Hong Kong has seen a significant increase in requests for financial assistance or donations in addition to a stable level of requests for pro bono legal assistance since the outset of the pandemic. While the Hong Kong pro bono legal community is small, there is growing interest among law firms and in-house counsel in committing resources to develop their pro bono programmes – and this trend is expected to continue.
Interest in pro bono isn’t relatively new in Hong Kong. But it has taken off in these last few years through various efforts by the public and private sectors. For instance, the Chief Secretary for Administration’s Office runs a bi-annual Recognition Scheme for Provision of Pro Bono Legal Services for individual lawyers and law firms. There are also increasing levels of support and recognition from the Law Society of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Bar Association, which are respectively professional associations for solicitors and barristers.
The DLA Piper and PILnet 2017 report, This Way – Finding Community Legal Assistance in Hong Kong identified a combination of issues creating significant barriers to already vulnerable groups in Hong Kong. Service gaps within existing legal services along with restriction on the ability of non-governmental organisations to provide assistance, as well as lack of community based legal centres in Hong Kong, were the main hurdles cited for vulnerable groups in accessing justice. However, since then, various community-based initiatives are also acting as stopgap measures in providing access to justice.
To name just a few, Pro Bono HK is a registered charity that provides free legal advice and assistance to the poor and underprivileged through its community legal centres and legal literacy programs. They also run capacity building initiatives for law students, lawyers and other frontline professionals such as social and health workers. Equal Justice Limited is another new and award-winning community legal service and ‘law tech for good’ entity working to strengthen community legal access in Hong Kong. They partner with law firms, barristers’ chambers and corporates on a pro bono, low bono or legally aided basis. Both organisations have been granted an exemption by the Hong Kong Bar Association, which allows practicing barristers to directly participate in pro bono schemes through them to provide advice to those unable to afford legal services, thereby increasing access to justice in Hong Kong.
With these stopgap measures in pro bono supplementing existing community-based legal assistance and state-funded legal services programmes, it is hoped that systematic changes can happen where the vulnerable can access justice in one of the most expensive cities in Asia.
 Press releases of Government of HKSAR, CS commends legal professionals for providing pro bono legal services to community, https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202103/18/P2021031800319.htm.
 DLA Piper, This Way – Finding Community Legal Assistance in Hong Kong, https://www.dlapiper.com/en/korea/insights/publications/2017/05/this-way-finding-community-legal-assistance-in-hong-kong/.
 Ibid., 14
 Equal Justice Limited, Newsletter 4, https://www.equaljustice.org/news-and-updates; Zegal, The HKBA Approves Barrister’s Participation with Pro Bono HK, https://zegal.com/blog/post/the-hkba-approves-barristers-participation-with-pro-bono-hk/.