Volunteer in a Community Legal Centre
Volunteering gives you a chance to make a difference to people’s lives through the work of community legal centres. You can get the opportunity to do interesting, rewarding and challenging work with dedicated staff in a supportive environment, gaining experience and developing your skills at the same time.
- Boosts the capacity of community legal centres to help disadvantaged Victorians and work for social justice
- Involves working in a team towards shared goals
- Helps you learn about your community and its needs
- Provides an opportunity to contribute to society
- Builds your confidence and helps to learn new skills
- Brings you personal satisfaction.
Who can volunteer?
Most community legal centres have volunteer programs for:
- admitted lawyers; and
- law students or legal practice students.
Some community legal centres also accept work placements for law graduates doing their practical legal training at the Leo Cussen Institute or the College of Law.
People interested in volunteering who have different backgrounds (eg: communications) should still consider approaching a community legal centre to see how they may be able to assist.
Lawyers who no longer practice may be able to obtain a volunteer practising certificate through a community legal centre to enable them to give legal advice through the centre's volunteer clinic. For more information on volunteer practicing certificates click here (Legal Services Board).
What type of work can I do?
The type of volunteer work available varies from centre to centre and will be matched to your skills and experience. Typical areas for volunteer work include:
- supervised legal advice
- legal practice administration
- reception and telephone work, including providing legal information and referrals
- legal research
- assisting with community legal education and law reform work
- joining the board of a community legal centre
Appropriate insurance, including Personal Volunteer Accident Insurance and Professional Indemnity Insurance, is vital for any organisation involving volunteers. All community legal centres should have this cover if they run volunteer programs. You should check with individual community legal centres regarding their insurance cover.
How do I get involved?
Community legal centres are responsible for their own volunteer programs, including recruitment, induction, training, supervision and management. This means you will need to choose which legal centre you want to volunteer with and then approach them directly. Some, like the Darebin Community Legal Centre and Fitzroy Legal Service, Justice Connect and the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre (ASRC) have structured volunteer recruitment that may include attendance at information sessions, even legal tests.
A good starting point is the Community Legal Centre Volunteers website maintained by the National Association of Community Legal Centres and the National Pro Bono Resource Centre. The website has search options, which include specific centre searches and state searches. A search of the Victorian community legal centres gives a list of centres that accept volunteers with a “traffic light” approach as to whether they are seeking volunteers. Keep in mind that the type of work you will do may vary from centre to centre and that there may also be differences about expected time commitment, number of volunteers and level of supervision.
Volunteer on a CLC Board
Nearly all community legal centres are community managed organisations governed by volunteer management committees (boards).
Community legal centress need dedicated people with a range of experience to volunteer on committees of management. The time commitment varies, but most committees meet monthly. Most committee positions are elected at community legal centres' annual general meetings, however some members can be co-opted during the year or appointed to fill casual vacancies.
If you are interested in volunteering on a community legal centre's management committee, you should contact the centre directly to express your interest. Alternatively, you could contact the Federation.
Pro bono secondment schemes
Many private law firms have community law partnerships under the Attorney General’s Community Law Partnerships Scheme. Regular opportunities for secondment to a community legal centre arise under these partnerships. If you are working in a private firm and are interested in a secondment to a community legal centre, contact your pro bono coordinator to see what opportunities exist.
Tips for law students wanting to volunteer
Volunteering as a law student can be both extremely rewarding and challenging. Volunteering in a community legal centre or other NGO will give you exposure to working in the legal field in a much more tangible way than university lectures.
The good news for community legal centres and our clients is that there is fantastic interest amongst law students in volunteering in a community legal centre. This is a great reflection on the quality of work community legal centres undertake and the people studying law in Victoria. Thank you! The bad news for law students is that this can sometimes make it difficult for law students to find a volunteering position. Being resourceful, flexible and open minded are the keys to success.
- Be resourceful – apply to a variety of places and remember that while most accept applications via email, developing a rapport with someone at the organisation is helpful.
- Be realistic – it is important to work out how much you can commit to an organisation when applying to volunteer. Work out what times and how long you would be able to commit without jeopardising study, work, and other obligations. This can be especially difficult when considering internships.
- Be persistent – it can take a long time to hear back from organisations. Sometimes it is simply a matter of applying at the right time, so don’t give up.
Read here for an honest account of two student’s experience in looking for volunteer opportunities in community legal centres.
Internships and clinical legal education placements through your university
Getting experience working at CLC and gaining credit towards your degree is a win win situation, especially for students whose work, family, study and other commitments can make it difficult to find the time to volunteer outside of university.
Most if not all Victorian law schools offer some form of practical placement that counts towards your degree. For example:
- Monash University offers the unit Professional Practice at Monash Oakleigh Legal Service and Springvale Monash Legal Service
- Melbourne University offers the Melbourne Law School Internship Program administered by the Law School Careers Office
- Deakin University law students must undertake a Professional Experience placement and can undertake a Law Clinic unit at a Victorian CLC which counts towards this requirement
- Latrobe University offers the unit Clinical Legal Education at West Heidelberg Community Legal Service
- Victoria University offers a Professional Legal Practice unit and a Work Integrated Learning Program which includes a Professional Legal Practice placement
Often, the University will assist or find placement opportunities for their students, which alleviates the difficulty of finding a legal opportunity on their own.
Other organisations and opportunities
Getting experience at other organisations will make you a better all round law graduate – whether you end up working in CLCs or another area.
There are many NGOs that are seeking volunteers, and some of these are directly targeted at law students. For example, the Oaktree Foundation is a youth-run organisation that has specific legal roles advertised. Other NGOs that offer law based experience include Liberty Victoria, Amnesty International and Court Network.
Some government agencies accept volunteers also. The Office of the Public Advocate (OPA) offers three programs for volunteers, being a community visitors program, Independent Third Persons program, and a community guardianship program.
Legal internships are offered at numerous organisations across Victoria. The Victoria Law Foundation offers internships at a variety of participating agencies across a spectrum of judicial, government and non-government organisations. Internships usually require a commitment of multiple weeks either in summer or in winter.
National CLC volunteers website: www.clcvolunteers.net.au/
Victoria Law Foundation: http://www.victorialawfoundation.org.au/
Office of the Public Advocate: http://www.publicadvocate.vic.gov.au/
Go Volunteer: http://www.govolunteer.com.au/
Social Justice Opportunities http://www.sjopps.net.au