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Volunteering and working in social justice as a law student



When I first started writing this blog, my main 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).


As I finished the list, however, 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 you can make your voice heard.


Amidst the widespread hardship of 2020/2021 - there have been some important steps forward in Australia on issues such as violence against women, climate change, disability rights and justice for First Nations People. There have also been hundreds of examples of smaller 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.


VOLUNTEERING

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 sort of tasks that law 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 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

  • Tenants Services

  • Welfare Rights Centres

  • Women's Legal Services

  • Youth Law Centres

INTERNSHIPS

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 20 day placements for law students in Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs.


The Aurora Project works with indigenous organisations across Australia, offering internships that range from 4 to 6 weeks. The Australian Human Rights Commission offers regular internships, as does the Cancer Council via its Pro Bono Program for penultimate and final year law students.


Given the shortage of lawyers in many regional, rural and remote parts of Australia, it is also possible to arrange your own internship directly with an organisation. It's always worth sending an email to ask.

UNIVERSITY PRO BONO CENTRES

There are a small number of University programs offering free legal advice to students or the community. The following involve student volunteers


NON-LEGAL COMMUNITY ORGANISATIONS

There are thousands of community organisations in Australia that work to further social justice goals. Many offer volunteering roles via their websites, while others can be contacted directly to enquire about opportunities to get involved. Some of the key websites to check are


VACANCY SITES

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 with 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 take place in our everyday lives.


One example is speaking up against injustice and discrimination when we see it. This can be hard and knowing how to respond is important. 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 co-ordinated. 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 an issue and sharing the results, or

  • raising money for an organisation you support.

Everyone's actions matter. As law students you have valuable knowledge, skills and the determination to work hard which are useful attributes in many contexts in society. Whether through individual acts of kindness and compassion, or larger projects advocating for change, don't be afraid to make your voice heard on issues that matter to you.


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