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Practice Spotlight: Community Legal Centre

 Practice Spotlight: Community Legal Centre

By Sylvie Alston

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CLCs provide free legal services to disadvantaged clients in the community. There are typically generalist and specialist legal centres. CLCs rely heavily on volunteer lawyers and other support staff, however, some CLCs also work in partnerships with firms or other non-legal organisations to provide holistic assistance to particular client cohorts. The casework is typically high volume and time sensitive. CLC lawyers often need to build strong relationships with non-legal stakeholders to assist clients with their non-legal issues impacting on matters. The skills to thrive as a CLC lawyer include a genuine passion for access to justice issues, resilience and emotional intelligence. 

The CLC in focus for this spotlight, Justice Connect, are a legal services organisation who design and deliver high impact interventions that increase access to legal support and progress social justice for individuals and not-for-profit organisations. Justice Connect works across a variety of areas of law – including not-for-profit law, homeless law, seniors law and self-representation services – and connects people and community groups who need legal help with their network of 10,000+ pro bono lawyers.
 

Heather Bell, lawyer in the Access Program team at Justice Connect, joined me to discuss legal practice in CLCs

How did you come into the role?

I completed my practical legal training at Justice Connect in 2018 and instantly felt a strong connection with the organisation and the community legal sector as a whole. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to apply for a junior lawyer position. For me, it was really important to be in a role where I felt that my work was making a real difference to people’s lives, as well as working within a team who are passionate about the work they do.

What does a standard day in your role look like?

The aspect of my role I really love is the diversity; no day is ever the same. It keeps things exciting and interesting – every matter brings its own unique challenges and opportunities to learn. My standard day could include a variety of tasks, such as general case work, drafting briefs for our clinic appointments, conducting intake with new help-seekers, delivering advice, working on potential strategic opportunities, mentoring legal training students, and referring clients to member firms and counsel.

Do you have any advice for any law students or young lawyers wanting to get into this area?

There are so many options available that are not the traditional commercial legal roles which are generally promoted at university. If working in the community legal sector is something that you would like to get into then I would suggest trying things out, volunteer, ask questions, be curious and be open minded.

Tip of the month

In these COVID-19 times of lockdowns and working from home, it’s important to schedule time for yourself to do things that you enjoy and can create a routine around. This is something that I’m still working on. Working from home it can be too easy to be glued to our screens and if we do reach a point of burn out, it might start to affect the way we work and might also ripple into all aspects of our life. Take a walk, start a new podcast, read a book – find what sparks joy for you and find that balance!

 

Sylvie Alston is a member of the YL Editorial Committee.

 


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