This program started as an idea to connect Aboriginal lawyers as mentors for Aboriginal law students.

The mentoring component is a key part of the program and is available for the university participant category.  Some adult participants also have mentors.

To express interest to be a mentor or mentee, please contact us.  

The mentoring component was established at a workshop held at Charles Darwin University on 29th April 2017. The Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Education (ACIKE) hosted the group and assistance from Ashurst law firm covered catering. 

At the workshop the mentor and mentee group explored the following question – what do you hope to get out of the mentor arrangement?  The workshop delivered the following:

  • Clarity to pathways.  Mentors can serve a role questioning the mentee about the different pathways they have in mind and what they need to do to achieve their goals.  Mentors can help mentees work through different options and provide a one-on-one setting that a mentee may not access elsewhere.  People with legal qualifications are involved in a broad range of work roles (including not practicing law) and this provides flexibility and a broad scope for career options.      

  • Guidance with the personal journey.  The mentee journey is not a straight line, it goes through ‘ups and downs’ and ‘twists and turns’ and the mentor is someone who has experienced this in their own way.  Select leaders across the profession and judiciary can recount their own experiences of not having members of their family involved in law and not having a strong network of contacts when they first started their studies and their career. 

  • Practical advice and tips.  Mentees who are students can read texts and explore sources outlined in their studies however significant learning can take place by understanding how different areas of law are applied in practice.  A level of access or insight into this context can be beneficial and can help ‘shine a light’ on these areas.  Practical guidance can also assist in understanding and working through course requirements.

  • Being flexible and responsive to mentees.  Mentors can identify and respond to the specific needs and aspirations of mentees, whether it is taking mentees to court and shadowing lawyers, direct exposure to legal matters or other opportunities.  A mentor arrangement can provide the context to understand what the needs and aspirations of the mentee are.  

  • Advice for firms about ATSI matters.  Mentees can provide advice to mentors and law firms about strategies aimed at including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people including employment and related matters.  This advice can be provided in the on-on-one setting and also from the broader mentee group. 

  • Pathways to cadetships, internships and employment.  Mentors can connect mentees to opportunities in law firms to further their interests and provide support for their professional aspirations.  This includes positions that are not lawyer-type roles and supporting ATSI staff who are not studying and have an interest in studying law.

  • References.  For prospective study and work opportunities the mentee can assess the interest of the mentor to provide a reference.    

  • Maintaining energy and enthusiasm.  Students can feel isolated when studying and particularly when confronted with academic or personal challenges.  Mentors can draw on their own experiences and can serve as a sounding board and level of support for mentees to ‘keep the dream alive’.      

  • Drawing on networks.  Mentors and mentees have their own networks and can introduce or connect each other to different people and opportunities.  These opportunities may cover a broad range of areas and possibilities. 

  • Insight into the knowledge and perspectives of mentees.  Mentees have different backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and knowledge that can be valued and shared with mentors and can help mentors work through their own understanding of issues.  Aboriginal lawyers tend not to be involved in certain areas of law and mentees and mentors can be encouraged to work through these issues for greater understanding.

  • Helping to shape the values of the legal system.  Mentors expressed an aspiration for a more equal arrangement where ATSI people are involved in the different parts of the legal sector reflective of the proportions in society.  The observation was made that ATSI people have significantly higher contact with the criminal justice system (and many other areas of law) than other groups, and things ‘appear to be worsening’.  This pattern can lend itself to discrimination.  A mentor may not properly understand what it’s like being an ATSI person interested in law, but they ‘clearly know it is harder’.  Addressing these systemic issues can help shape the values of the legal system.     

  • Helping to develop the NT.  ATSI students from the NT study interstate including in high schools and universities and later go into careers where there is demand amongst law firms for talent.  Mentor arrangements in the NT can include participants of Bilata who are studying law at Charles Darwin University or are from the NT studying elsewhere.           

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The first workshop to establish the mentor component.