Issue 3- 5 May 2021
Wednesday, 05 May 2021
Charles Darwin University
CDU student Jared O’Neill is set to graduate from his Bachelor of Laws degree. He was awarded a four-year Bachelor of Laws Scholarship from The Department of the Attorney-General and Justice.
CDU student Jared O’Neill is set to graduate from his Bachelor of Laws degree. He was awarded a four-year Bachelor of Laws Scholarship from The Department of the Attorney-General and Justice.

Encouraging more Aboriginal people into the legal profession

Charles Darwin University is encouraging more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into the law in the Northern Territory.

CDU’s College of Business and Law’s Indigenous Pre-Law and Mentoring Program is held each year to enable participants to find out more about studying law and to equip them with foundational skills and experience.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lawyers make up just two per cent of lawyers out of 533 practitioners in the Top End. They make up roughly 30 per cent of the population in the NT and are significantly over-represented across the justice system.

CDU student Jared O’Neill’s journey into university has been a long but inspiring one.

Mr O’Neill is a proud Arrente Caytetye man from Darwin. His grandmother is a child of the Stolen Generation who grew up in Alice Springs before being taken to Melville Island and later moved to Darwin where the family settled.

Despite not receiving the marks he was hoping for in his final year of high school, Jared persevered enrolling in CDU’s Tertiary Enabling Program (TEP) until he was eligible for university.

“I just kept pushing forward with it despite the obstacles,” Mr O’Neill said.

His interest in law started in high school and he credits watching his older brother’s journey into university as a way that he discovered the process himself.

In 2017, he was awarded a four-year Bachelor of Laws Scholarship from The Department of the Attorney-General and Justice (DAGJ) designed to support an Indigenous student in the Territory.

While Jared initially had some setbacks in his academics, he recently received all his grades as a ‘Distinction’ and has just six units left before he completes his degree. He is expected to graduate in semester two this year.

“The scholarship has been a real opener for me being able to go on placements and having great exposure – its been the best decision I’ve ever made, its opened doors and been a real stepping stone,” he said.

“My story shows that you have to just keep persevering, if you have a passion in something go after it.”

He wants other young indigenous kids to know that a career in law is possible and achievable if they’re given knowledge of how to go about it.

“It can be very intimidating for young indigenous kids attempting to go into university, but they really just need the support and the how to of the right pathways,” he said.

“There are systemic issues why indigenous people may not want to get into law, they feel intimidated like they may not be smart enough or good enough to get into law, or they may have families that have been in contact with the criminal justice sector.”

He plans on staying and working as a lawyer in Darwin and has a keen interest in commercial litigation and medical negligence. Through his studies and the scholarship, he has also completed placements and internships interstate with legal firm Allen’s and Pinsent Masons in Melbourne.

As a part of these internships he had the opportunity to work with legal firms on attracting more indigenous lawyers from the Top End into interstate firms.

He credits the scholarship as well as the support he received from his family, peers at university, his mentors, The Clontarf Foundation, and the Bilata Legal Pathways Program for his success.

“Seeing other indigenous success stories in the Territory motivated me to what is possible, and I hope that my story encourages others that they can do it too.”

Charles Darwin University Indigenous Pre-Law Enabling Program Coordinator, Dr Guzyal Hill said indigenous people are grossly underrepresented in both studying and practicing law in the NT.

“Having indigenous peoples working, advocating and representing their people in the justice field is essential,” Dr Guzyal said.

“Jared’s success is a testament to his determination and focus to succeed – he’s already making plans for his future career in law when he graduates later this year.”

Department of the Attorney-General and Justice (DAGJ) Director, Legal Services Coordination, Robyn Miller-Smith said the scholarship was supporting access into law for indigenous students.

“We recognise that good outcomes for Aboriginal Territorians will come through working in partnerships with local organisations and the higher education sector to encourage more aboriginal students into the legal profession.”

“This is a real success story – we are absolutely thrilled with how Jared is progressing, and we will continue to mentor and support him as he progresses through his studies.”