THE LAW Institute of Victoria (LIV) hosted a launch for the Indigenous Law Students & Lawyers Association of Victoria (ILSLAV) last month to welcome the organisation to its new location at the LIV.
Speaking at the event were the Hon Jenny Mikakos, parliamentary Secretary for Justice and chair of the Aboriginal Justice Forum; Catherine Gale, president of the LIV; and ILSLAV president Bevan Mailman.
Mailman said indigenous law students and graduates deserve to be encouraged because they are in a prime position to offer legal assistance to the indigenous community, a recommendation made in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
“It’s important to have our association, because indigenous lawyers often have a unique understanding of the specific challenges faced by indigenous people,” Mailman said.
“The association acknowledges that one way to stem the high levels of incarceration is to increase the numbers of indigenous lawyers able to provide such legal representation,” he said.
ILSLAV’s chief aim is to see indigenous law students reach the same graduation and workplace participation rates that other students enjoy.
Currently there are about 20 indigenous law students in Victoria. Deakin University, through its Institute of Koori Education, also offers short courses to students from around the country. However, rates of graduation were highlighted as a particular concern by Mailman.
“Graduation rates are a bit of a problem due to the fact that many of the students who are fortunate enough to gain entry into legal studies are not supported enough … we’re here to fill that gap.”
There have only ever been two indigenous lawyers admitted to the Bar in Victoria — Professor Mick Dodson and Linda Lovett.
“Although it is important that the association is supported by the public and private sectors it is also important that indigenous students and lawyers play a key role in supporting other indigenous members of the legal fraternity,” Mailman said.
Some firms have already responded to ILSLAV initiatives. Mailman’s firm Deacons has taken two indigenous law students over the past few years who have gone on to do their articles. He said that ILSLAV is trying to encourage more firms to consider disadvantaged students’ circumstances when hiring.
ILSLAV seeks to help its members through mentor programmes, employment and article placements, study support networks, and raising awareness of the legal profession. “We hope to follow the lifecycle of the law student and graduate,” Mailman said.
To that end, ILSLAV promotes a legal skills and information seminar, which is run by the Victoria Bar Association. The association also hosts social functions to introduce its members to the judiciary. “Justice [Geoffrey] Eames and Justice [Stephen] Kaye have been big supporters of the association from the start,” Mailman said.
ILSLAV also wants to establish clerkship and article placements for indigenous law graduates, along with a fund through the Victorian Bar Association to support select graduates in their first year of work.
Full membership is open to indigenous Australians who are studying law at a Victorian university or educational institute, or to a previous graduate living in the state. Graduates or students of law living outside of Victoria may also be eligible or, alternatively, for associate membership.
The association was incorporated in 2002. “Hopefully in the next few years it will be very prosperous for everyone involved,” Mailman said.