Issue 10
Monday, 03 December 2018
Charles Darwin University
E-news
The law beckons: (from left) May Mooka, Erica Harvey, Law Lecturer Ben Grimes, Kacie Winsley and Tamara Espie at this year’s Pre-Law Course
The law beckons: (from left) May Mooka, Erica Harvey, Law Lecturer Ben Grimes, Kacie Winsley and Tamara Espie at this year’s Pre-Law Course

CDU helping Indigenous people into legal career

By Jon Taylor

CDU is working with the legal fraternity to help boost the number of Indigenous lawyers.

With Indigenous people making up only five per cent of CDU law students, and about two per cent of practising lawyers in the Northern Territory, the university is playing its part to boost numbers.

CDU has brought back a highly successful program in the 1990s that not only encouraged Indigenous students to consider a legal career but also provided a pathway into the law for those who might be mature aged or without Year 12 results.

The four-week Pre-Law Program has been driven by Law Lecturer Ben Grimes, who joined the university with the ambition of re-introducing the program that worked so well nearly 20 years ago.

“We have precious few practising Indigenous lawyers in the Territory and the ones we do have all attended this program in the ’90s and attest to its benefits. It seemed compelling evidence that the program brought benefits that made it well worth giving a shot in the current context,” he said.

The current form of the project is run in January and is an intensive four weeks, but with a high level of practical legal experiences and site visits.

“The benefit of running a course such as this in Darwin is that everything is so close, physically and in relationship terms. Our Law School at CDU is very close to the legal profession and the legal system generally,” Mr Grimes said.

“At the Pre-Law course this year, the seven participants got to run mock proceedings in front of then Supreme Court Chief Justice, Trevor Riley, meet Members of Parliament and speak with those who administer the justice system such as representatives from the Department of Justice and Attorney-General.

“We get great support from our local legal practitioners, which gives participants a chance to ask questions directly to people working in legal fields ranging from legal aid through to liquor licensing,” he said.   

The course aims to help potential students make an informed decision on whether a legal career is for them and serves as an assessment process for participants who may not possess the usually required educational achievements.

“So, upon completion, we think participants are as well prepared as possible for formal study and already have a peer group when they commence their under-graduate studies,” Mr Grimes said.

“This can be particularly useful because the first few months of studying law can be a bit confronting. Having a ready-made peer group for support can make a real difference.”

The Pre-Law course is run as part of CDU’s Indigenous Pre-Law and Mentoring Program and is funded with the help of the NT Law Society Public Purposes Trust and scholarships paid for by local law firms and legal people.

Mr Grimes said one of the strengths of the program was the support of the local legal profession, both in terms of funding and making their time and expertise available. 

“We all have an interest in getting more Indigenous people into the law, particularly where the Indigenous population is so large. More Indigenous lawyers will lead to Indigenous judges and greater appreciation in the legal process of Indigenous culture and issues,” he said.

For further information about CDU’s Pre-Law course visit W: cdu.edu.au/business-law/law and the Bilata Legal Pathways Program W: bilata.org.au.