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Community Legal Centres: Part #3 CLC Legend, Ria Shah

Ria Shah

In the third installment for the CLC application series, Neeharika Maddula speaks to Ria Shah, an organiser and chief volunteer wrangler at the Toongabbie Legal Centre in Sydney, about her wealth of experience working for a community legal centre.

1. Tell us about yourself.

I'm currently in my last year at UNSW studying law and commerce. I started my degree in 2012 right after HSC. This is probably super cliche but I decided to do law because I found year 12 legal studies very interesting, mainly because my teacher was a barrister from England and told us so many intriguing stories. My favourite subject at law school is Contracts. We enter into contracts all the time - often without even knowing it. No matter how simple or complicated the contact is, it's fascinating (at least to me) to see how it all plays out. And right now I'm working for Anytime Fitness as an in-house paralegal.

2. When did you start at Toongabbie Legal Centre and what was your role?

I started at TLC in March 2014 as a student volunteer. I then became the student volunteer coordinator and I was the coordinator from June 2014 - Jan 2016.

3. What was your biggest challenge as a coordinator at Toongabbie Legal Centre?

TLC is very different to any other CLC as it doesn't receive any government funding. Due to lack of resources we only operated on Thursday nights and Saturday mornings. Everyone who worked at the centre was a volunteer including the Principal Solicitor. There was no full time receptionist which meant that it was a drop in service. Some nights we would have more than 10 clients drop in and other nights it would be quiet.

As a coordinator, it was very challenging to organise sessions and roster volunteers when we're not sure how busy the night/morning will be. The challenges varied from something as trivial as figuring out where the keys for the centre are to matters more serious such as volunteer disputes. Even though TLC work took over a lot of my time, it helped me get better at thinking on my feet and overall develop my leadership and communication skills.

4. What would your advice be to law students looking to work at a community legal centre?

One of my first jobs at the centre was to hand out pamphlets at the local court. Often law students volunteer at the centre to 'get something on the resume'. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, however, I believe the experience is much more rewarding if you are a) interested in helping people of the community and b) open to doing work other than hard core legal work.

5. What was your most rewarding experience at Toongabbie Legal Centre?

Through TLC I have been able to work with clients from low socio-economic backgrounds and see the impact of law on their everyday lives whether these be immigration issues, domestic violence or something as simple as a traffic fines. It has helped me gain practical legal skills such as client interviewing and drafting affidavits. I also got the opportunity to work with some of the most passionate and extraordinary law students and legal practitioners and make amazing friends along the way.

Missed the first two parts in the series? Get them here and here.

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