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Six Reasons to Volunteer at a Community Legal Centre

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Community Legal Centres want you! Volunteering might seem hard while you’re juggling a hectic uni schedule, but it can also be a rewarding experience. Here are six good reasons why you should consider taking the plunge.

1. It’s time to give something back!

Most of us are fairly spoiled. We know where our next meal is coming from. We know that our family is safe. We aren’t worried about being sent back to a war-torn country because we made a mistake on our visa application form. We’ve got it pretty good. So why not help out those less fortunate? Helping those who truly need it is incredibly satisfying work.

2. You know those questions on job application forms that ask about relevant experience?

Oh yeah!

Seriously, there are few better ways to get real life experience than volunteering at a community legal centre. Most CLCs have limited resources. For law student volunteers it means that we get to do things that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to experience if we worked at a larger law firm. Firms tend to compartmentalise each department and tasks are often broken down and shared between several young lawyers, paralegals and legal assistants. Community legal centres don’t have that luxury. As such, a law student will get to be involved with heaps of exciting things including client interviews, drafting affidavits, organising court dates, etc.

3. It’s a fantastic way to make friends

Law students often find it hard to make friends. I don’t know if it’s because our ‘interesting facts’ about constitutional law are, in fact, very boring, or that we complain too much about how much study we have to do (even if we don’t actually do any of it). The only people that care at all about any of this are fellow law students. Volunteering means that you get to meet tonnes of like-minded people, which is fantastic because:

a) Everyone needs more friends; and b) People are awesome.

4. It’s a FANTASTIC way to make professional connections

First of all, if you’re a superstar volunteer, you may be lucky enough to be offered a job with the community legal centre when you graduate! Yay! That said, don’t despair if the centre you work at doesn’t have a graduate program.

Many lawyers from small and large firms work at community legal centres in their spare time. Volunteering therefore gives you the opportunity to meet these people and demonstrate your awesome lawyering skills. Then, when job-hunting season comes around, you have some contacts that might know of some opportunities.

5. It really doesn’t affect your marks… or, it makes them better!

Volunteers can usually opt to work a half-day or a full day on a regular basis. You can pick whichever option is best for you, in terms of how much you need to study/keep up with other extra-curricular activities. Plus in my experience, practically applying the skills you pick up in lectures actually helps you study!

6. It’ll help you decide where you want to go from here

Working at a community legal centre can help you to work out what field of law you want to work in. You could become really passionate about community legal work, and decide that law is the greatest thing in the world and you’d never want to do anything else.

Or the experience could help you to realise that despite what you thought, criminal law is nowhere near as fun as it looks on Law & Order. You may even come to the conclusion that you don’t want to practice law at all. No matter what you learn about your career aspirations, it’s much better to discover these things early, rather than half a year into your graduate placement.

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