Last Thursday night I was at the Robina Community Legal Centre (RCLC) where I have been a volunteer lawyer since it opened its doors 4 or so years ago. On my drive home, I had a chance to reflect on not only what pro bono work gives to people in need, but what I as a lawyer get in return.
The first 12 years of my career were in the public or publicly funded sectors, so I am no stranger to seeing people in desperate need of legal assistance. I feel privileged to have given those people a voice and advocated on their behalf. But the work I do now is largely privately funded and the needs of my clients are somewhat different. RCLC not only brings me back down to earth once a month, but it reminds me why I became a lawyer in the first place. To give back. To help people.
The RCLC is an unfunded organisation providing quality legal advice to well over 1000 people every year. It relies solely on donations and is almost entirely run by lawyers and law students volunteering their time and experience to Gold Coast residents who may not otherwise have had access to justice. Our clients are incredibly vulnerable and the 20 minutes we give them is often life changing.
But I can honestly say with my hand on my heart, that it is never a chore to volunteer at the RCLC. The return for volunteer lawyers and law students is far greater than you can imagine. Here are my top three reasons to embrace pro bono work and support your local Community Legal Centre.
- Moral and professional responsibility
Whilst getting through law is no walk in the park, we are incredibly privileged to hold the knowledge and experience we do. Knowledge that has the effect of changing peoples lives for the better. Information that should be shared with those who cannot and will never be able to afford it.
For example, I know how to navigate the law and procedure around domestic violence in Queensland. I am often paid to do so. However, hundreds of people who walk through the doors of the RCLC every year do not have these skills but are in desperate need of them. In fact, they don’t even know where to start or what form they should fill in. The consequences of which could possibly result in financial hardship, homelessness, violence and in extreme cases, death. Like other volunteers at the RCLC, I feel it is my moral and professional duty to share this knowledge given the circumstances. The stakes are too high if we do not.
2. Collegiality and collaboration
Let’s face it, we lawyers aren’t always collegial. In fact, by nature of our professional we are quite an adversarial bunch. Often butting heads with each other in and out of court. However, when we are at the RCLC our roles are different. We are a united front with a common purpose. We are a team. We collaborate, lean on our colleagues strengths and often take a multidisciplinary approach to finding the best solution for our clients.
I count some of the volunteers at the RCLC as my closest friends. Our ethics and reasons for practice in law are aligned. They are good people who give their time to people in need. They are people I want to work with and people I enjoy spending time with. Win win!
3. It makes you happier
With depression being a significant risk factor for lawyers and law students it is vital that we inject happiness into our lives and into our careers. In our profession burnout is prevalent, stress and anxiety are endemic and many leave the profession as a consequence.
Jerome Doraisamy, lawyer and author of ‘The Wellness Doctrines’, reminds us that we are people first and lawyers second. It is so important to remind ourselves of this on a daily basis.
I, like most of the volunteers at the RCLC, walk out of the advice session on a Thursday evening feeling genuinely uplifted. Despite the gravity of what I may have dealt with and despite the exhaustion I am feeling after a long day. The impact on peoples lives, the gratitude they have shown us and incredible work we do at the RCLC, is priceless.
We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give. Winston Churchill
I urge you to contact your local Community Legal Centre and volunteer your time in 2018. It is a gift to yourself, as well as to others.