Volunteers vital to community legal centres

A survey has found that 95 per cent of community legal centres need to use volunteers to meet demand, a press conference to be held at 10.00am at the Adelaide Hilton will hear today.

The press conference will be held by Community Law Australia national spokesperson Hugh de Kretser, John Corker, Director of the National Pro Bono Resource Centre, and local South Australian community legal centre workers and volunteers.

Volunteers are vital to helping community legal centres meet demand, according to a new report released today by the National Association of Community Legal Centres, “Working collaboratively: community legal centres and volunteers”.

106 community legal centres responded to the national survey, with 95 per cent of centres utilising 3637 volunteers who contributed a total of 8369 hours of work per week.

Mr de Kretser said the overwhelming contribution made by volunteers reinforced the need for increased funding to meet the high demand for accessible legal help.

“Volunteer and pro bono assistance is crucial, but we can’t take it for granted. It’s no substitute for properly funded legal assistance services,” he said.

“Most Australians cannot afford a private lawyer, but when they turn to community legal centres for help, our centres are struggling to see the level of clients that are knocking at their doors.

“Levels of unmet demand are high, especially around vital issues like family violence and employment, and our centres are depending on huge amounts of pro bono and volunteer assistance in order to meet client demand.

“Based on the survey results, we estimate that around 6,000 lawyers, law students and others devote their own time to support the work of 200 community legal centres around the country.

“Volunteers are a vital part of community legal centre service delivery, with a large majority of volunteers working directly with clients and often giving administrative support as well. Volunteers tend to work odd hours, or late into the night as they are often giving up their own time on top of full time work or study.

The report shows:

  • 95 per cent of the 106 survey respondents used volunteers
  • In these centres, 3637 volunteers contributed 8369 hours of work per week
  • 1071 hours per week are spent supervising volunteers and pro bono workers, including checking legal advices and providing feedback or supplementary advice.

“Volunteer and pro bono contributions are vital to our community legal centres – they provide great reciprocal benefit both for volunteers themselves and the centres which use them. Volunteering strengthens service delivery and communities.

“However, even with volunteer assistance, community legal centres are still stretched to meet demand. The survey shows that centres spent 1071 hours per week supervising volunteers, so there’s a strong case to be made around better investment that addresses the issue of demand and capacity to meet it.

“We need a better-funded legal system that provides the capacity to meet demand, and addresses the problem of equal access to legal help in this country.

“Every Australian deserves access to legal help, regardless of their income, social situation, or where they live,” Mr de Kretser said.

National Pro Bono Resource Centre Director John Corker said that legal volunteers have been the lifeblood of community legal centres since their inception, over forty years ago.

“But in order to leverage fully from this support we have learnt over time that it is vital that adequate resources and skills exist within community legal centres to coordinate the best response to legal need in our community,” said Mr Corker.

The press conference will be held in the foyer of the Adelaide Hilton, 233 Victoria Square, at 10.00am Friday 31 August 2012.

Download the survey report (PDF)