The Law Council of Australia (LCA) will develop programs aimed at Aboriginal school students in a bid to lift the numbers of Aboriginal lawyers.
On Monday night (31 January), the LCA hosted a forum in Canberra that attracted around 45 attendees, including members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander community, Reconciliation Australia and the Federal Government to discuss how the legal profession can contribute to reconciliation and provide opportunities for Indigenous people to enter the legal profession.
LCA President Alex Ward attended the meeting shortly after delivering an address at the Conference of Chief Justices in Washington. He told Lawyers Weekly that the legal fraternity needed to look at ways it could increase the "tiny" percentage of Aboriginal lawyers.
"The forum discussed with Aboriginal elders how we can teach children about the law at school, and demonstrate to Aboriginal students that studying law is something you can do" he said.
Ward said the forum looked at developing programs with rural and regional TAFE bodies, where students from the local Aboriginal community could undertake legal courses as a possible gateway to a legal career.
"Students could acquire skills, and do some local advocacy work with existing legal bodies," he said. "If Aboriginal students then have the confidence to study law at university after completing such a course, that would be great."
The Law Society of South Australia, Aboriginal Access Centre and TAFE SA is currently offering two positions at Port Augusta TAFE to Aboriginal students to obtain a legal studies certificate.
Ward has also committed the LCA to develop a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) in 2011, and to assist constituent bodies to develop similar plans.
A number of private practice law firms and legal bodies have already developed Reconciliation Action Plans, including Allens Arthur Robinson, Maurice Blackburn and Gilbert + Tobin. The Law Institute of Victoria, Freehills and DLA Phillips Fox have committed to finalising their respective RAPs with Reconciliation Australia this year.