The Law Academy has proposed that lawyers be required to report the number of pro bono hours they have worked, as part of a proposed scheme that could see them having to do compulsory free legal work each year.
A failure to report will "merit a sanction" under the proposal - though completing no pro bono hours will not, because that is not mandatory. Lawyers can report zero hours to meet the requirement.
Reporting pro bono hours will be carried out annually when lawyers renew their practising certificates.
These further details to a proposed Community Legal Services (CLS) scheme - first proposed last year with a minimum requirement of 16 hours a year - were issued yesterday by the Singapore Academy of Law in a discussion paper.
The academy is seeking more feedback on the proposal from the legal fraternity and the public.
Legal work done pro bono is free and helps those with difficulties accessing legal services, including low-income and disadvantaged people.
Mandatory reporting, which a committee headed by Judge of Appeal V.K. Rajah is proposing in response to feedback to a discussion paper last year, aims to make lawyers aware of their "professional responsibility to use their legal expertise to give back to the community", said the academy.
This comes alongside an aspirational - rather than mandatory - target that lawyers should strive towards fulfilling, it said.
Data collected from the mandatory reporting process will yield a better understanding of the pro bono landscape, it added.
Deciding on a minimum number of pro bono hours can only be done after enough data has been collected, said the academy's statement.
It added: "There is at present no fixed timeline for the implementation of the next stage. There will be further consultation at that point."
The CLS scheme will be administered by the Law Society's pro bono office. It will focus on community areas such as family and criminal law, as well as charitable and welfare organisations.
The public and the legal fraternity can check www.sal.org.sg for details and e-mail their views to firstname.lastname@example.org by May 14.
Lawyer Abraham Vergis of Providence Law Asia said mandatory reporting of pro bono hours served is an "essential pre-requisite" that would help give policymakers a better sense of the pro bono situation in Singapore before they prescribe any improvements.
"But more than asking for the number of hours clocked, lawyers should be asked to identify what are their areas of legal practice and to specify what kind of pro bono work they are currently undertaking," he said.