Enhance your practice while you give back – the win-win of volunteering

Pro bono is an established feature of the legal industry and many individuals do their bit by volunteering with a community legal centre.

Caxton Legal Centre provides free legal and social work help for people who are disadvantaged and on a low income and is currently in need of volunteer lawyers, particularly in the field of employment law.

To get on board as a Caxton volunteer visit Caxton Legal Centre’s website and register for the forthcoming information sessions. You can also call Caxton Legal Centre on (07) 3214 6333 if you wish to discuss volunteering.

Ellie Bassingthwaite, currently an associate at Hall Payne Lawyers, is a longtime volunteer at Caxton Legal Centre. Ellie shares the benefits of volunteering and what the role entails below.

What do you get out of volunteering at Caxton Legal Centre?

While I would like to think my motivation to volunteer at Caxton has always been 100% altruistic, this is probably not entirely truthful. When I first started volunteering at Caxton, it was in part due to a desire to improve my skills as a lawyer by forcing myself into situations where I could be called on to answer any number of questions, from across my practice area, with limited advanced notice. Although this may sound daunting for a junior lawyer, the supervisors that oversee the employment law session are exceptionally knowledgeable, always approachable and only too happy to provide the guidance needed to ensure that clients get the best advice possible. In those early days, I never left a volunteer session without having learned something new.

Now, a few more years later and a little bit wiser, I still enjoy speaking to people who would not have the opportunity to have their questions answered or their concerns addressed, but for the service provided by Caxton. The collegiate nature of the employment law sessions and the opportunity to discuss unique and complex legal questions with solicitors from a variety of firms and backgrounds, is also a feature that keeps me coming back.

What does a typical volunteer shift look like?

Volunteers usually arrive around 6.00pm and have an opportunity to review the client list for conflicts before selecting matters that may be of interest to them. Gone are the days spent writing up file notes by hand, on carbon paper, around a communal table – we now have laptops and refurbished offices within which to speak to our clients and type up the summaries of our advices. Volunteers usually speak with 1-3 clients in an evening, and there is always a chance to discuss the advice provided with colleagues, prior to it being checked and sent out to the client for their records. While late nights are sometimes required, they are far and away the exception rather than the norm.

What is your advice to someone considering volunteering?

Caxton have been so accommodating of my work and personal commitments, that I would encourage anyone who might have preemptively ruled themselves out as a volunteer to reassess, as Caxton will find a way to put your skills and experience to use for the benefit of the community, regardless of the time commitment you are able to provide.

The clients of Caxton are almost unfailingly gracious and grateful for the opportunity to speak to someone about their matter, and their appreciation does make the additional couple of hours after work, well worthwhile.

A client recently called Caxton following the receipt of advice from Ellie the night before. She provided the feedback:  

“I am so grateful you were able to fit me in with only a day’s notice. All the advice Ellie gave me was very useful in my conciliation today. I was able to receive [$amount withheld] and I wouldn’t have done it without Ellie and Caxton’s assistance. Thank you so much – I am extremely grateful.”