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Community Legal Centres: Part #2 Interviews

In the second installment for the CLC application series, Stephanie Fiteni tells you exactly how to show that you've got the x-factor in your CLC audition interview. To read part one click here.

Remember all that time you spent finding an opportunity and preparing your applications? Let’s not let that go to waste, shall we? Knowing background information about Community Legal Centres (CLC), how they operate and typical CLC clients can assist you during the interview as questions are often drawn from these areas and your knowledge about them.

Preparing for the interview

By way of background, clients will often be low-income earners in the CLC's catchment location seeking assistance in any number of legal areas. The two most common are criminal and family law, including bail applications, driving charges, petty crimes, child custody, divorce and intervention orders. Other areas of the law slightly vary between CLCs and commercial law is generally not covered.

If you have applied for a few CLCs, take some time to refresh your knowledge about the CLC and what areas of the law they cover. Become familiar with it. If you know someone who works there or has worked there before, take the time to ask what kinds of matters they've covered in the past. Tailor your answers to the questions by stating relevant work experience or why you find that area of the law particularly interesting.

Tip: CLCs will generally state what its values on their website. Remember them as key words for your answers. As an example, if empowerment is a value that is important to you, you can state that you want to provide "empowerment’" to women who are experiencing domestic violence because you believe that discussing their matter with a CLC is their first step towards it. Be genuine though.

Arriving at the CLC

Aim to arrive five to ten minutes early. Double check your public transport timetable if you need to. Punctuality tells the interviewer that you are both keen and organized.

When you meet your interviewer, smile, make eye contact and firmly shake their hand (death grips are to be avoided). Take a deep breath and don’t be nervous (easier said than done, I know). Just remember that they've called you in for an interview because they believe you have the attributes that they're looking for.

Tip: You'll usually meet the receptionist or a volunteer first. It's crucial that you are friendly as they'll probably be your future colleague and working collaboratively as a team is a key skill.

Common interview questions

Interviewing for a CLC is nothing like a clerkship interview. Fortunately, tell us a bit about yourself…. is here to stay. I say fortunate because this is your opportunity to shine. Your answer will set the tone for the rest of the interview so make sure you prepare for it. There is no formula to answer this question so it’s best is to discuss your work experience and what you learned from it. Briefly discuss what your positions were, learned skills and any accomplishments. As an example, you can demonstrate your ability to work autonomously or collaboratively as a team, and time management skills.

Tip: CLCs make a lot of referrals. Demonstrating your ability to use conceptual thinking will place you in a good stead when it comes to providing referrals in the future.

What are some of the top skills a volunteer should have?

This question is indirectly asking you if you know how to do the job properly. It’s a crucial question. My top three choices are as follows:

  • Attention to detail: asking questions about the little things per se. As an example, you will be asked to enter new client’s details onto the CLCs system. If you misspell the client’s name or address, how will be the solicitor find the information they need quickly? They won’t.

  • Taking initiative: during the first few shifts, you’ll be getting familiar with your position. However, supervisors shouldn’t always tell you what you need to do as it should start to become routine. Likewise, if there is an extra step that can be taken to make a solicitor’s life easier, why not do it?

  • Communication: having the ability to communicate through the translating legalese into plain simple English. As you will be the first point of contact, understanding the needs and concerns of clients and making them feel comfortable is incumbent to your position.

What are some of the barriers people face when accessing legal advice?

Understanding legal terminology, having a low-economic status and therefore unable to afford private legal representation without VLA support are my top two answers. As CLCs play a large role in referring people out when necessary, it can be assumed that a lot of people are not aware of the organisations, support networks and services that are available to them.

Tip: State which barriers are most prominent to you and briefly explain why so the interviewer is confident that you really understand this question.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Most people are familiar with their strengths but not weaknesses, therefore showing the interviewer that you are aware of them displays a sense of self-knowledge.

Tip: Be smart about how you approach this question. Instead of answering bluntly, such as ‘I am shy with people’, explain what you have done to improve your weakness. As an example, ‘I am shy with people but I attend networking events to build my self-confidence’. This shows the interviewer that you can work with constructive feedback and are willing to improve yourself.

Tell me a time when you faced an issue in the workforce and explain what you did to overcome it

I often combat this question by using an acronym called STAR – it’s simple and easy to remember.

  • Situation – what was the situation you faced?

  • Task – what were the tasks involved in that situation?

  • Action – what actions did you take?

  • Result – what was the result of those actions?

Tip: Keep it simple and demonstrate an ability to problem-solve to achieve a positive outcome.

What would happen if you were offered a paid job elsewhere?

This is a tricky question. Your reasons may vary but the interviewer basically wants to know if you are going to stick around. State why you think volunteering is beneficial such as meeting other law students, building positive relationships and learning from professions.

Do you have any questions to ask me?

Yes. Here is your chance to show your interest about the particular CLC. Find something you would like to know more information about or like to clarify as this shows that you are enlivened at the opportunity to expand your experience within the community legal sector.

Good luck!

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