"Just a really great chance to offer your specialised skills as a lawyer in a really impactful way" - FLAC celebrates National Volunteer Week 2019
14 May 2019
Interview with Susie Kiely- FLAC Volunteer Advisor
Susie is currently a solicitor with Kennedys and previously worked in KOD Lyons in immigration and asylum and various other human rights cases. In her spare time, Susie enjoys yoga and watching movies!
What clinics do you volunteer at and what type of cases do you do?
So I started as a FLAC assistant in the North King Street clinic, and then when I qualified, I became an advisor in immigration law. At the time, I was working in KOD Lyons in immigration and asylum and various different other human rights-based cases.
After this, I moved into Kennedys firm and I now do general clinics in Crumlin, North King Street, Pearse Street and Rathmines. I believe that in order to be assisting or advising in immigration law you really need to be working in that area as it is very dependent on the reaction by the Department of Justice and the law moves quite quickly in this area.
What did you know about FLAC before you started?
Through my masters (in International Human Rights Law) I had learned a bit about FLAC and I had signed up to the PILA bulletin as well.
How did you find out about the clinics? What made you volunteer?
I primarily wanted to continue my human rights experience. My background wasn’t really in law, I did arts and then I did the FE1s and got a traineeship.
I thought it was just a really great chance to offer your specialised skills as a lawyer in a really impactful way. It’s also a really fantastic way of developing knowledge in aspects of the law that you may not get a chance to practice in or may not have heard of before, like family law or probate law.
What is the most rewarding aspect of advising at the clinics?
Clinics can be tough as you often deal with people who are very upset and in a very dark place in their life and you really want to offer them the most solid advice that you can, but as the clinic is in a general capacity you might not know the law in that area .
I found this daunting at the beginning, as you feel like you’re not offering the best advice, but as you go on, you realize that people need guidance and you reaffirm the idea that FLAC is a signposting agency. I found that once you understand that, you realise that you can offer a good route rather than offering exactly what the individual needs to do, and help them figure out the next step. It becomes easier to trust your own capabilities as you gain more experience.
It is really rewarding when you’re giving someone a bit of hope and especially some people who haven’t had the best encounters with the legal profession and are often distrustful [at the beginning]. It’s great when they actually see this is a service tailored to offer support and someone who cares how they’re doing. It can be really rewarding to just have a chat.
It’s a nice change from offering corporate entities corporate advice, you’re offering human beings sound advice.
What is the most challenging aspect of advising at clinics?
As the nature of FLAC is that you are meeting people that can be quite vulnerable, you need to be ready for what might happen. You meet a lot of people such as single mums at their wits end, or elderly people who are nervous of their wills or similar situations. The personal stories can be very saddening and it is difficult although you do offer a shoulder as well as legal advice, which is a really rewarding aspect. You learn to deal with the stories that are challenging and it’s very rewarding to see people come in sad or in difficulty and leave on a positive note.
What would you say to anyone thinking of volunteering?
I think everyone should definitely do it. There is an element of privilege associated with the law and it sometimes can just seem to be people from certain backgrounds who end up doing Law. We live in a society where homelessness is on the rise and everyone is taking stock of this - it’s also a really good way of offering your training that you’ve had the privilege of receiving, and giving back to the people who weren’t as fortunate as you in accessing that education, and it is really fulfilling.
In a practical sense, it is really good for honing your legal skills and continuing your knowledge in different areas of law, not just what you’re practicing in at the moment. Overall, FLAC really is a great service, you feel really good doing it and you do feel part of a community. All the people involved in FLAC are so nice and everyone is part of the bigger picture. It is really just a great service to be involved in.