Interview with Tai-Heng Cheng

A discussion on the varying needs of our pro bono clients and the ways that our lawyers are giving back.

We recently spoke with Tai-Heng Cheng, global co-head of Sidley’s Global Arbitration, Trade, and Advocacy practice and co-managing partner of Sidley’s Singapore office, on the varying needs of our pro bono clients and the ways that our lawyers in Asia Pacific are giving back.

What makes a successful pro bono practice?

I would say there are multiple elements. First and foremost, we want to achieve good results for our pro bono clients, as we do for all of our clients in every practice. We want to make sure that our Pro Bono practice is well rounded globally so that we are able to serve as many segments of society that need our help as possible. In doing so, we can do well by our clients while also doing good. Beyond that, I would count success in pro bono as giving our associates and younger partners opportunities to practice and develop their skills.

What would you say to encourage those who are not already involved with Sidley’s pro bono program?

I have one thing to say to that: get involved! Pro bono is a wonderful way to add an extra layer of meaning to your practice and to work on acquiring skills that you may not already have at your level of seniority.

Can you describe a 2021 pro bono matter that was particularly meaningful to you — or that had a social impact that was significant?

Looking back at 2021, one of the pro bono projects that was especially meaningful to me personally was our representation of Linda Tirado. Linda is a photojournalist who was covering the Black Lives Matter protests in Minneapolis when she was shot and blinded by the police. We have brought a lawsuit on behalf of Linda, and the judge has ruled that our civil rights claim can proceed to trial. This means that the outcome of this case has the potential to not only rectify the abuse and injustice that Linda Tirado has faced, but to make an impact in setting an example and driving real change. Journalists who are protecting our First Amendment rights by covering civil protests should not be attacked by the police. We hope that our case will help to establish a precedent that people should not be subjected to such behavior when they are simply doing their job.

What are some of the most pressing issues facing our pro bono clients right now?

When I think about the pressing needs of our pro bono clients globally, it’s clear to me that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. I have been fortunate to travel even during the pandemic to cities around the world to meet with our clients. Through those travels, I have seen that different countries and regions have different pro bono needs. In America, for example, we continue to reckon with our history of social injustice and to figure out as a nation how to move forward. In Asia, disadvantaged communities often have difficulty accessing high-quality legal representation. They have very basic but important legal needs that remain out of their reach financially, but that large firms are well positioned to assist with. In Africa, with exploitation of the mines and the land, as well as issues of corruption in certain countries, the communities there also have very essential legal needs. The advantage of Sidley being a global firm with offices around the world is that each of our offices can tailor their pro bono offerings to the specific needs of the communities in which they operate.

Looking ahead, what initiatives is Sidley’s APAC region Pro Bono practice focusing on?

Sidley’s commitment to pro bono is global. It is part of the core values that permeate our firm across our offices and throughout the world. Consistent with that, we are looking forward to expanding our Pro Bono practice in Asia Pacific. Our offices will seek out local communities that have unmet legal needs, and we will look to serve them in the best way we can, which is using our legal knowledge and experience to their benefit.