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Firm response to Indigenous issues

News

Cite as: (2008) 82(4) LIJ, p. 24

Victorian firms are responding positively to the federal government and LIV’s lead in promoting Indigenous issues.

With the federal government’s formal apology to Indigenous Australians on 13 February, reconciliation and Indigenous issues are firmly back on the national agenda.

Victoria’s legal profession has also in the past year become increasingly aware of the under-representation of Indigenous Australians in its ranks.

This under-representation was highlighted by a series of award-winning LIJ articles, starting in the August 2007 edition, which outlined the issue and detailed moves by the profession and government to redress the imbalance.

Many firms have responded to the under-representation by providing identified clerkships for Indigenous Australians. Others, such as Arnold Bloch Leibler (ABL), have long championed the cause of Indigenous peoples.

ABL has also developed its own Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).

At the time of writing, federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin was scheduled to launch ABL’s RAP on 28 March.

ABL’s public interest law partner Peter Seidel said the RAP, the first of any law firm in Australia, would offer a number of features. These included:

  • offering a scholarship for an Indigenous law student and/or a long-term cadetship (similar to the national student support Doxa program) for an Indigenous law student, including part-time paid work;
  • offering access to a seasonal clerkship opportunity for Indigenous law students;
  • developing a relationship with, and financially supporting, organisations focused on building bridges to enable Indigenous students to network and participate in Victoria’s legal community;
  • offering a mentoring program for Indigenous law students;
  • delivering presentations to share the firm’s experiences with other professional service firms in running a public interest law practice, working with Indigenous clients and formulating a RAP; and
  • offering a match-making program for Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients and contacts.

Mr Seidel said ABL worked at a grassroots level to help address issues of inequality and the firm had a long history of assisting in empowering Indigenous people.

He commended the LIV for holding an event to commemorate the federal government’s apology and for its announcement on the day that it would establish an annual bursary for one Indigenous law student [see “‘Sorry’ heralds new start”, page 21].

“The LIV’s announcement ... shows real leadership and resonates with each and every partner and staff member at ABL,” he said.

ABL senior partner Mark Leibler AC is co-chair of Reconciliation Australia.

A key aim of Reconciliation Australia is to support and encourage organisations to develop their own RAP.

“It [a RAP] gives organisations a format for exploring how reconciliation can advance your business/organisational objectives as well as being an organisation’s public contribution towards the national effort to close the 17-year life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children,” the Reconciliation Australia website said.

Other firms which have recently contacted Tarwirri, the Indigenous Law Students and Lawyers Association of Victoria, to discuss identified Indigenous placements at their firms include DLA Phillips Fox and Allens Arthur Robinson (AAR).

DLA Phillips Fox will run a winter clerkship program and expects to be able to offer up to two placements for Indigenous students.

The firm’s national human resources manager Cheryl Pople said the firm had invited applications from Indigenous and non-Indigenous applicants.

Tarwirri coordinator Aislinn Martin said the DLA Phillips Fox clerkships were being advertised to its members.

The winter clerkships will take place between 23 June and 11 July. Application assistance is available from Tarwirri and applications can be made through the firm’s website.

Ms Martin last month also met with AAR representatives to discuss upcoming vacation clerkships in Melbourne.

She said it had been a productive meeting with AAR, which was encouraging Tarwirri members to apply for the clerkships.

AAR graduate resourcing manager Lauren Kenneally said AAR was not setting up a separate program but had realised that having one spot reserved for Indigenous Australians was a way of encouraging applications.

The firm takes about 100 vacation clerkships per year in Melbourne, spread over three separate times – winter, December and January.

For more information on the clerkships, contact Ms Martin on ph 9607 9474 or amartin@liv.asn.au. For more information on Tarwirri, see http://www.tarwirri.com.au.

Any firm which has programs for Indigenous law students and lawyers and would like their initiatives to be reported in the LIJ can contact managing editor Mick Paskos on ph 9607 9319 or email mpaskos@liv.asn.au.

Michele Frankeni

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