that, in contrast to Australian legal practices, "legal training in Vietnam is very much by the book, the focus is on the black letter of the law with very few practical exposures for students."
When Lewis began volunteering through the Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia Clinical Legal Education (BABSEA-CLE), he found other attorneys and law faculty who shared his concerns. BABSEA-CLE is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) which, through its Community Legal Education (CLE) initiative, focuses on legal ethics and community empowerment, providing legal clinics and legal services while helping to build the next generation of lawyers intent on social justice and pro bono support of needy people. Lewis found this focus on poverty and injustice a perfect match for his personal interest in pro bono service - as well as a range of IBM Activity Kits, all intended to increase the effectiveness of IBMers and other volunteers.
Vietnam Country Counsel Truong Lewis began sharing his legal experiences with law students in Hanoi.
Lewis began with evening volunteer work with law students at National Economic University of Vietnam (NEU). Then he turned to Van Giang, IBM Vietnam Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs manager, for help with a project management workshop for BABSEA, under a service grant delivered by two IBM Global Business Services-certified consultants.
"But wait!" Lewis proclaims with typical enthusiasm. "All that was really just the start."
Out of that project management workshop came an agreement with the law faculty at NEU to open a legal clinic run by law students under the supervision of faculty and experienced attorneys like Lewis. Among other things, the clinic offers help to small businesses trying to establish themselves - with the help of IBM's SME Toolkit, an exhaustive resource for small businesses customized for 35 countries including Vietnam.
Also, aided by an IBM Community Grant and matching university funding, a new National Economic University class with training in legal skills like research, negotiation, and ethics, began this fall. To date, more than 100 students in five universities across Vietnam have successfully completed BABSEA CLE studies, and two schools (including NEU) have incorporated social justice and ethics into their curriculum, "a momentous achievement," says Lewis, "given that most local law schools still exercise a rigid syllabus inherited from the post-war era."
For his success, Lewis credits Van Giang and the resources of IBM On Demand Community. He is also well connected with like-minded IBMers throughout Southeast Asia, as the pro bono coordinator for IBM's Growth Management Unit, and feels this type of legal education "can easily be duplicated by other regions."
As a result of its pro bono work to date, IBM has been selected to be a panel member at this fall's first-ever ASEAN Pro Bono Conference, in Vientiane, Laos, "an exotic location, for what can only be an even more exotic event." Lewis and IBM Singapore Attorney Erlynne Uy will be talking about IBM's collaborative model with BABSEA-CLE as a model for further study and discussion.
"We have all these Corporate Citizenship tools available," Lewis notes. "I was merely a bridge to put them and BABSEA-CLE together. It's been fun, a chance to help others get practical legal training. I would say to prospective volunteers, 'Do you want something fun to do after work? Definitely, this is something you should do.'"