Build real-world skills in dealing directly with clients by volunteering at a CLC or other community legal organisation as a student. Stand out from the crowd when you’re looking for employment in the future, whether it’s in a social justice organisation, a corporate law firm or anywhere else.
You can find current volunteering opportunities at CLCs across Australia on the CLC Volunteers website. Here you will also find opportunities at some other community legal organisations including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS), or you can try their own websites.
CLCs provide legal assistance and advice to the public. They can also work more broadly, e.g. by providing community legal education, lobbying for reform, or making submissions to government. As a volunteer, you could help with tasks such as answering calls for assistance from clients, summarising their legal issues for a solicitor and then interviewing them face-to-face. You could even be researching policies affectingthe clients of the organisation or assisting in the development of submissions to government about law reform.
Even early in your degree you may be able to assist in the provision of legal services. This may include administrative work such as booking clients into advice sessions or helping to prepare paperwork for the organisation. Court support work is another avenue; accompanying clients to court not for the provision of legal advice, but as a friendly face providing support and basic information about how the court system works.
Generalist CLCs provide general legal assistance to those living in a defined geographic area. Specialist CLCs provide assistance in relation to particular areas of law, social groups or interests.
There are well over 200 independent, not-for-profit CLCs across the country, and there are often more positions available in the outer suburbs and in remote, rural and regional areas than in the inner city.
CLCs focus on broad areas of legal need:
- Aged-Care (e.g. Senior Rights Service in NSW)
- Arts (e.g. the Arts Law Centre of Australia in NSW)
- Animal Welfare (e.g. the Animal Welfare Community Legal Centre in Tasmania)
- Asylum Seekers and Refugees (e.g. CASE for Refugees in Western Australia)
- Disability Discrimination (e.g. the Disability Discrimination Legal Service in Victoria and Australian Centre for Disability Law in NSW)
- Employment Law (e.g. the JobWatch in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, and the Employment Law Centre of Western Australia)
- Environment (e.g. the Environmental Defenders Offices in your state or territory)
- Family Law (e.g.the Women’s Legal Service in most states and territories – check your state or territory’s CLC website for details)
- Financial Services (e.g. Financial Rights Legal Centre in NSW)
- Human Rights (e.g. the Human Rights Law Centre in Victoria)
- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (e.g. the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Intersex Legal Service in Queensland or NSW’s Inner City Legal Centre ’s specialist services)
- Mental Health (e.g. the Mental Health Law Centre in Western Australia and Mental Health Legal Centre in Victoria)
- People living with HIV/AIDS (e.g. the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre in NSW)
- People with Intellectual Disabilities (e.g. Intellectual Disability Rights Service in NSW)
- Prisoners (e.g. Prisoners’ Legal Service in Queensland)
- Public Interest Matters (e.g. Justice Connect in NSW and Victoria, Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House, and JusticeNet in South Australia)
- Seniors (e.g. Seniors Rights Victoria or the specialist clinic at Caxton Legal Centre in Queensland)
- Tenants (e.g.the Tenants’ Union in most states and territories – check your state or territory’s CLC website for details)
- Youth (e.g. Youthlaw in Victoria )
- Welfare Rights (e.g. the Welfare Rights Centre in your state or territory)
- Women’s Rights (e.g.the Women’s Legal Service in most states and territories – check your state or territory’s CLC website for details)
Some generalist CLCs also feature specialised units and clinics (for example, many CLCs in South Australia have clinics devoted to child support issues).
You can find more information on CLCs in your area on the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) website. You can get a snapshot of the issues by attending a national or state conference of CLCs, which have discounted rates for students.
You can volunteer at any time, even when you are employed – most CLCs, for example, have night clinics or other ways for solicitors to assist outside of business hours.
By volunteering at a community organisation in a non-legal role you can demonstrate your genuine enthusiasm for altruistic work and improve your chances of getting a law-related position – especially if you’re a first or second-year law student who doesn’t have much legal training.
Start by thinking about issues that are important to you, such as homelessness, migrant’s rights or youth. Identify the community organisations that work in those fields by, for example, having at look at websites such as Fido Skilled Volunteering or Pathways Australia , then go to the organisations’ individual websites or contact them directly about volunteer opportunities. Some organisations are always looking for volunteers while others have regular intakes at set times of the year.
You could be volunteering at a homeless shelter, visiting refugee detention centres with outreach programs, volunteering to provide homework support to recently arrived migrants or volunteering with groups which run activities for people with disabilities.
You will gain a wide range of skills including interpersonal and administrative skills as well as the ability to demonstrate sensitivity when working with vulnerable and disadvantaged clients.
You can find more information on volunteering with a barrister in the Law School section.