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Bruce Lasky trains young lawyers in Asia to defend the poor and powerless

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"The program is very effective," Ms. Chau says.

Poor people across Southeast Asia face discrimination and inequality. And Vietnam and other countries have outdated legal systems, in many cases introduced by colonizing powers.

"BABSEA CLE is the pioneer of CLE in this part of Asia," says Nicholas Booth, a Hanoi-based policy adviser and legal specialist at the United Nations Development Program, a BABSEA CLE supporter. "The fact that they do so much with such a small team ... is also for me a remarkable and refreshing thing in a world of huge donors and huge implementing project organizations."

The communist governments of Vietnam and China, in particular, are known for their harsh treatment of people who directly challenge their one-party rule. So Lasky takes an intentionally "neutral" approach to promoting social justice in the region in order to avoid attracting unwanted attention, he says.

BABSEA CLE did receive a $60,000 grant from the New York-based Open Society Foundations, a group that promotes democracy and human rights in developing countries. But Lasky says his organization has declined offers of support from other donors with explicit human rights agendas.

Instead, Lasky says he prefers to work within the existing power structures to train a broad swath of law students, including those who plan to work as corporate lawyers or government officials.

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