Solicitor Jason Behrendt has a passion for pursuing justice for Aboriginal people. An Aboriginal man, Behrendt has been involved in several successful native title and land claims in NSW and the High Court. He is also a board member of the Law and Justice Foundation. He tells LSJ why he chose a career in the law, what winning the 2019 Law Society of NSW President’s Medal means to him, and just how many kilometres he can run.
Why did you pursue a career in law?
When I was doing my law degree, I did not have any clear career plans. Pursuing justice for Aboriginal people was a major motivation for me to pursue legal studies, although I had no clear plans on how I would do that. I always had a particular interest in Aboriginal land justice and the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage, and when the opportunity arose to start practice as a solicitor in a firm that had some current matters in those areas, I thought the time was right to give legal practice a go. I have continued to practise as a solicitor ever since.
What does it mean to you to win the President’s Medal?
It is obviously a great honour to be nominated for the medal, let alone to win it. The fact it is a recognition by my peers in the legal profession is overwhelming, especially given there are so many legal practitioners who do fantastic and selfless work who would be deserving of this award.
Aside from winning this, what has been your biggest career highlight?
Being able to work with so many Aboriginal communities and organisations, particularly the Aboriginal land rights network in NSW, over a long period. It has been an honour to be trusted with their legal matters, and to work with many elders and strong Aboriginal men and women to try and achieve good outcomes for their communities.
How has your cultural background as an Aboriginal person played into your career path and plans for the future?
My cultural background and upbringing and the desire to work with Aboriginal communities was a significant reason for commencing legal studies and to enter into legal practice in the first place. It has also led to the strong interest in land rights, native title and cultural heritage which has been the primary focus of my legal practice and is likely to continue to be a primary, but not the only, focus.
Do you have any mentors?
I have been very lucky to work with Andrew Chalk over the length of my practising career. He has been both a friend and a mentor throughout. I have also been fortunate to work with some excellent barristers who have given me plenty of advice and guidance over the years. My most important mentors are, however, my family, especially my partner Amanda.
Aside from work, what keeps you happy and healthy?
Spending time with my family keeps me happy outside of work. Recently, I have taken up running to try and be a bit healthier and even ran in my first marathon and first ultramarathon this year, which is a something I never thought I would say about myself.