Indigenous Lawyers in NSW

First Nations lawyers in NSW and Australia

How many Indigenous lawyers are there in Australia? Who was the first Indigenous judge? 
The number of First Nations lawyers is continuing to grow, especially in New South Wales. But there is a long way to go until we are equally represented across the legal profession.
Ngalaya was founded in 1997, when dozens of new Indigenous lawyers were starting to emerge into legal practice in NSW. They followed in the footsteps of First Nations legal pioneers, and the strength and advocacy of our Elders and peoples throughout colonisation.

The latest figures: 2020

In 2020 there were 632 practicing Indigenous lawyers in Australia. That is 0.8% of the practicing profession. 376 (59%) of those were practicing in NSW, where they make up 1.1% of the profession.

First Nations lawyers by jurisdiction

Based on the National Profile of Solicitors, collated by the Law Society of NSW, there are likely over 500 First Nations law graduates across NSW. However, there has been a steady decrease in the number of Indigenous lawyers choosing to continue practice law in NSW since 2016.

NSW

ACT

QLD

WA

NT

SA

TAS

VIC

TOTAL

2020

376 (1.1%)

20 (0.8%)

85 (0.7%)

47 (0.8%)

11 (2.0%)

19 (0.5%)

5 (0.6%)

69 (0.3%)

632 (0.8%)

2018

395 (1.2%)

18 (0.8%)

36 (0.3%)

38 (0.7%)

5 (1.0%)

19 (0.5%)

8 (1.1%)

519 (0.7%)

2016

477 (1.6%)

13 (0.6%)

66 (0.6%)

35 (0.6%)

9 (1.8%)

17 (0.5%)

4 (0.7%)

621 (1.2%)

2014

433 (1.6%)

64 (0.6%)

37 (0.7%)

10 (1.9%)

12 (0.3%)

559 (0.8%)

Overall, most jurisdictions are seeing some growth in the number of First Nations solicitors choosing to practice law.

Just over half of all First Nations solicitors identified as female, consistent with trends in Australian law schools and the broader profession.

With the increasing number of First Nations law students across the country, we may continue to see growth in this area.

The latest figures: 2018

According to a survey by Harry Hobbs and George Williams, there were at least 702 First Nations students enrolled in an LLB or JD in 2018.  298 (42%) of those students were enrolled in NSW law schools, and 39 were enrolled in ACT law schools.

Ngalaya has it on good authority that there were just under 50 First Nations law students at the University of Newcastle at the time of the survey, which is not reflected in these numbers. This would bump the total in 2018 to around 750 First Nations law students, and over half studying in NSW and the ACT.

According to Hobbs and Williams, approximately 2% of all law students identified as Indigenous in 2018. Law is outperforming other disciplines in this space, and will hopefully see an increased growth in First Nations lawyers over time.

Ngalaya team at Ngalaya Relaunch 2021

The role of Ngalaya

Ngalaya is committed to seeing the number of First Nations lawyers and law students continue to grow in NSW, the ACT, and across Australia. Ngalaya believes that Indigenous lawyers have an incredible impact on their communities and the legal profession. First Nations lawyers are essential to true self-determination, as advocates and representatives of First Nations people.

Ngalaya believes that alternative entry programs, ongoing mentoring and support, and practical legal work experience are key ingredients to the success of First Nations law students.

In addition, culturally safe and appropriate legal education that acknowledges the unique and important role and experience of First Nations people within the Australian legal system is essential to producing well-rounded and informed law graduates.

Support us

Ngalaya supports its members and other First Nations lawyers and law students across NSW and the ACT, but our capacity is limited without ongoing funding.

We rely on the generosity of our members and volunteers to do what we do. Consider making a tax-deductible donation, or reaching out to volunteer your time and support today.

Questions?

We are here to help. Get in touch and we’ll do our best to respond soon.