Graduate Legal Fellowships are a common practice in the NGO world, offering work experience to fresh law graduates who want to explore a career in social justice. At Justice Without Borders (JWB), many of our programmatic staff start off in this role, cutting their teeth on novel cases of cross-border civil litigation, before advancing to more senior positions within the organisation and beyond. For Nanor Wong, a former Graduate Legal Fellow in Hong Kong, she was able to turn her dream of becoming a champion of the most vulnerable in society into a reality, thanks to her very first job with JWB. This is the story of her experience with us.
Developing a Sense of Social Justice from a Young Age
Since learning early on that she had been adopted, Nanor began to develop an interest in underrepresented and underserved communities. Being a documentary buff, she watched many films that helped widen her worldview and shed light on the unfortunate circumstances plaguing many living in other parts of the world. From young, Nanor constantly questioned why such inequalities existed.
As she grew older, Nanor realised the potential power of the law in helping individuals achieve social justice and effecting change in their lives. She felt compelled to fight for equal opportunities for those born into cycles of oppression and injustice.
Looking back, she said:
“Seeing children my age, especially orphaned ones, in very different circumstances allowed me to not only appreciate the education and shelter I have, but also jolted me to try and find a way to level the playing field.”
Fuelled by her passion, Nanor pursued a degree in International Development at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) before completing her Juris Doctor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK).
Eventually, Nanor was drawn to JWB. The work resonated deeply with her and she saw the organisation as a meeting ground between social justice and the law. In October 2018, she embarked on her journey as a Legal Graduate Fellow.
Diving into Uncharted Territory in Migrant Worker Casework
The work that Nanor does is far from mundane. Graduate legal fellows are tasked with case management and strategic legal research, picking up a professional level of responsibility from the beginning. The cases are also international; JWB receives clients from across Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Having lived in the United States, the Philippines, and Hong Kong, Nanor well understands the importance of looking at situations from multiple cultural perspectives.
For each case that comes in, Nanor and her team dive into an extensive process of interviewing the client, gathering relevant evidence, and finally, developing a comprehensive strategy. Any one case may present multiple avenues of recourse, all of which are thoroughly explored by the team to ensure the best possible course of action is taken.
Many of the issues victimised migrant workers face are unprecedented. Their cases are often new questions in law and present novel challenges to legal officers like Nanor.
However, Nanor welcomes all the challenges that come with the job. She said: “I often face situations I have never faced before. We’re focusing on unchartered territory here at Justice Without Borders because many of our cases have no legal precedence. Without something to refer to on how to go about solving an issue, I always have to find a way to make it work.”
Small Team, Big Impact
With these unprecedented cases come new rules of civil litigation that are constantly being written. Nanor was part of the team that left their first ever mark on Hong Kong’s legal sphere, just four months into her tenure with JWB.
“While we are a small team in Hong Kong with three full-time staff, we make a big impact,” said Nanor.
In February 2019, for the first time ever, the Hong Kong Labour Tribunal granted JWB’s client, Ms Joenalyn Domingo, approval to continue her case via video conferencing from the Philippines. Ms Domingo had sought compensation against her previous employer for unfair dismissal while in Hong Kong, but had to return to the Philippines when a family member fell gravely ill. With the approval, she can continue seeking compensation for her wrongful dismissal without having to travel back to Hong Kong.
“This was a case that we had so much hope for and spent so many late nights working on,” said Nanor. “When the court session was adjourned, I went straight to hug Justine, the Head of Office of JWB Hong Kong.”
The tribunal’s ground-breaking decision received widespread media coverage from local news outlets and set a clear precedent for future cases. Claimants now do not have to be caught in the bind as to whether to pursue their cases in Hong Kong or return home and give their claims up.
This victory reminded Nanor of just how life-changing JWB’s work can be for those who need it. To her, “justice won that day”.
Nanor concluded: “The goal of Justice Without Borders, to improve access to justice, is what keeps me going because it is so relevant to my childhood dream of levelling the playing field for everyone.”
We thank the Morrison & Foerster Foundation for sponsoring Nanor’s Graduate Legal Fellowship position in the Hong Kong Office in 2019 and 2020. Nanor has since been promoted to Legal Officer. In 2021, JWB will bid farewell to Nanor, who will undertake an LL.M. (Master of Laws) at the University of California, Berkeley, which has one of the best law schools in the world. We thank her for her outstanding contributions to JWB and wish her all the best in her studies.