Indigenous lawyer appreciates mentors as she absorbs a range of experiences

Published:02 September 2019

Pamela Herlihen hopes to continue developing her experience as a solicitor and to help Indigenous people with legal issues, while being a role model for the next generation.

Pamela Herlihen is determined to make every post a winner in her role as a graduate lawyer at the Townsville office of Legal Aid Queensland.

The Indigenous mum of five and CQUni Law graduate started her new role early last year.

Since then, she has had the opportunity to complete a rotation to experience cases in the criminal courts and has started a rotation in the sphere of family law.

"I've been fortunate to sit in on a few criminal trials, shadowing senior lawyers, and have represented criminal offenders, as well as attending youth court and Murri court," Pamela says.

"Working on child safety cases, I've been able to represent families from a lower socio-economic background and realise the complexity involved. You have to be understanding and have compassion for those families.

“I hope to continue developing my experience as a solicitor and help my fellow Indigenous people with legal issues, while being a role model for the next generation."

Pamela traces her Aboriginal heritage to the Bidjara clan from the Carnarvon Gorge area. She has done some part-time work as a cultural field officer working on behalf of her great-grandmother’s traditional lands.

"My ultimate career aim would be to become a parliamentary advisor on legislation affecting Indigenous people," she says.

Despite being kept busy raising her family, Pamela always harboured a desire to study law and initially enrolled in CQUniversity’s TEP (Tertiary Entry Program) before enrolling for the Bachelor of Laws via distance education.

She then completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice through the College of Law before seeking admission as a solicitor through the Supreme Court of Queensland.

“I really enjoyed my law degree with CQUni and it was great to have the local CQUni Townsville campus as a resource,” Pamela says.

“Lecturers like Stephen Colbran and Anthony Marinac were particularly good at making the law degree vibrant and interesting.

"My mentor and tutor Sharon Dekkers kept me grounded and guided throughout my degree, while CQUni's Office of Indigenous Education assisted me with all my study needs."

Pamela’s partner Rhys and her children - now aged between 10 and 22 – are very proud of her drive to succeed.

"My partner of the past 24 years Rhys was my support with the children and running of the household," she says.

Pamela’s mother passed away towards the middle of last year, which was a career setback. However, now she has come through this time of grief, she is more determined than ever to reach her goals and to help break down the barriers for Indigenous people in Australia.

“I was gifted with a big family on my mother and father's side. I have many mentors in my family who I admire and draw inspiration from,” she says.

Pamela recommends that law students and new graduates take every opportunity to connect to their local community justice groups, law associations and the legal fraternity.

"Get as much court practice as you can, fine-tune your advocacy skills and source mentors from the legal sphere," she says.

"Be determined and stay motivated when you first step into your career because you will come across many milestones and setbacks."

Pamela acknowledges her own success has been underpinned by mentors at every stage.

"I would not have been able to have this opportunity without CQUni and the lecturers and mentors who assisted me throughout my degree," she says.

"Now at Legal Aid, I'm very fortunate to have so many mentors and I appreciate their support too."