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My Volunteer Experience with the Environmental Defenders Office

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From about half-way through my first year of law I was sure that I wanted a career in environmental law. I’d heard a lot about the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), and I knew that I wanted to volunteer there as soon as they would have me. The EDO NSW is a community legal centre that specialises in public interest environmental law, and it sounded like a perfect fit for me.

I started at the EDO midway through my third year, and volunteered one day a week until I finished uni at the end of last year. I am now at the EDO fulltime for my PLT placement.

I remember being extremely nervous on my first day, but I soon realised that there is nothing daunting about the EDO. I saw that the principal solicitor (at the time) was wearing an ‘I ♥ Whales’ t-shirt, and I felt at ease right away.

The most serious issue facing the EDO in each state and territory at the moment is lack of resources, as their funding has been taken away or greatly reduced over the past year or so by the federal and state governments. However, from a volunteer’s perspective, the funding shortage has some unexpected advantages.

As the only public interest environmental law centre in Australia, the EDO takes on some very big and important cases, normally up against the big firms. This means that the multi-day Federal Court judicial review proceedings that may be occupying an entire team at a large firm has to be managed at the EDO by one or two solicitors and a couple of volunteers.

As a result, I’ve been given a great deal of responsibility to do really serious work, and because of this I have learnt much more than I could have ever hoped. Another advantage is that because we volunteer at the EDO, I think the lawyers make a concerted effort to give us interesting tasks. It’s a real sacrifice to do volunteer work, and the EDO staff really appreciates that.

For those who aren’t familiar with environmental law, the EDO’s specialisation may sound quite limited. However, during my time at the EDO I have worked on matters ranging from typical environmental issues such as biodiversity and nature protection, to planning law, consumer law, corporations law, and even international law. As the environment pervades all aspects of our society, it makes sense that it does the same in law. I primarily work in the litigation team, writing advices for small matters, and working as part of a team on casework matters.

The atmosphere at the EDO is very relaxed and friendly, and it’s exciting and fun with lots of new volunteers starting pretty frequently. As well as being very talented lawyers, all the EDO staff members are really passionate about the environment, so it is an inspiring place to grow as a law student. It is rewarding to be working for such an important cause, and if you’re passionate about environmental law I would really recommend volunteering at the EDO.

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