Gilbert + Tobin has become the first big law firm in New South Wales to launch a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). The GrowingTogetherinitiative was launched at the firm’s Sydney office on Tuesday 14 October.
Melbourne-based firm Arnold Bloch Leibler launched its own RAP in March 2008. The firm’s senior partner Mark Leibler is a co-chair of Reconcilation Australia.
Gilbert + Tobin managing partner Danny Gilbert said the plan is an extension of the firm’s longstanding commitment to Indigenous communities.
“The firm is 20 years old and for the last 20 years, it has had a very deep and rich engagement with Indigenous people here, starting with the local communities at Redfern, but now spreading right across the length and breadth of Australia,” he said.
Gilbert admitted that the road to the current plan was an arduous one, with multiple proposals put forward by Head of Corporate Social Responsibility Jane Stratton, and others at the firm, prior to the current version.
“You might think that, where we’ve landed, that it was an easy place to get to. It was not easy to work out how we should engage with Indigenous people,” Gilbert said.
“There were many proposals put up by Jane Stratton, me and others. She probably thinks too many of them were knocked back, but we worked together and I think we’ve come up with an excellent plan.”
Stratton said that — despite the hurdles — the process had ultimately been a rewarding one and described employment and education as “the heart and engine room” of the reconciliation plan.
“For me personally, I feel it’s been a very rewarding journey in a way, and I consider the people who are here tonight to be part of the community, particularly our staff, and to be an equal part of what will make our reconciliation action plan sing,” she said.
“A business is nothing but its people … we understand that in order to do that successfully — in order to recruit, but more importantly to retain — Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees in our business we need to invest what leads them and gives them the choice or the ability to come and work in a place like this and that’s clearly education.”
Reconciliation Australia (RA) is a key partner in the RAP program. Reconciliation Australia Director Sam Mostyn started her own career at Gilbert + Tobin and first became involved in Indigenous legal work through the firm’s pro bono practice. She said that both the social case and the business case were equally important for the success of the reconciliation program.
“There’s a business case behind this. It’s not just rhetoric. When the Commonwealth Bank launched their RAP a little while ago, Ralph Norris went out of his way to say that the business case is as strong as the social case.”
She said that clients were demanding more social engagement, with more than 95 companies in Australia signatories to the RAP, including Qantas, ANZ and BHP Billiton, government agencies, sporting codes such as the NRL and ARL, hospitals and schools.
“In this time of [economic] turbulence … clients of G + T will be more and more thinking about their own commitment to reconciliation and looking for their service providers to stand for something as well,” she said.
In addition to the RAP, Gilbert + Tobin is also in the early stages of implementing a Youth Program in collaboration with Tranby Aboriginal College and UTS: Education. The cadetship program is the first of a number of initiatives to boost recruitment of Indigenous candidates, with the first participants, university students Gemma McKinnon and April Long, currently working two days a week at the firm with a view to securing graduate employment.
“We hope that you are the first of many, that in five years there are ten of you and your colleagues, and that you are in a position to accept graduate employment with us. That’s part of the employment strategy,” Stratton said.
In later stages of the plan, the firm intends to attract Indigenous operations staff.