I volunteered at the Personal Support Unit for about a year while studying law and before beginning my job as a paralegal.
Through volunteering at the Personal Support Unit, I gained plenty of face to face experience with clients. This was incredibly useful for developing my communication skills. I also became familiar with various court forms and gained a valuable insight into the legal process. Beyond these points, I gained an awareness of legal issues faced by people representing themselves. I find this awareness to be one of the most important things I have taken away from my volunteering.
When I met Sue, she was very anxious. She was worried about the possibility of seeing her abusive ex-husband. She was also scared of the prospect of being made to travel back to her ex-husband’s home country, where she feared he may have arranged for someone to hurt her. However, Sue was also hopeful that she could obtain a better outcome - she just needed the support to achieve it.
The hearing was about the financial settlement Sue was supposed to receive following the divorce. She had previously signed an agreement drawn up by her ex-husband's legal team that required her to travel to another country to complete a separation in that jurisdiction in order to receive the money she was owed. She told me that she had signed this agreement without fully understanding its terms and under pressure from her ex-husband's legal team.
I listened to Sue explain her situation, and describe how she felt, and her thoughts on what a suitable compromise to resolve the problem might be. After this I helped her prepare for the hearing. We talked through the points she wanted to raise to the judge and wrote them down in clear and concise words. I agreed to help her stay on track with these points during the hearing by quietly signalling to her if she skipped over anything.
During our preparation, her ex-husband's legal team came to speak to us to try to reach an agreement prior to the hearing. Sue explained her compromise to the legal team. They replied that they did not understand her or what she was trying to achieve. I reassured her that she was making sense and helped her to reiterate her thoughts to the legal team. After this discussion, the legal team went to consult with the ex-husband.
In the hearing, the judge agreed that Sue’s compromise would be a good way to resolve the issue and ordered a document to be drawn up that would give effect to it.
With support, Sue had been able to prepare her notes, allowing her to speak with confidence and clarity during the hearing. With reassurance through the pre-hearing discussion with her ex-husband's legal team, she was able to reach a more favourable agreement. As a result, her demeanour was much more positive and she felt optimistic about the future.