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Legal Careers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

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Judge Bob Bellear 'Legal Career Pathways' program

"The Bob Bellear Program is a great legacy to a great man, and will lead to a new generation of Aboriginal lawyers".

Kirsten Cheetham, Legal Aid NSW Graduate

The Judge Bob Bellear 'Legal Career Pathways' Program ('the program') was established in 2007 to support and encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through tertiary education with undergraduate cadetships and career development opportunities including Professional Legal Placements, Graduate Development Placements and targeted recruitment opportunities. Read testimonials from our past program participants.

Legal Aid NSW is committed to increasing its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce to ensure that the organisation is reflective of our client base. The program is a key component of our Aboriginal Employment and Career Development Strategy and contributes significantly to our target of 11% Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander employment by 2023. The program is designed to create opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and is managed by the Aboriginal Services Branch. The program offers:

  • Legal Cadetship program for Aboriginal law students for full-time undergraduate law students to provide support in obtaining a law degree through financial assistance and a paid work placement of 12 weeks each year.
  • Professional Legal Placements program for Aboriginal law graduates to complete their practical legal training to gain admission into legal practice.
  • Graduate Career Development program for Aboriginal law graduates. This program involves a two year placement in two legal practice areas for law graduates who have completed Practical Legal Training and whom are eligible for admission into legal practice. For more information see .
  • Identified positions and targeted recruitment for recruitment of an Aboriginal person or Torres Strait Islander, including Legal Officers, Legal Support Officers and other administrative positions (such as traineeships).
  • Support for Aboriginal employees is provided by the Aboriginal Services Branch including:
    • An Aboriginal Staff Network which meets twice a year, providing staff with an opportunity to network with Aboriginal staff across NSW.
    • Support and Career Development opportunities
    • Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Training for all staff.

Legal Aid NSW Employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are advertised in the Koori Mail, Our Mob and iworkfornsw.

Judge Bob Bellear's story

Photo of Judge Bob BellearJudge Bob Bellear (pictured left) was a Noonucal/NI-Vanuatu man from Mullumbimby, situated on the north coast of New South Wales. Surrounded by poverty, he was forced to leave school at a young age to support his large family. After witnessing one too many instances of racism towards Aboriginal Australians, Bob went back and completed his Higher School Certificate before continuing on to university where he studied law.

Bob eventually became a barrister and Public Defender before being appointed a Judge of the District Court of New South Wales, the first Indigenous person to be appointed to any court in Australia.

Among Bob's many and varied achievements, including assisting to establish the first Aboriginal Legal Service, Aboriginal Medical Service and Aboriginal housing Company in Redfern, he was also a mentor to many young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, encouraging and supporting them in the pursuit of a career in law.

Bob was a role model to many and an inspiration to all. His tireless commitment to ensuring the recognition, enforcement and preservation of the fundamental rights of Aboriginal Australians involved a degree of dedication only few can boast. His legacy is in part carried on through the Judge Bob Bellear 'Legal Career Pathways' Program, an initiative of Legal Aid NSW named in the late Aboriginal Judge's Honour.

Aboriginal Services Branch

ASB team photoLegal Aid's Aboriginal Services Branch is part of the Executive and works across all policy, program and practice areas. The purpose of the Branch is to ensure that Legal Aid NSW responds to the legal needs of Aboriginal people in a culturally appropriate and comprehensive manner.

This is achieved through a number of different targeted initiatives and is guided by the Legal Aid NSW Aboriginal Client Service Strategy and the Aboriginal Employment and Career Development strategy. Key points under these plan will see Legal Aid NSW:

  • Increase Legal Aid’s Aboriginal workforce to 11% and provide meaningful career development opportunities.
  • Continue to work in partnership with Aboriginal people and communities to identify and provide services for their legal needs;
  • Provide targeted Community Legal Education across all practice areas
  • Work with practice areas and key partners to design and deliver Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Training for all staff.

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Testimonials from past program participants

Brad Cullen photo“We come from the Yuin Nation along the South Coast. Much of my family lives in Moruya, Mogo and Batemans Bay.

The best aspects of the program have been getting an understanding of the basic work a solicitor provides in social justice work. I’ve undertaken a wide variety of work that I would never have had the opportunity to undertake anywhere else, and I feel more confident in my ability to interact with clients. The program is also very flexible and is often able to work around my university schedule.

