Volunteering is a useful way to widen your network and build your professional skills, often while adding value to a worthwhile cause. Volunteering can take place at virtually any organisation, however many volunteering positions will be for charitable organisations, like the Cancer Council, or social justice and public interest causes, such as RACS (Refugees Advice and Casework Service) and other non-profits.
Difference between a volunteer and an employee or intern
While a volunteer is not an employee, nor are they paid, the standard occupational health and safety procedures do apply to volunteers. Volunteers are entitled to be treated with a standard of care that would ordinarily be applied to any employee, contractor or intern. Volunteers do not have the structured programs that employees have, in that they are not entitled to paid leave, superannuation, workers’ compensation, national employment standards and unfair dismissal laws. However likewise, volunteers do not have the obligations that employees, contractors and interns may have – such as the legally enforceable obligation to provide services or time restraints as per the volunteer arrangement.
The difference between volunteering and interning can be a little more blurred. Through the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, the most apparent difference is that interns have a more structured program to follow. Interns also, especially when interning for larger companies, often do get some remuneration for their work whereas volunteers hardly ever do (reimbursement notwithstanding).
Places that offer volunteering programs
Volunteering programs are offered by many different types of organisations, from very small to international organisations, including (but not limited to):
- Amnesty International
- Arts Law Centre of Australia
- Australian Pro Bono Centre
- World Food Programme
- Community Legal Centres
- United Nations Young Professionals Programme
Length of the programs
Volunteering programs as usually run on a needs basis, this means that there are often less structured dates within which they are conducted. This is extremely beneficial for students as the opportunities are available year round, rather than within a certain time frame. Some volunteering programs are structured similarly to seasonal clerkships, in that they span full-time over a seasonal period (these are mostly volunteering positions in larger or international organisations) or they can run for single days or events. To keep up with the available volunteering positions as they arise, please click here for the LegalVitae jobs board.
Program structure and aims – overview
The aim of volunteering programs is to help students get practical experience while making contributions to various public interest and social justice causes. The structure depends on the type of volunteering that you are interested in. International opportunities are often a lot more structured, with specific set dates and a schedule that is to be followed. International volunteering programs like the ones by the United Nations and 40K have formal induction dates, followed by team-building exercises.
Work on offer
There are many different kinds of work on offer when volunteering, ranging from basic administrative work to creative campaigns. The benefits of volunteering, especially at non-profits and/or social justice organisations is that the work can be varied and interesting, often branching out beyond strictly legal work. The legal work available could include:
- Performing legal and factual research
- Drafting, summarising and proofreading legal documents
- Preparing correspondence, written reports and performing records research
- Liaising with a diverse pool of clients
- Answering simple legal queries for clients
- Organising and tracking case files
- Writing clients memos
- Recording meetings and drafting daily correspondence including letters and legal documents
- Assisting in the preparation of matters for hearings, meeting and alternative dispute resolution
Details on rotations
Volunteering positions will generally not have any rotations, unlike clerkships and internships, simply because there is a less structured approach to work. However if you are embarking on an international volunteering program you may be required to rotate through a number of different departments or fields.
Volunteering positions are unpaid, with the aim to provide experience and future opportunities over remuneration. This is uniform over most volunteering positions from small local organisations to larger, multinationals like the United Nations. Despite the lack of wages, volunteering positions will usually reimburse their volunteers in some form, whether it is transportation, accommodation or other costs of living and working.
For more information
From 2017 onward, students and employers will have the chance to connect more systematically and discover more on internships, volunteer positions and similar opportunities via LegalVitae.