Queensland has 34 not-for-profit community legal centres (CLCs) dotted across the state.
They have a long, established history of harnessing volunteer support and providing pro bono legal advice and assistance to society’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people and communities.
Volunteering Queensland – the state’s chief non-profit volunteer and community engagement organisation – estimates that as many as 700,000 of the state’s 5.18 million people give freely of their time each year to make an extraordinary impact on the people, communities and environments in which they live.
Many of these are lawyers.
As part of this week’s Queensland Law Week (May 18-24) and National Volunteer Week (May 17-23) celebrations, QLS Proctor is featuring some of the many selfless members of the profession who regularly give back to their local communities.
Ebony Franzmann – Solicitor for Refugee and Immigration Legal Service (RAILS)
What motivated you to become a CLC volunteer?
I have always been passionate about migration issues and volunteer with RAILS (Refugee and Immigration Legal Service). Where you’re born is the luck of the draw, and I am so privileged to have been born in a safe country. I have always felt that with privilege comes an obligation to help those who weren’t as lucky because everyone deserves to live a safe, happy and fulfilling life. The work that RAILS does is centred around the same goal, and that’s what motivated me to start volunteering with them.
What does your volunteering role involve?
I volunteer with the RAILS Unrepresented Asylum Seeker’s Clinic. A day or two before the clinic appointment, RAILS emails the client file to the volunteers. This gives them a chance to read through it, identify key issues and prepare some interview questions. On the evening of the clinic appointment, the volunteers arrive around 5.15pm. There is an opportunity to speak to the RAILS supervising solicitor if you need, before starting your appointment with the client and interpreter at 5.30pm.
During the appointment, you help the client complete their online visa application form, and then you draft their statutory declaration in support of their application. RAILS provides you with a template statutory declaration, but it’s up to you to ask the right questions based on the issues you’ve identified in the client’s file. Once you’ve prepared the draft, the RAILS supervising solicitor reviews it. Once both are happy with it, (with the interpreter’s assistance) read it back to the client and make any necessary changes before the client signs it. Sometimes you will be able to complete the application and the statutory declaration in one night, and sometimes you will do one of them depending on timing and where the client is up to in the process. Either way, the appointment wraps up at 8pm, and then you finalise your file note and head home!
What do you most enjoy about volunteering?
There is something extra special about finishing a workday knowing you’ve given back and used your skills to help make someone’s life better – that’s what I enjoy most about volunteering with RAILS.
What have you gained – personally and professionally – from volunteering at a CLC?
I find volunteering with RAILS extremely rewarding, both personally and professionally. Being a commercial lawyer means I mostly deal with corporations and money and don’t often have the opportunity to make a difference in somebody’s personal life. It is a real privilege getting to help change someone’s story. As a bonus, my volunteering work has enabled me to strengthen key legal skills like client interviewing and evidence preparation.
Do you find volunteering work significant, impactful or rewarding? If so, why?
The work as a volunteer with RAILS has the ability to influence whether someone gets to stay in Australia where they are safe, or be returned to a country where they are not – I don’t think it gets any more impactful or rewarding than that!