Vollie vox: Julia Lim
Julia, can you tell us about your role?
I’ve been volunteering as a Client Intake Officer (CIO) at the MLC front desk since mid-2020, which mainly involves being the first point-of-contact for anyone who contacts the centre seeking legal advice or assistance. As a CIO, I’ll speak with a client to determine whether we are able to assist with their matter, while asking questions to acquire key details about the issue.
We will make referrals when appropriate, but otherwise, if MLC has the capacity to assist, I’ll ensure that any relevant information is summarised as succinctly as possible for the intake notes, which will be referred to by the solicitor who is advising the client.
Our role as a volunteer is essentially to form a bridge between a client and the legal advice they need. Once we have placed a client on the relevant service’s callback list or booked an appointment for them, it’s therefore also our role to make sure that our intake notes are clear in communicating any of the client’s questions, requests, or concerns.
Why do you volunteer at Marrickville Legal Centre?
Things are always busy at MLC, which means that there is lots to do, with no two intakes being the same. As a volunteer, I appreciate being kept on my toes since there’s always more to assist with and learn from in each shift.
Volunteering at MLC also allows me to see how the law—which as students we mostly see through lecture slides and textbook pages—actually applies in various real-life situations, which is invaluable in widening my perspectives and understanding of the legal system as a whole.
I personally also appreciate the energy and efficiency that comes from working within the team at MLC. Yes, volunteers are given space and independence in terms of how they would like to communicate with a client and complete intakes, but we are also never made to feel that we need to deal with any given matter alone. Volunteers often ask each other questions, the Client Intake Supervisors provide guidance, and we can also ask the solicitors if we’re unsure about how to approach a certain issue.
This strong sense of collaboration stood out to me from day one, as everyone at MLC is ultimately working towards the common purpose of improving access to justice in our community. I’ve been grateful to be able to meet and work with so many wonderful people during my time here.
What do you love most about your role?
Although I’m certainly aware that there’s only so much I can do as one volunteer in each shift, I nevertheless love how in my role, every shift is an opportunity to help people in our community. The law and legal procedures are endlessly complex—no person should have to navigate that without guidance, or to feel that they’ve been left in the dark. Even if all I can do within my capacity is to point a client in the right direction through a referral, I’m grateful how being a CIO allows me to support someone in the journey towards resolving their legal issue.
Volunteering at MLC allows me to see how the law—which as students we mostly see through lecture slides and textbook pages—actually applies in various real-life situations, which is invaluable in widening my perspectives and understanding of the legal system as a whole.
What is a typical day like for you?
I’ll arrive at my shift and start by logging into any websites and tabs which will be referred to during the shift. This preparation is super helpful in ensuring that I can easily access key information, which in turn means I can (hopefully) assist clients as effectively and efficiently as possible over the phone.
Alongside four or so volunteers each shift, I’ll speak to people over the phone who have reached out to MLC. Given the high volume of calls received by the centre—especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic—these days this mostly involves returning voicemails or following up on submitted web enquiries. With the assistance of the Client Intake Supervisor on shift, as well as MLC solicitors when required, I’ll triage and refer client’s matters as appropriate.
Once the process has been thoroughly repeated for a few intakes, before we know it, the morning shift ends and volunteers who are free will also grab lunch together! In terms of food options, we’re gratefully spoilt for choice in Marrickville.
What skills from law school have been most useful for you in this role?
Although it’s by no means one I’ve fully mastered, the skill of writing concisely and honing down to key details is one which has been drilled into me throughout law school. When writing intake notes, this is a skill that is useful in summarising information that has been provided by a client over the phone.
A broad sense of familiarity with the structure of our legal system and the differing categories of substantive law is also useful when completing intakes. Even though as volunteers we obviously cannot provide any legal advice, having a contextual or general understanding of the legal issues involved makes it easier when structuring intake notes and asking relevant questions to clients.
What have been the key highlights of your experience? What have been the most fulfilling parts?
I’ve already mentioned this, but I definitely can’t skip the highlight of meeting so many lovely people during my MLC shifts over the past two years! The volunteers or MLC solicitors that I’ve worked with have all been super friendly, willing to help when needed, and really generous with their time.
Personally, I have also found it really fulfilling whenever clients thank me for taking the time to listen, or for helping out with their matter. A particular highlight was when one client was kind enough to email positive feedback through to the centre to express their gratitude—it was reassuring to hear that I had been able to carry out my role well!
Everyone at MLC is ultimately working towards the common purpose of improving access to justice in our community.
What advice do you have for people who want to volunteer in a community legal centre?
Although I can only speak based on my time at MLC, I am sure it holds for any CLC that volunteering is an incredibly valuable experience. You don’t even need to know which future path you want to take in law—volunteering is incredibly fulfilling in itself, and if anything it’s made me approach the law with an even more open-minded perspective. I would say to not hesitate and absolutely go for it!
Do you want to join Marrickville Legal Centre’s frontline support as a volunteer? You can get involved in administration, law, client intake and governance.