Daniel Cohen has lived in Hong Kong for a decade. He is a partner at an American law firm and an ardent supporter of Justice Without Borders. His support for JWB has spanned the past four years and his passion for the organisation’s cause stems from several key reasons. He shares his story with us.
Dan works at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. The firm’s Singapore office had engaged with JWB for several years before Dan got looped in. His first involvement, he recalls, was to help litigate a cross-border matter involving a foreign domestic worker. The matter had been stalled for a long time and called for an external firm to be brought in to help progress the case, which involved proceedings in both Hong Kong and California. Akin Gump offered assistance from both locations.
“From the start of my involvement with this first case, I definitely felt like I was contributing and working towards something very worthwhile,” said Dan. “Also, I had been searching for ways to do more pro bono work locally, and this was a matter largely rooted in Hong Kong, in Asia,” he explained.
His initial interaction and collaboration with JWB struck an immediate chord, and in part has driven his continued support with the organisation.
“One of the things that struck me was that the individuals at JWB who had some exposure to the case were so on top of things,” he said. “They are driven, compassionate and incredibly knowledgeable.”
JWB’s knowledge and experience was critical. After all, Dan’s practice is focused on commercial litigation and his firm’s practice in Hong Kong does not usually cover employment issues.
“In this first case, we were very much learning on the job – getting to grips with the relevant legal framework and understanding how Labour Tribunal proceedings work. All of that was a real learning curve,” he said. “But working with JWB is always a solid team effort.”
Dan stressed that, for him, the most notable part of his work with JWB is seeing the positive impact of the work on individual clients, the foreign domestic workers. His day-to-day legal work and representations are typically for corporate clients and involve significant commercial issues. Representing vulnerable individuals, is a profoundly rewarding experience in a different way, he says.
“What I do day to day, I love. But what I do with JWB is just different. The result we are trying to achieve is one that will make a real difference to a human being. It’s more tangible in a real life way,” he said.
It also requires a substantial level of what Dan calls “recalibration”. “You recalibrate because the value that you are bringing as a lawyer to JWB matters really reinforces the importance of all the hours you put in, whatever the amount of money claimed or awarded, it’s a value to the human being, for many foreign domestic workers, it’s huge.”
The demographic of clients involved often also requires careful and sensitive communication. “This can be a different kettle of fish. It can be a challenge to make sure that your client understands what’s happening and is equipped to make important decisions,” he explained. “There are also language issues, and language barriers can really dictate how the interaction works. It’s a part of the challenge but also what makes it interesting,” Dan added. “I have found that vulnerable people or people in a less privileged position are often much more trusting, and so as a lawyer I need to make sure that I am turning over all the stones and dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s.”
Working on JWB matters has created some important balance for Dan, which is very much welcomed.
“Personally, I think it’s really important for lawyers like me whose day jobs are very much geared to commercial clients and issues to devote time and use our skills to help others who desperately need us, where the results are much more tangible on a human level. When this balance is missing, I think we can get a bit lost”, he reflected.
Dan’s unfettered support for JWB also stems from a personal affinity with the cause. He too hires a foreign domestic worker and has seen the value she brings to his family and their lives in the city.
“We have personal relationships with the people that we employ, and we should appreciate the vulnerability and huge personal sacrifices that come from working in a household in another country to support family back home, often including children.”
“For me, my work with JWB connects me to an important cause that touches my own life and allows me to give back in a really important way.”
By Jess Seah, PR Volunteer @ JWB
Platinum sponsor series features our platinum sponsors in 2021. They share their experience in teaming up with JWB, why they are passionate about helping migrant workers and how this partnership makes a difference.