The program aims to increase the number of Aboriginal people working in the law
Legal Aid NSW has announced that the inaugural cohort of the Aboriginal Legal Career Pathways Program recently celebrated their graduation, potentially increasing the number of Aboriginal people working in the law.
The program is a product of the collaboration between Legal Aid NSW, vocational education and training provider TAFE NSW, and Macquarie University. Under the program, students take a path from TAFE study to a law degree while working in a support role at Legal Aid NSW.
Eighteen students graduated after completing a legal services qualification and work experience at Legal Aid NSW. Monique Hitter, CEO of Legal Aid NSW, emphasised the program's potential impact on the justice system, particularly for the 23 per cent of Legal Aid clients who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Hitter expressed optimism about the program's ability to enhance services for Aboriginal clients.
"I cannot overstate the importance of this program and the potential that it has for us to serve our Aboriginal clients better and to elevate Aboriginal voices in the justice system," Hitter said.
After graduating, participants could continue to a Graduate Certificate of Law at Macquarie University. In addition, graduates could further their legal education by continuing to a Juris Doctor degree.
Simone Roberts, a program graduate and Gadigal woman, said she plans to continue through the program pathway to become a solicitor. "Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been in trouble with the law, and if I can prevent that and help by defending them and helping them know their rights, then that's great," she said.
The program was recently named a finalist in the Premier's Awards. It aims to address Aboriginal underrepresentation in the sector, especially considering recent research suggesting that only 0.8% of solicitors in Australia identified as First Nations.
Yuin and Bidjigal woman Kimberley Wilson, director of Aboriginal services at Legal Aid NSW, said the program supports Aboriginal career opportunities.
"The program empowers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to access employment pathways, including education and training, that aligns with their aspirations, which is a key priority of Closing the Gap," Wilson said.
Honorary associate professor Uncle Boe Rambaldini from Macquarie University highlighted the importance of education for Aboriginal individuals, describing it as a means to not only create opportunities but also to inspire others.
"When our people complete education, it not only opens up opportunities for them but also shows others what's possible," Rambaldini said. "Education enables our people to lead our services. And this is how we close the gap. I am so proud of these students for completing their studies and look forward to seeing what they do next."
TAFE NSW chief delivery officer Janet Schorer congratulated the graduates for their efforts throughout the program. "Initiatives like the Aboriginal Legal Career Pathways program are a great way to transition from education and training into employment and tailor graduate's skills and experience to meet employer's needs," Schorer said.