Getting Involved in Social Justice as a Law Student
When I first started writing this blog, my primary purpose was to provide you with a comprehensive list of social justice organisations offering volunteering and internship opportunities. I wanted to make this information easy to find and available to all (a key goal of Law School Success).
However, as I finished the list, I realised it captured only the formal ways of getting involved in social justice work. While it is still great to apply to the amazing organisations listed, I also encourage you to think about other ways to make your voice heard.
Amidst the widespread hardship of 2020/2021 - there have been some necessary steps forward in Australia on violence against women, climate change, disability rights and justice for First Nations People. There have also been hundreds of examples of other acts of caring and kindness towards disadvantaged and marginalised members of our society.
So, whilst the list is still here, I encourage you to consider how you can also share your skills and offer compassion in everyday life.
Below is a guide to the main organisations offering volunteering opportunities to law students. Please note that some of these services still have restricted face to face operations due to COVID. The tasks students are often involved in include assisting with legal research, preparing legal documents, writing emails, helping with administrative tasks, accompanying clients to court, and working on policy submissions to the government. Students usually volunteer one day per week.
Community Legal Centres
There are over 200 Community Legal Centres (CLCs) across metropolitan and regional Australia. Many of these rely heavily upon volunteer students and lawyers.
The Australian Community Legal Centres website includes a section where opportunities to volunteer are listed.
In addition to general CLCs, specialist CLCs include
Aboriginal Legal Centres
Animal Rights Services
Asylum Welfare Centres
Consumer Rights Centres
Disability Rights Centres
Environmental Defenders Offices
Family Violence Centres
LGBTI Legal Services
Mental Health Law Centres
Muslim Legal Service
Prisoners Legal Service
Seniors Rights Centres
Welfare Rights Centres
Women's Legal Services
Youth Law Centres
A small number of Legal Aid organisations offer internship positions for students. The Legal Services Commission of SA offers four Summer Clerkship positions, and Northern Territory Legal Aid offer twenty-day placements for law students in Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs.
Non-Legal community legal organisations
There are thousands of community organisations in Australia that work to further social justice goals. Many offer volunteering roles via their websites, whilst you can contact other organisations directly to enquire about opportunities to get involved. Some of the key websites to check are
Action on Poverty
Australian Multicultural Community Services
Australian Red Cross
Community First Development
Habitat for Humanity
Save the Children
Social Justice Opportunities is a career guide for law students and young lawyers that provides a list of jobs, paralegal work and internships across the social justice sector, including CLCs and legal/non-legal organisations.
Volunteering Australia also includes a list of non-legal volunteering opportunities on its website, as does The Centre for Volunteering.
To get an idea of the types of roles that might be available when you graduate, see Ethical Jobs. This site also advertises some paid paralegal work.
Activism and engagement
Involvement in social justice doesn't need to be something you think about primarily in the context of structured volunteering or internship roles. Some of the most meaningful and impactful things we can do are spontaneous and occur in our everyday lives.
One example is speaking up against injustice and discrimination when we see it. Although speaking up can feel challenging, knowing how to respond is essential. There are great discussions online that deal with everything from gaslighting to overtly racist, sexist or gender-based comments.
Other ways are more strategic and coordinated. These can include
getting involved in educating others (through schools, communities, your law school or university),
advocating for legislative change,
protesting about issues you care about
creating a public awareness campaign that includes social media,
doing a survey about a problem and sharing the results, or
raising money for an organisation, you support.
Everyone's actions matter. As law students, you have the knowledge, skills and determination to work hard, which is invaluable in many contexts in society. Whether through individual acts of kindness and compassion, or larger projects advocating for change, don't be afraid to voice your opinion on issues that matter to you.