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Michael Lundberg

Stepping outside the box: Indigenous lawyers and their role beyond the legal system

08/02/2023 |
3.5 MINS

Michael Lundberg was appointed the first Indigenous Supreme Court judge in Western Australia in September 2022. Studying a Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws at UWA, Michael did not originally aspire to become a judge.

“I would certainly describe it as my dream job now, but it wasn't my dream or ambition at all times because I don't think the average law graduate starts their career saying ‘I want to be a judge’, it sort of develops overtime. I thoroughly enjoyed practising the law as a litigator and felt that would be my career.”

Michael says that after working in government and practicing at a range of Australian and International law firms for almost three decades, when the opportunity arose to join the judiciary the timing was just right for him to accept the role.

“As you get more senior you understand and appreciate the importance of taking on such a role with public service attributes. It's giving back to the community in the sense that you’re taking on a role in the justice system with all of those additional duties.”

Michael believes that his new role helps him tap into his passion for public service, especially within the justice system.

“It becomes all the more clear once you step into the role, how it has an important public and community service that is an integral part of the justice system in the State, both in criminal law and in civil law.”

Michael highlighted the importance of public service and pro bono work when addressing the graduating class in December 2022, which he said was a deeply rewarding experience and far more emotional than he expected.

“It was more emotional than I thought it would be as a speaking engagement. Once you stand there and look out at everyone, it does bring memories back from 25, 30 years ago.”

One of the highlights was speaking to graduates after the ceremony, some of whom he knew personally and professionally. “Hanging around afterwards to speak to graduating students was an important part of the experience for me.”

Michael’s passion for public service also stems from seeing his mother’s career as a public servant. When she was later appointed the first Aboriginal magistrate in WA, Michael’s career choice was further fortified.

Michael says, “I have always been very conscious that she was the first Aboriginal magistrate and I suppose it adds a special connection that I am the first Indigenous Supreme Court judge.”

For other Indigenous students wanting to study law or pursue a career in the justice system, Michael says the first step to take is to find your passion within law. Law is a hard profession and having a passion for certain parts of it makes the journey more enjoyable.

Secondly, Michael encouraged students to take up opportunities, and in particular from a younger Indigenous lawyer perspective, opportunities outside the box.

“It's finding places within the legal community that may not be traditional but where Indigenous people can actually make a difference from the inside. With more Aboriginal people coming into the legal profession, I can see gains for the longer term if more Aboriginal lawyers look beyond those traditional spaces.”

Often students only apply within the traditional places of employment for lawyers, which is the criminal justice system, not in other areas of the law. However, Michael says less traditional roles, as in global law firms or working for large, listed companies, can also make a difference in the broader community. He also says that it reduces the risk of Aboriginal lawyers and students being pigeonholed into defined roles in the legal community.

“I would love to see more Aboriginal students make a move into other areas, for example, as legal advisors to large companies whose businesses affect the community and our society. There are important roles in these companies and it can mean that Aboriginal people have a seat at the table and a voice that can be heard.”

Michael also believes having more lawyers that are Indigenous in these roles offers companies and organisations a different perspective, which they sometimes need, and helps to introduce diversity to decision-making and to how people think

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