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LIV President's Blog 2012

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So you want to volunteer?

So you want to volunteer?

Volunteering is becoming more of a rite of passage for young and aspiring lawyers in today’s competitive job market. More and more employers are looking beyond grades before bringing fresh-faced lawyers into the firm. So why volunteer? If you don’t already volunteer this post is required reading. If you do already, read on.

Volunteering at Community Legal Centres (CLC) has been a choice for Victorian lawyers and law students since the early 1970s. For many, volunteering at a CLC is the first exposure they will have to legal practice.

What are the benefits of volunteering?
Volunteering is a great way to build your experience. More importantly, it is a great way to make a contribution to causes that are real. Most importantly, it can set you on a career path that will be rewarding and fulfilling.

So why volunteer?
There are a number of reasons to volunteer. Volunteering at a CLC exposes you to the side of the law that is not driven by timesheets, bills and client meetings. Employers look at your “human capital” – what can be derived from your participation in society and how it builds a picture of you as a person. Volunteering engenders a sense of social inclusion, meaning that people feel more connected to their communities.

CLCs want you to volunteer because they are consciously trying to infect people with their social justice message. A lot of those people who now work at CLCs started off as volunteers.

What type of volunteering is right for you?
So what will make you want to volunteer? The motivation comes down to your personal choice. However, when you volunteer you are giving your time, your skills and knowledge, so you should expect something in return.

This expectation is reflected in decisions regarding what volunteering you do and the organisations you volunteer at. Another thing motivating you is the desire to be able to identify with an outcome that arises from volunteering or associate with a particular place. This desire influences your choice to participate in one cause over another cause.

What recognition will I get for my volunteer work?
As they develop their volunteer programs CLCs are getting better at harnessing your motivation and meeting your expectations. CLCs know that you want something in return. They are getting much better at recognising the contribution your volunteering makes to a Centre.

Recognition can happen in a number of ways. It can happen through a Volunteer Bash at the end of the year, a more formal buddy program, or it could be as simple as a sitting down and having a cup of tea. Everyone is different to how they want to be recognised for their work.

OK, you’ve sold me – so how do I become a volunteer?
Still wanting to volunteer? There are number of ways you can do so because how you can volunteer is changing due to social, economic and technological factors. Whilst participating in traditional forms of volunteering, such as going to a night service are still relevant, new forms of participation are emerging. Internet and social media are giving CLCs a new and powerful opportunity to engage people like you.

It is also young lawyers who are going to be the next wave of CLC governance, volunteers and staff. So CLCs are going to be actively recruiting you because they want your skills, enthusiasm and knowledge to keep the sector strong.

 Want more information? Have a look at my report “The Volunteer Cycle” or check out

This month LIV Young Lawyers’ Community Issues Committee (CIC) launches Lawyers for Life to encourage all young lawyers to use their specialist legal skills to assist those in need. Volunteering opportunities will be featured in each monthly edition of lawBytes, we hope you embrace this opportunity and use your skills to benefit the community.

Or have you already been volunteering and if so why? We'd love to hear your volunteer stories. 

Michael McKiterick
YLS Community Issues Committee, Co-chair

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CJ Taylor
I have volunteered full time for over a year and a half. I wanted to assist, but also to gain experience and make myself more marketable; however, there are still no jobs forthcoming. One firm that advertised an extremely low ball offer on Seek, after I thought was a very good interview, instead of hiring me at the $15/hr rate (approx) it advertised, suggested I instead volunteer at that practice (located nearly 34 kilometers from me) for a probationary period and if I excelled the firm would then consider me for a permanent position. I am very disillusioned.
2/07/2012 10:42:24 AM

Tim O'Neill
As someone who commenced volunteering as a student at a CLC well before it became de rigueur, or a practical requirement of any law degree, I completely concur with the sentiments expressed above about the benefits of volunteering. For students (or others) contemplating volunteering at a CLC, you will quickly find that personal satisfaction of volunteering is extremely rewarding in itself and more than outweighs any downside in terms of time commitment etc - I still volunteer after more than 12 years after I started!
8/06/2012 1:22:49 PM

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