Volunteering in the community legal sector is an experience every law student should have, but what’s it really like? Here’s a rundown from a Legal Aid volunteer…
I’ve been volunteering in the Criminal Appeals team at Legal Aid for almost two years. I’m one of a roster of research volunteers who come in for a half day each week to research potential appeal cases.
Legal Stuff I Do
Although spending so little time in the office means I don’t get much continued contact with cases, it does mean that I have the opportunity to work on a broad range of issues for a diverse client base. On any day I could be working on appeal grounds for a murder conviction, researching sentencing standards for burglary or combing through transcripts searching for factual discrepancies to form the basis of an appeal.
The majority of the work I do is research – from investigating fine points of law to finding factual similarities in decided cases – but I also collate files, deliver documents and since I’ve been at Legal Aid I’ve also become a photocopying pro.
Highlights and Challenges
I’ve had the opportunity to work on some big cases at Legal Aid, which is both the most rewarding and most difficult aspect of volunteering here. I’ve had the opportunity to see injustices corrected and last year I worked on a case that went through to win at the High Court, which was definitely a highlight.
However, the cases Legal Aid takes on means I’ve read about some horrible things and researched cases the subject matters of which I’d never come across otherwise. Similarly, I have gained an insight into many of the issues facing marginalised members of our society and the way in which our legal system compounds these problems – volunteering at Legal Aid can be incredibly humbling.
What I’ve Learnt
Volunteering at Legal Aid has helped me to hone my research skills and made me better equipped to communicate what I find to others. Working on such a broad range of cases has helped me to discover my interest in criminal law. I’ve also developed a deep admiration for the solicitors and staff who work for Legal Aid – talented, hardworking people who are committed to helping others.
I’d definitely recommend volunteering at Legal Aid or at any community legal centre; as well as honing your legal research and writing skills, you’ll learn about the people caught up in the justice system and it’ll broaden your perspective.
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