Bond University

Article Title

Indigenous Australians and Legal Education: Looking to the Future


Indigenous people are under-represented in the Australian legal community. Some Law Schools have attempted to address the issue by increasing the opportunities for Indigenous students to obtain places in law schools. However, the high attrition rates among Indigenous students continue to undermine the efforts of these Law Schools While providing increased access to Indigenous students is an important starting point, the continued high rates of attrition highlights the fact that addressing access issues is not in itself sufficient. If law schools provide alternative entry programs to Indigenous students they must also provide a system of support for those students. In order to give Indigenous students the opportunity to succeed, formal access issues must be tackled at the same time as the more substantive issues of on-going support. The Pearce Report notes that experience in law schools has shown that merely to admit Indigenous students without more is unsatisfactory. This is reinforced by experience in American Universities which suggests that special admission programs have resulted in high attrition rates where the students are left unsupported after entry In most Australian law schools affirmative action programs in relation to access are an integral part of the university and the focus in Australia has gradually shifted from emphasising access issues to improving success rates in students’ studies through on-going support programs. The objectives of this article are twofold. The first objective is to discuss the theoretical justifications for structural and institutional reforms that may be needed to improve legal education for Indigenous Australians. Secondly, this article aims to identify the steps that might be taken by law schools to improve opportunities for access and to reduce attrition rates for Indigenous law students. The relevant steps may be classified as structural (such as pre-law programs and tutorial support) or institutional (for example, curriculum initiatives).