Legal mentoring gives Indigenous students inside insight

Law student Karmen Karpany.

More than 50 Adelaide lawyers have joined a program to mentor Indigenous law students, giving them valuable real-world experience as they prepare to enter the legal fraternity.

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

More than 50 Adelaide lawyers have joined a program to mentor Indigenous law students, giving them valuable real-world experience as they prepare to enter the legal fraternity.

It comes as a new report reveals that Aboriginal youth are 20 times more likely than others to be in detention - at a cost of $1,000 a day.

Karen Ashford has the story.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

In 2005, a group of Adelaide legal professionals established a program to connect Indigenous law students with practising lawyers to give them inside knowledge of what is a very competitive profession.

Arrin Hazelbane has been part of the mentoring program for the past three years and says it's enabled him to forge valuable professional connections.

"It's unheard of that law students have a mentor in the law field that's succeeding and is willing to give you their time outside of their cases so we're really lucky that we get to come to gatherings like this tonight, to meet on a social platform but also to contact them when times get tough."

Karmen Karpany completed year 12 last year and is just starting out in her legal studies.

"You know getting into the groove of study, with the overwhelming amount of reading you have to do, the lectures and note taking and it's a whole new world to me - it's really exciting but very overwhelming at the same time, but it's a challenge I'm really eager to face and to conquer, absolutely."

For her it's a chance to make a transition from the wrong side of the law to a career helping young people.

"Juvenile justice, because I've had a lot of family members who were young offenders and I think that early intervention is really important and to support our younger generation, because they are the next generation. I've had personal experiences with being in the criminal world unfortunately, so yeah."

A South Australian Council of Social Service report has revealed Aboriginal 10 to 17 year olds make up 46 per cent of young people in detention and 34 per cent in community-based supervision.

SACOSS Director Ross Womersley says while mainstream juvenile detention rates are falling, that's not happening for Indigenous youth.

"We have an average of 56 or so kids in detention at any one time but in fact almost half of those are kids who are Aboriginal where in fact they represent only 4 per cent of our population. So we have this massive disproportion, if you like."

Mr Womersley is urging South Australia to follow the lead of states elsewhere and adopt an Indigenous Justice Agreement as an important step in addressing youth justice.

It's a concept that fits neatly with the push to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation in the legal profession.

Kim Economides is the Dean of Flinders University's Law School, one of three South Australian universities with students engaged in the mentoring program.

"I think too often in the past Aboriginal peoples have been disconnected from the legal system so this is really about changing that. And certainly my law school wants to play its part in changing these perceptions and trying to bring more Aboriginal young people into legal education. Whatever the outcome, whether or not they become lawyers, they need to understand the value of law."

The chief executive of the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, Cheryl Axelby, says her organisation would welcome more Indigenous lawyers to its ranks.

"They get a growth in confidence, they also have a connection to the legal fraternity so they get exposure to all different mediums of the law, not just criminal. So there's corporate law, civil law, family law. And again, this is what we want - we want to see our community members out there - predominately we want lawyers to come to the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement of course, but we also want to see our mob out there thriving in the private business sector too."

The program has seen 11 students graduate since 2005, and has 17 participants today.

Barrister Alan Lindsay was one of the founding members of the mentoring program and predicts it's here to stay.

"We have great support from the profession, from leading people in the profession, from partners in large firms and judges and public servants and barristers and across the whole board. These functions become easier and easier to run, the students are making great connections and it's been going for ten years so we've got impetus behind us and people think that we'll keep going, so I think it's been fabulous."

Student Dwayne Coulthard says the mentoring program has given him remarkable insights into how the law works.

He thinks being mentored has helped break down many of the barriers and mysteries that might dissuade young Indigenous people like him from forging a legal career.

"I guess we want to be heavily involved in the legal profession from the word go - and that's what it's all about. It's providing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander law students with the opportunity to be familiar with the legal profession and to really make a difference and to be comfortable - to be comfortable in your cultural identity, but also your place in the legal profession."

 

 

 

 

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