2016 National Indigenous Law Student of the Year and SCU Bachelor of Laws graduate, Johanna Byrne.
2016 National Indigenous Law Student of the Year and SCU Bachelor of Laws graduate, Johanna Byrne. Marc Stapelberg

Legal eagle takes flight with awards

UNABLE to afford costly textbooks, Southern Cross University law student Johanna Byrne was considering postponing her course.

But winning the Bruce Miles Foundation scholarship which provides Indigenous law students with textbooks for their studies, proved not just an academic lifeline, but also a desperately needed confidence boost.

The former florist was left a single mother with seven children after the sudden death of her husband in 2014, less than 12 months into a Bachelor of Laws.

Now Ms Byrne who has been named the 2016 National Indigenous Law Student of the Year by the Attorney-General's Department, will receive her Bachelor of Laws qualification at the SCU graduation ceremony in March.

Ms Byrne was in Lismore earlier this week to present scholarships to the latest cohort of recipients of the Bruce Miles Foundation.

Named for the late Bruce Miles OAM, a defendant's solicitor serving the disadvantaged for over 50 years most especially Aboriginal people, Mr Miles was principal solicitor at the Aboriginal Legal Service, Redfern for 14 years. 

Ms Byrne said receiving the BMF scholarship meant a world of difference at a difficult time.

"When I heard I had won this, I thought they had made a mistake," she said.

"Despite this adversity, I have managed to remain focused and succeed with my studies while continuing to bring up my children, albeit now on my own."

Ms Byrne said despite almost overwhelming challenges, her passion to become a criminal lawyer and help disadvantaged people has kept her focussed.

Her talent, hard work and tenacity has been recognised as her mentor is Peter Quinlan SC, the Solicitor-General of Western Australia.

Currently working in Perth at Legal Aid Western Australia in the Appeals Department for more than a year, Ms Byrne will start a graduate role with top Perth legal firm Lavan Legal in February.

She said her 16 years as a florist gave her an insight which has been useful in he new career.

"While this seems like it would provide no background that would help with a career in law, it has given me emotional intelligence," she said.

"Law is a people profession, much like floristry, as both deal with clients who are emotionally vulnerable."

The 2017 BMF recipients from SCU are Daniel Cahill, Lorraine Dawson, Mallary Welch and Eliza McCabe, while the 2016 recipients were Johanna Byrne, Blake Edwards and Jackson Morgan.

If this group of law students is any indication, the profession is in good hands for the future.



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