ARNOLD BLOCH Leibler has become the first law firm to launch a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) under a program co-ordinated by Reconciliation Australia.
The firm’s RAP was formally unveiled by Jenny Macklin, the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs in a ceremony held at the firm last week.
Guests included Galarrwuy Yunupingu, the former chairman of the Northern Land Council and Australian of the Year 1978, as well as a number of noted Aboriginal elders.
The firm’s senior partner, Mark Leibler, explained that the aim of the RAP program is to help build positive relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and specifically, to work towards closing the 17-year life expectancy gap that currently exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. Organisations involved in the program range from large corporations to government agencies and community groups. Each organisationprepares an individual RAP in which it commits to undertaking specific projects and activities with measureable, realistic targets, to help achieve reconciliation.
“The difference between the RAP program and what has gone before is, to put it colloquially, the principal that it’s not enough just to talk the talk — you’ve also got to walk the walk,” Leibler said.
“The focus in the past has been about business organisations, companies and professional services firms making the right noises, saying the right things and being respectful, but it is also incredibly important that there are actually practical steps taken which are measurable and to which organisations can hold themselves accountable,” he said.
Leibler explained that the firm has a RAP working group, made up of both legal and non-legal staff within the firm, which has spent the last several months developing the RAP.
“All staff are represented and we feel that we’re able to create bridges not only in the area of law. We also have, for example, marketing, human resources and IT divisions - areas where we can also make a contribution,” Leibler said.
Among the targets included in the plan, the firm has committed to establishing a minimum of six mentoring relationships which will involve partnering Indigenous tertiary students with employees of the firm. Legal staff and staff from other departments in the firm — including marketing, human resources, IT and business administration — are involved in the program.
The firm has also committed to offering a tertiary scholarship, at least one seasonal clerkship and one cadetship to indigenous students every year, and to contributing at least $5,000 per year for a minimum of five years to the cause of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
“We’re very serious about our commitments and it’s something that has been considered at length at the partnership level. We hope that it will provide an example which will be acted on not only by other law firms but also professional services firms generally,” Leibler said.
“We think that’s very important because professional services organisations have got the potential to contribute a lot in this area.”