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Community Legal Centres: Making your application stand out

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Survive Law's resident CLC nerd, Carissa Gay, dishes the secrets to making your CLC application stand out from the crowd in a special two-part series on CLC applications.

For those who haven’t really heard of community legal centres (CLCs), they are independent not-for-profit organisations that provide legal services to the community, with a strong focus on addressing disadvantage and particular vulnerabilities. In addition to providing free or subsidised legal services to the community, CLCs are also involved in community education and development, as well as law reform and research.

Correcting a popular misconception, CLCs are not Legal Aid, however the sector does receive some government funding, along with funding from other bodies, pro-bono schemes and the private sector. Although a CLC may focus their practice on a particular catchment area/region or class of vulnerability, they all operate with the same focus on improving equitable access to justice at their core.

Each State and Territory has their own association of CLCs which subscribes to the peak national body, The National Association of Community Legal Centres. Getting involved at a CLC as a student or fresh graduate usually takes the form of an ongoing placement, usually on a voluntary and unpaid basis. These placements are a fantastic opportunity to ground your legal skills in a really interesting work environment.

Looking for an opportunity?

There are number of ways you can keep up to date with CLC volunteer vacancies. A good place to start is the website of your State or Territory’s CLC association for information. As many CLCs offer practical legal training placements (PLT) for grads, the careers noticeboard of your PLT provider may also get you started. An exciting new project is the Piddington Justice Project which pairs graduates with participating CLCs, so definitely check that out. Also keep an eye out for those snippets of information from your law school and maybe sign up to your State or Territory’s Law Society to get notifications on social justice events or networking events.

Preparing your application

When it comes to cover letters, everyone has their own style and preferred structure. Here are just some tips that you might find helpful when drafting yours:

1. CLCs range widely in their area of interest, and even working within one you are sure to be gaining experience a number of areas of practice. If the CLC you are applying for has a particularly focus be sure to include your experience in that area, or grounds for your personal or professional interest.

2. CLCs are socially focussed and operate to promote equal access to justice, community development and advocacy. Make sure to highlight any volunteering positions, law reform projects or research projects you have undertaken.

3. Before you draft your application, do your research. Jump on their website and have a look at their publications, any law reform submissions and annual reports to get an idea of the work they have been involved in. If they touch on area or issue you have had previous experience or that your are particularly interest be sure to make a note of that.

4. Like any workplace, CLCs are staffed by a diverse range of brilliant and interesting people all committed to making a difference. Let your addressee get to know a bit about where you come from and what makes you unique. While you want to keep your letter focussed on your legal skills and their practice, adding a touch of personality on what sports you play or your other interests and hobbies could demonstrate other attributes not necessarily legal or academic.

5. Finally, tell your CLC why you want to get involved in the sector and community work. You may have had a long term intention to work at a CLC or just want to try it out, whatever the reasons giving back to the community is a pretty good incentive in and of itself.

Application done? Interview booked? Stay tuned for Part 2 — ‘Community Legal Centres’ and nailing the interview!

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