Indigenous law students in Western Australia were last week paired off with members of the legal profession in an effort to provide for these students an opportunity to achieve the careers they dream of having.
Headed by executive director Alison Gaines, the Law Society of Western Australia has been working on a mentoring program that will provide one-on-one support with the aim of assisting law students from the University of Western Australia and Murdoch Law Schools to pursue a range of career options.
In an effort to get more Aboriginal lawyer advocates into all of Western Australia’s courts, the program was jump started by Judge Mary Anne Yeats of the District Court. Justice Yeats approached Gaines, asking her to extend the mentoring program already run by the Law Society with Women Lawyers of WA to support Aboriginal law graduates.
When the Law Society learned that WA law schools educate over 30 per cent of the country’s indigenous law graduates, it felt an obligation to ensure wide accessibility for these students to careers in the legal profession.
Magistrate Sue Gordon of the Children’s Court, the first Aboriginal person to be appointed to a Western Australian court, advised the Society to support law students before they graduate. The mentoring program is therefore available for law students in their penultimate and final years.
Every third and fourth year indigenous law student is now offered a trained mentor from the legal profession, including judges, barristers and solicitors, to help them navigate their way into careers. Seventeen students have expressed interest in the program, according to Gaines, and were last week assigned to mentors. The Law Society expects that about 20 to 30 students will become involved each year.
The response from students has been positive, according to Gaines, but the real test of the scheme’s worth will be the “quality of the mentoring relationship”. If students are not happy with the person with whom they are matched, the Society will work to find a more appropriate mentor.
Lawyers and judges have been enthusiastic about signing up for the program, Gaines said. There have been quite a few senior members of the legal profession interested and involved. So far about 60 members of the profession have been trained for different mentoring programs. “There has been no problem filling the mentoring positions,” Gaines said.
Eventually, the mentoring program will be open to indigenous students from other WA law schools, including the University of Notre Dame, which is opening a pre-law program in Broome that will eventually see indigenous students joining the law faculty on its Fremantle campus.