Many students volunteer while studying law. Some enjoy the challenge; some just want to keep up with everyone else!
It’s definitely important to build up your practical experience during university. To make the most out of a legal volunteer position, you need to consider why you’re doing it; this makes it easy to find the perfect organisation to help. There are usually two reasons:
- increase your employability; and
- pursue a personal interest.
Volunteer opportunities can increase your employment prospects
Most people who study law want to (eventually) work as a lawyer. Due to the intense competition for graduate level positions, it’s a good idea to be thinking about graduate positions at the beginning of your law degree.
To get a graduate job, you will need to have the skills and characteristics that employers are looking for. Take a look at some job advertisements on LinkedIn or Seek – if you were in an interview, could you provide examples of what they are looking for in the position descriptions?
To increase your employability, find volunteer work that will help you to address these selection criteria.
- if you have never worked with clients before, consider volunteering in a community legal centre where you will be able to sit in on, or run, the client interviews;
- if you need team work experience, consider joining a law student committee;
- leadership skills are commonly required – keep it simple and think of some examples where you might show leadership. Joining a not-for-profit board is one example;
- if academia appeals to you, look for some research roles at university (and if there are none, approach one of your favourite lecturers to discuss).
One valuable aspect of finding opportunities early on in your degree is that you can then evaluate your current skill set and consider what you can do to improve it for the end of your degree. Many students don’t consider this until very late into their studies, by which stage, there might not be enough time to address any issues.
You should be aware that applications for some volunteer positions can be highly competitive. Some popular organisations will have waiting lists so apply early and follow up every few months (for example, some community legal centres have waiting lists of over a year). It can be difficult finding a volunteer position early on, but keep applying and don’t give up.
Volunteer opportunities to pursue a personal interest
This one is much easier. Just figure out what you want to do (you will already have a pretty good idea) and seek out volunteer opportunities based on that.
If you show some initiative you will be surprised at how much easier you will find this process. For example, don’t just wait for a volunteer position to be advertised; consider what you want to do, and then contact the organisation directly. Seriously, just pick up the phone and ask whether there are any positions available. You could even propose an idea and ask if it is possible.
As a student, you have significant leeway to make all kinds of requests, so make use of it while it lasts – organisations will generally be very happy for your interest.
If you can find an opportunity to volunteer somewhere that you are passionate about you will be in a good position to network with people in that field, and if other people notice your interest, you might find that further opportunities become available that you wouldn’t have otherwise known about.
Here are a few links to start your search for a volunteer position.
Community Legal Centre Volunteers – This is a great place to start a search for CLC volunteer opportunities. Click on your state to find a list of all legal centres in your area.
Pro Bono Australia – A place to find both volunteer positions and paid employment in the not for profit sector. Wide range of opportunities here.
Institute of Community Directors – Find volunteer board positions in your community.
Seek Volunteer – I never found this to be that great, but have a look anyway because there are always some really random positions available here!
Google – For everything else.
Some final words
Finding opportunities to work as a volunteer can be an effective way to increase your graduate employment chances by bolstering you skill set and addressing any gaps in your resume. It can also be a great way to follow any personal interests you have. Just remember that it might be difficult to obtain a position at first, but persistence will pay off.
Many organisations have structures in place for volunteer law students, so make use of this while you can.