In the fourth installment for the CLC series, Jess Awad speaks to Andrea Staunton from the Peninsula Community Legal Centre about her experience working for a community legal centre.
What were you doing before you become a part of PCLC?
Immediately prior to joining the staff team at Peninsula Community Legal Centre (PCLC), I had a six month stint as an unemployed actress! I did casual extras work (sauntering around in the background without delivering lines) for Neighbours and Stingers, and took on a variety of temporary administrative and bookkeeping roles to help pay the bills.
Prior to that, I worked as a lawyer in suburban firms for around four years, practising primarily in family law, criminal law, small claims civil litigation, conveyancing, wills and estates.
What does a typical day at work look like?
I wouldn’t know! My role is quite varied, and includes everything from liaising with volunteers to managing staff, delivering workshops, preparing media releases, meeting with politicians, networking with community groups, drafting law reform submissions and lots more!
What’s the most exciting part of the job?
Effecting change. It is wonderful to be part of an innovative and progressive movement that strives to advance justice for people who would otherwise fall through the cracks of our legal system. I particularly enjoy doing work that raises awareness about legal issues and how to deal with them, as well as seeking systemic change.
What’s something you’re working on at the moment?
We are trying to alert people to the perils of ignoring fines. Fines are expensive enough for someone with a low (or even medium) income, but, with enforcement costs, can soon spiral out of control. We are seeing clients with tens of thousands of dollars of fines (mainly toll roads), who are having their cars wheel-clamped, driver licence and car registration suspended, and facing other tough penalties – even imprisonment.
Peninsula CLC is now operating dedicated fines clinics to help more disadvantaged people who are grappling with fines. We are also raising awareness of fines through a variety of media outlets and to community workers, through meetings and seminars. We are participating with other community legal centres and Victoria Legal Aid to scope a statewide education project around fines. We also participate in a statewide Infringements Working Group, which has been actively engaging with the Department of Justice & Regulation and Courts regarding the impact of existing and proposed new laws.
What advice would you give to law students trying to figure out their career path?
It sounds cliché, but you do need to be true to yourself if you want to be happy as well as successful. I knew the corporate high life wasn’t for me, and something about the words “community legal centre” sang to me when I first stumbled across them in the Law Library (in a blind panic following a presentation by a top tier firm about how I needed a perfect score or should give up on being a lawyer).
I now have the pleasure of working with over 150 volunteers and it is fascinating to see how many different types of legal work they do in their paid jobs - from in-house legal counsel to government policy advisors, academics, profession regulators, local government work, police, community lawyers, educators and of course solicitors and barristers! It’s worth being open-minded about where your law degree could take you - there may be more options than you realise!
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