Issue 1
Monday, 04 March 2019
Charles Darwin University
E-news
Community Legal Educator for the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, James Parfitt-Fejo and CDU law Lecturer Ben Grimes are mentoring young Indigenous people through their legal training
Community Legal Educator for the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, James Parfitt-Fejo and CDU law Lecturer Ben Grimes are mentoring young Indigenous people through their legal training

CDU helping Indigenous people into legal career

Sixteen young Indigenous people recently had their first taste of what it’s like to be a lawyer thanks to an innovative CDU program designed to boost the number of Indigenous lawyers.

With Indigenous people making up only five per cent of CDU Law students, and only seven Indigenous practising lawyers in the Territory out of about 500 legal professionals, the university is playing its part to boost numbers.

CDU has brought back a highly successful program from 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 it a shot in the current context,” Mr Grimes 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.

Participants in this year’s program came from all over the Territory and ranged in age and life experience from Year 12 school leavers through to one participant who was aged in her 60s.

Georgia Costello, 19, said she found the course intensive – but in a good way.

“It’s been intense, but it’s been really good. I’ve learnt a lot and you don’t actually realise until you are sitting a test or you have work in front of you that you realise how much you’ve learnt,” Georgia said,

“I think it is important that Indigenous people get into the law so that you can be a role model for younger Indigenous people. I think it’s important that they see people who are like them are in the law so they aren’t so scared.” 

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.

“This year’s participants are now as well prepared as possible for formal study, having gained some intensive exposure to how to think like a lawyer, research and construct arguments, and how to present their arguments,” Mr Grimes said.

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 funded 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,” he said.