You absolutely have to apply for this program if you want a head start in social justice law. Whether you work in the crime, family or civil teams, the type of work you’ll do at Legal Aid as a cadet will be extremely valuable and transferrable no matter what area of law you practice in the future.” - Brad Cullen, Legal Cadet


Bryce Wilson photo“I’m a Wiradjuri man from Narrandera NSW. I have always wanted to work for Legal Aid. I believe Legal Aid provides me with an opportunity to assist the most vulnerable in society and my community as well as others.

I enjoy the ability to proactively assist the most vulnerable in society. In my short time at Legal Aid, people who we see are just wanting someone to listen and understand their issues. If we cannot assist for any reason, Legal Aid has various community partners that can, which ensures that people do not fall through the cracks and get the assistance that they need.

You do not have to be the best or have the greatest understanding of Legal Aid or the legal profession, but a willingness to learn, understand and wanting to contribute positively to your community and people in need. We need all the Aboriginal lawyers we can get to ensure we are the ones assisting our people and empowering our communities.” - Bryce Wilson, Graduate


Jade Ernst photo“I am from the Worimi mob, from Karuah and Bulladellah, NSW. I applied because I wanted to begin my legal career and start gaining hands-on experience. The description of the cadetship program was very appealing, and it seemed like a great place to start my legal career.

The variety and freedom to experience so many different practice areas and the people I get to learn from is what I enjoy most about the program.

Just have a go! Apply for the program - it could change your life. If you get into the program then take every opportunity offered to you. Take the time to ask questions and learn as much as you can from your mentors and others within the office you are assigned, you can learn so much from everyone within the office. Be respectful and kind at all times.” - Jade Ernst, Legal Cadet


Jake Fing photo“I’m a proud Gamilaroi Man from Moree, NSW. A typical day for me was so varied in each division. The thing I enjoyed most about the program was being able to work in such diverse environments and working with so many people who had a strong sense of social justice. This allowed me to have a fuller appreciation of the law and how it can be used to fight for positive outcomes for all people. It was also great to be able to see so many up and coming Aboriginal solicitors and how they are making their mark on the legal world.

Even though working in the areas of family, crime and civil means most issues are the worst of the worst, try and always remember why you wanted to become a lawyer and how doing the cadetship or one of the programs will help you to achieve that goal. It is a great feeling to know that you have helped someone in some way and when you remember that, it makes what we do so much more enjoyable.” - Jake Fing, Legal Cadet


Jessica Kitch photo“I’m a proud Wiradjuri woman from Wellington, New South Wales. In 2019, I started my first rotation in family law. I was placed in the Early Intervention Unit. This meant that I could travel across NSW providing advice, referrals and minor assistance to people who need the help. I then moved back home and have been in the Dubbo family law team to complete the remainder of my graduate rotation in family law.

My advice for prospective applicants is to apply! I applied not thinking that I would get a graduate position. The Aboriginal Services branch are all very supportive and are always keen for a coffee meet and greet. You never know what could happen if you don’t apply for every opportunity.” - Jessica Kitch, Graduate


Keya-Rose Lloyd photo“I grew up on the far south coast of New South Wales in a small town called Bemboka. My mob are from the Yuin nation. I applied for the Cadet program because I felt it was time to start commencing a career and engage in active steps toward achieving my goal. I wanted to learn, earn an income and experience the professional world. The cadet program pushed me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to learn every day.

A typical day..was eye opening and rewarding. My duties would range to completing client briefs, looking through evidence, visiting the local court cells and assisting solicitors with legal aid applications, attending court with solicitors and being guided with respect and patience, no matter what your task was.

The program opens up the door for your future. It is flexible and will only benefit every aspect of your career and knowledge bank. I am so thankful for the time I spent with legal aid and grateful to all of the solicitors who showed me kindness and hard work.” - Keya-Rose Lloyd, Legal Cadet


Tamara Grennan photo“I am a Wiradjuri woman, my mob come from the Dubbo area. I applied for the Graduate Program because I knew that I wanted to work for Legal Aid but I wasn’t sure what area of law I would like the most. The Graduate Program allows you to get experience in two practice areas for 12 months each.

I enjoy how supportive everyone is in making sure you learn as much as possible in the time that you have. I also enjoy the wide range of experience you gain in such a short amount of time. I couldn’t recommend the program more, applying was the best decision I made. The experience you will gain and the people you will meet are invaluable.” - Tamara Grennan, Graduate


Further information

For more information regarding the Judge Bob Bellear Legal Career Pathways program or employment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with Legal Aid NSW, please see the Judge Bob Bellear Legal Career Pathways Program brochure or contact the Aboriginal Services Branch.