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.
Thomas Allen – criminal law Senior Associate at Armstrong Legal and Caxton Legal Centre volunteer
What motivated you to become a CLC volunteer?
Initially, for me, it was a way to find my professional self again. I had moved from England in 2012 and been required by the Admissions Board to undertake several law degree units and half of the PLT course. Whilst doing those, I was fortunate to be given work as a ‘law clerk’. That was in the areas of Administrative and Civil Litigation law. My background was one of Criminal Law. After being admitted, volunteering at Caxton enabled me to rediscover my skills in providing practical advice to people in need and pick up new information about criminal and traffic law in Queensland in its practical application. It also provided a ‘family’ that felt reminiscent of the atmosphere in my workplace in England. Now, it’s a way of repaying the welcome and giving something to the wider Queensland community that I have joined. Caxton is boundlessly grateful and accommodating.
What does your volunteering role involve?
Arrive at some time from 6:00pm. I’m usually running late as my day job is hectic. Immediately get handed a client intake form with some rough indication of what it’s about, grab pen and paper and meet with the person. Usually, it’s easy to identify the issue and what can be done. It’s often harder to explain how the court process for criminal/traffic charges will unfold for them in straightforward terms. Reduce half-an-hour or more of explanations to a piece of short typed advice. Repeat as many times as necessary until finished. Go home. Fall asleep. Go to work the next day. The supervisor for my shifts is wonderful. The volunteer students couldn’t be more helpful.
What do you most enjoy about volunteering?
Helping people in need regardless of ability to pay and the camaraderie amongst staff.
What have you gained – personally and professionally – from volunteering at a CLC?
If you genuinely want to give of your knowledge and expertise – just do it. There are people out there placed in positions that cause them great stress and anxiety. They often need fairly basic advice to arm them with enough knowledge and information to regain some control and make decisions. Those you help are usually very grateful because you have given them a little power over a problem in their life.
Do you find volunteering work significant, impactful or rewarding? If so, why?
It provides a small measure of access to justice which is a topic that causes me great concern. This is often spoken of in grand terms but has the most impact in seemingly small impediments to individuals in situations of fear and anxiety. Arming ordinary people with information to make decisions is the most basic access to justice. Having been welcomed to the community, this is a way of contributing as a thank you of sorts.