Young lawyers to defend the poor and powerless

Bruce Lasky

Bruce Lasky distinctly remembers the advice he once received from a colleague in a Florida public defender’s office. “We’re lawyers,” the colleague said. “Not social workers.”

But Mr. Lasky, then fresh out of law school, didn’t agree. He saw the legal system as a tool for empowering the disadvantaged. In Florida he spent nine years representing low-income adults and juveniles charged with offenses ranging from drug possession to theft and murder.

And for the past 13 years, the New York City native has quietly championed legal reform in Southeast Asia, a region where poverty is widespread, the rule of law is often weak, and governments are criticized for alleged violations of human rights.

Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia Community Legal Education Initiative (BABSEA CLE), a nonprofit Lasky cofounded about a decade ago, trains young lawyers across the Asia-Pacific region to defend the powerless, even though law schools here typically place little emphasis on helping vulnerable groups.

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