Queensland has 34 not-for-profit community legal centres 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.
QLS Proctor is featuring some of the many selfless members of the profession who regularly give back to their local communities.
Joelene Nel – Associate Director at McLoughlins Lawyers, Burleigh Heads
What do you get out of volunteering at Women’s Legal Service?
As a family lawyer who works in private practice, I see too many clients (mostly women) whose situations are dire and are in need of legal assistance but, unfortunately, cannot afford the cost of a private lawyer.
Giving my time and sharing my legal knowledge through Women’s Legal Service Queensland (WLSQ), allows me an opportunity to directly, practically and immediately assist some of the most vulnerable members of our community, particularly when they are faced with not only the emotional difficulties of a separation, but with the added trauma of domestic violence.
As a woman and a mother myself, being involved in acting against domestic violence sends a message to my children, family and friends that I take this issue seriously and that as a community we need to each do what we can to stop domestic violence.
WLSQ also provides a great sense of collegiality through various initiatives – be they professional development, networking events or fundraisers. In 2019 my daughter and I climbed the 1040 steps in the ‘River to Rooftop’ fundraiser and were able to contribute over $500 to WLSQ – what a fun way to educate others about the work WLSQ does and to raise much needed money.
What does a typical volunteer shift look like?
The remote volunteering through WLSQ is extremely well organised and well run. There is access to an online portal where you can choose and allocate your shifts (normally a minimum of two hours at a time). A day or two before your shift has been allocated, you will receive the intake document outlining brief facts about the matter and the details of the clients with whom you will be speaking.
On the day of your shift, you normally have three clients to speak to within those two hours. This gives you time to have about a 30-minute chat with each client and then complete the online form. Once the online form has been completed, you then upload it to the portal and can give instructions to WLSQ staff for any follow-up calls, referrals or action items which may be necessary.
I can do all of this from the comfort of my office or home, which means I don’t lose valuable time having to travel anywhere, pay for parking or get stuck in traffic! Dealing with WLSQ is always efficient and pleasant, and on the occasion when I have had to cancel or rearrange my shift due to work or personal commitments, they are very understanding.
What is your advice to someone considering volunteering?
In the 2019-2020 financial year, the rural, regional and remote telephone line gave advice to 238 clients. The state-wide helpline answered 10,459 calls. Despite the significant number of calls being answered, 30% of calls still go unanswered.
Domestic violence is a matter that affects everyone – in our workplaces, schools, communities, and families. It is a complex issue with devastating impacts and I believe that there is a responsibility on those who can take action, to do so.
In some small way, I feel that my volunteering makes an immediate and sometimes significant difference to the trauma being faced by the clients I speak to. Whilst the work can, at times, be emotionally challenging, I always try and shift my thinking to understand just how difficult it may be for the families in those situations.
I would encourage anyone who meets the criteria to engage in volunteering with WLSQ. For me, there is a deep sense of personal satisfaction in knowing that I have been able to directly help a woman who is experiencing domestic violence.
If you are unable to volunteer, or don’t meet the criteria, I would then encourage you to contact WLSQ to see how else you can get involved and support the work they do. As a society, we must remember ‘the standard you walk past, is the standard you accept’.
For more information about Women’s Legal Service Queensland, visit the website.