On the job as CEO of the National Association of Community Legal Centres

Nassim Arrage studied Science/Law degree and is now CEO of the National Association of Community Legal Centres.
Jaymes Carr
Jaymes Carr
Team GradAustralia
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What is your role?

I am the CEO of the National Association of Community Legal Centres.

What did you study?

I studied a combined Science/Law degree and graduated in 1998.

Where did you grow up and go to school?

I grew up in Sydney, where my family moved around a bit – we lived in Campsie till I was about 5 and then Villawood until I was about 8. Afterwards, my parents bought a business in the eastern suburbs and so that is where I got the opportunity to go to Sydney Boys High School.

What was your path from school to work like?

When I finished school, I went straight on to university. From university, I went straight on to complete my practical legal training. I was lucky enough to get a paid role at the UTS Community Law and Legal Research Centre in a community liaison and volunteer management role. I worked there for a year before I decided that what I needed was an opportunity to spread my wings and travel overseas, where I lived in a number of different countries for almost four years.

What did you learn from your travels?

What really struck me were the different social conditions and different quality of life that each country provided. I also was very interested in the different approaches taken to meet (or not) the needs of people who are socially and economically disadvantaged.

What was it like looking for work in Sydney after four years of travel?

I came back home to Sydney in late 2003, a weary traveller, and finding a job as a lawyer was tough. Fortunately, I was able to take up a position as non-lawyer advocate at a tenants advice service, providing advice and representation to people who rent. This was an excellent opportunity for me to learn how to apply law to people’s every day legal problems. I also learnt the importance of negotiation and advocacy.

After 2 years, I applied for and was appointed as a solicitor at the Tenants Union of NSW – a specialist community legal centre that provided legal advice and ran test cases for people who rent in NSW. And then about 2 year later, I became Principal Solicitor at Marrickville Legal Centre, a community legal centre that covers a huge area including the inner west and southern Sydney where more than 1.5 million people live.

Since then I have worked at 2 other community legal centres and just 3 months ago I became CEO at the National Association of Community Legal Centres, which is the national peak for more than 190 services across Australia that provide free legal services to their local communities.

What does your role involve?

As the CEO, I have a lot of different “roles’, including implementing the strategic goals of the organisation, hiring and managing staff, keeping on top of the finances, talking to the media, government and other partner organisations.

Could somebody with a different academic or professional background do your job?

You don’t need to be a lawyer to do this job but knowledge of the community legal sector and what it takes to run a legal practice is important. I think what is really important in this job is being organised, keeping an eye on the strategic direction and good relationship building and communication skills.

What do you like most about your job?

I really enjoy the parts of my job that are showcasing the amazing work that community legal centres do around Australia, seeing the innovation that happens in models of service delivery that are designed to meet the legal needs of people who otherwise would not have access to justice system.

What is the main limitation of your job?

The main limitation of my work is a shortage of resources – we are constantly looking for ways to do more work with less money.

Which three pieces of advice would you give myself if you could go back in time?

  1. Try out different things – if you keep an open mind, you might be surprised at what you will like.
  2. Don’t underestimate your own ability to influence and change the people and world around you.
  3. Find people you respect and admire and learn what you can from them.

 Learn more about working in this field, jump to community sector or the professional bodies.