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The value of volunteering

The value of volunteering

By Kathie Karapalidis

Voluntary Associations/Pro Bono 

Volunteering at a community legal centre can reap benefits for all involved. The waiting room is filled with people on this busy Friday evening. Three young boys are constructing a skyscraper with building blocks. The pre-loved toys are a saviour for those parents who come with child in tow. Mark Rawlings has been running the Friday night service at Fitzroy Legal Service for about seven years. The drop-in centre operates each weeknight (except public holidays), advising in most areas of law. Most who attend are not eligible for legal aid and cannot afford a private lawyer. Without the service, many will have no access to vital legal support. The service also offers specialist clinics, free and fee paying representation, a Neighbourhood Justice Centre, a drug outreach lawyer and a taxi driver legal assistance program. Tonight, Mark will triage more than a dozen clients who are among some of Victoria's most disadvantaged, and guide the volunteer paralegals – most of whom are in their final year at law school – to advise the clients of their options. He will be joined by a handful of volunteer practising solicitors, who will help turn around the clients within a few hours. No two nights are alike. Some clients will come with simple requests, such as assistance to fill out legal documentation. Others will have more complicated matters. Most come with a lifetime of hardship and financial struggles, and many with mental health issues.

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