Allens Arthur Robinson has become the first major Australian law firm to put in place a reconciliation action plan it says will help build relationships, respect, and create opportunities for Indigenous Australians.
The firm joins more than 150 organisations that have a reconciliation action plan (RAP). It commits the firm to an extension of existing pro bono and employment activities involving indigenous people, on top of a series of targets to met by August 2010.
The firm formally launched its RAP at a client function attended by Aboriginal elders, the Governor of New South Wales, legal professionals, law schools and pro bono organisations.
Rebecca McGrath, a paralegal at the firm, gave a speech at the event, highlighting her own experiences as a person with Aboriginal heritage. She said her motivation to study law was borne from knowledge of the "profound suffering and trauma" experienced by her ancestors.
In am emotional speech, McGrath asked whether we really know what it feels like to be a statistic, and "to have dreams and aspirations to make bold changes for yourself and your family.. dreams that, for many, deteriorate into a sense of hopelessness".
McGrath explained how she thought Allens was fulfilling its reconcilation action plan.
"The Allens Reconciliation Action Plan is based on relationships, respect and opportunity. This isn’t just rhetoric– these are values that permeate every aspect of what Allens does and the way the firm has been doing things for a long time.
"In 2006 I was employed at Allens as an Indigenous winter intern, this was the first real employment opportunity of my career. This involved in an intensive training program and I was provided with mentors at the partner level and buddies who did more than just supervise my work - but who really taught me and involved me in the Allens community," McGrath said.
She was employed as a paralegal, then as a summer clerk, and will commence as a graduate with the firm in 2010.
McGrath said that the education she has received through the firm will "touch the lives of countless other Indigenous individuals and communities, and indeed already has".