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Aboriginal Legal Career Pathways program to help Close the Gap in legal sector

A new legal careers program is set to increase the number of skilled and credentialled Aboriginal workforce in the legal sector as a push for more diversity in the profession continues.

user iconLauren Croft 07 August 2023 Big Law
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The Aboriginal Legal Career Pathways program, run by Macquarie University, TAFE NSW and Legal Aid NSW, will enable 200 Aboriginal people to gain nationally accredited qualifications in legal services and provide a clear pathway to a law degree.

This comes after the sixth National Profile of Solicitors report, released earlier this year, showed that only 0.8 per cent of all practising solicitors identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

The program enables participants to complete either a certificate or diploma in legal or paralegal services at TAFE NSW while working at Legal Aid NSW.


After graduating, participants can continue to a Graduate Certificate of Law at Macquarie University, followed by a juris doctor degree if they choose. Students who continue to university will do so on a full scholarship supported by the Macquarie University Law School and Djurali Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research.

The program is the first of its kind in NSW and provides employment, study leave, travel, accommodation, catering, and legal and paralegal services training, according to project manager and Yorta Yorta woman Amanda Morgan.

“It’s important that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people know that a career in the legal services workforce is accessible and possible if that’s what they want for themselves,” she said.

“We are smart enough, we are capable, and we deserve to occupy this space and develop into the advocates we’ve always wanted to be.”

The program is being delivered using a seven-step model of vocational education co-designed with Macquarie University researchers Associate Professor Uncle Boe Rambaldini and Dr Kylie Gwynne. The model has a 93 per cent completion rate and has already resulted in more than 500 qualifications being awarded to Aboriginal students across multiple disciplines.

Professor Rambaldini told Lawyers Weekly that the ultimate goal of the program is to “increase the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services workforce and help reduce racism and discrimination in the legal sector” by recruiting 200 people to be employed by Legal Aid NSW and to support them through to a legal career.

“Supporting Aboriginal students to work and study has multiple important benefits that address past and contemporary socioeconomic disadvantages and will work towards delivering better physical and mental health outcomes for them and their families,” he said.

“Some of the people in this program have not been able to complete high school, and some are from very remote areas. They are keen to address the high incarceration rate, so being able to study and work is important to them personally, and life-changing.”

More than 20 students have already commenced their qualifications at TAFE NSW, with another intake of 10 students planned for July and a third intake earmarked for later this year.

The students attend face-to-face sessions at TAFE NSW Ultimo as well as weekly teacher-led virtual classes while also working at a Legal Aid NSW office. Eligible participants study fee-free under the Australian and NSW governments’ Fee-free TAFE initiative, and Legal Aid NSW is providing study leave.

TAFE NSW chief delivery officer Janet Schorer said the program offers participants a unique blend of supported study and work as they embark on a career in the legal services sector.

“TAFE NSW is delighted to be working with Legal Aid NSW and Macquarie University to support people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds build their skills and experiences for a career in the legal industry,” she said.

“We’re committed to making this program accessible and relevant for participants, and our teachers have customised the training to suit the policies and procedures of Legal Aid NSW.”

The seven-step Djurali model is an Aboriginal co-designed employment and training model that embeds wrap-around, intensive, one-on-one cultural and learning support for participants at every step of the process, according to Professor Rambaldini.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are grossly overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and there is evidence that having Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the system as administrators, practitioners, and leaders can help redress systemic racism, unconscious bias and traumatic experiences,” he told Lawyers Weekly.

“The Aboriginal Legal Pathways Project recognises the need for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation as a protective factor for clients [and] addresses the financial, educational and location barriers that often inhibit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from pursuing a career in the legal workforce.”

Yuin and Bidjigal woman and Aboriginal Services director at Legal Aid NSW, Kimberley Wilson, added that the program would both support Aboriginal career opportunities and align with the priorities within the NSW implementation plan for Closing the Gap.

“Enhancing education and employment is fundamental to closing the gap in life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. The National Agreement on Closing the Gap includes socioeconomic targets and outcomes, including to increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have completed a tertiary qualification and to increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in employment, education or training,” she said.

“In addition, the NSW implementation plan on Closing the Gap includes a priority reform that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in NSW be empowered to access pathways, including education and training, to achieve employment that aligns with their aspirations. This program seeks to address the Closing the Gap targets and priority reforms by supporting the development of a strong and capable legal services workforce that has the capacity to deliver culturally appropriate services to clients and communities.”