THE WAY the current school education system works does little to disable the disadvantages many children face in trying to access a career in the law, according to a top lawyer. In an effort to help defeat this status quo, two large law firms are opening their doors.
According to the managing partners of two of Australia’s top law firms, Mallesons Stephen Jaques and Minter Ellison, many school students in certain socio-economic groups are unaware of the business world opportunities that are available to them in their future careers.
In an effort to combat the issue, Robert Milliner at Mallesons, and Guy Templeton at Minters, allowed two groups of school kids to be shown through their firms and speak to the various professionals, support staff and other employees working there. The initiative was part of an Australian Business Community Network (ABCN) drive to open the doors of the CBD to students in years 10 and 11 for one day. Students visited two different organisations in one day and learn about the range of jobs within that organisation.
ABCN is a non-profit organisation run by a group of national business leaders and Robert Milliner is on the Board. More than 20 Australian companies are part of ABCN, with Mallesons Stephen Jaques and Minter Ellison the only law firms.
According to Milliner, the experience would empower students to look beyond the limits they may have put upon them by their own background in respect to the range of careers available to them. “Not just law, but it could be a career in a law firm doing something apart from law,” he said.
Milliner told Lawyers Weekly that he believes the way the current educational system focuses on marks tends to mitigate somebody from a school that doesn’t have educational excellence.
“But having said that you meet some amazingly bright kids and you get the impression that given the opportunities they could do very well for themselves,” he said.
During the visit, staff at both firms were encouraged to talk about themselves. Milliner noted that many within the firm had not been to private schools, as he himself had not.
“As time has gone by, it has certainly been that schools have been able to provide the education of excellence that private schools provide. But I like to think that organisations like ours are really trying to help this segment of the educational system an opportunity to encourage students to test the boundaries of what they can do.’
Templeton, managing partner at Minter Ellison, who hosted students from Granville South High, said the program is about giving kids aspirations.
“If you’re growing up in areas that don’t have a natural link into business, it’s difficult to determine what a career in any number of areas might look like. We are showing kids what different careers entail and are giving them some positive role models,” Templeton said.
Lawyers within both firms have been keen to get involved in the program. Templeton noted that after a survey of all staff, 100 per cent said they would like to be involved in it again, as he himself did.
“It’s part of broadening students’ horizons. I get a real kick out of this stuff. We also have kids come in from Macquarie High. We help them in things like setting goals and understanding what we do,” he said.
Minter Ellison and Mallesons both have developed community investment programs, and this particular program for Minters fits under the umbrella of “breaking cycles of disadvantage”.
“So where we can see ways of engaging the community that help fulfill that goal, we’re happy to get involved. Part of that is helping kids in areas that don’t naturally link in with big business to understand what goes on and get some ideas about what their future can be,” he said.
Children from Granville Boys High School and Auburn Girls School had been shown through the Mallesons office, which lawyers, marketing, human resources and people from the shared services department all getting involved.
“I think people often forget that any big business like a law firm has a multiple of occupations in it. It is not just about lawyers. So the idea was to take them through the various areas of the firm and show them what the lawyers do but what others do to support the core business,” he said.
Opening doors, but also opening eyes was the aim of the initiative, both firms agreed. “They can see their career options are not limited. They could speak to people in different role and ask them where they came from. A lot of people come from humble backgrounds, as these people sometimes do, and it is an opportunity to encourage them not to feel socially disadvantaged but that they can aspire to do all sorts of different things,” said Milliner.
Response from the schools were positive, and Milliner received an email from the principal of one school: “I’ve had the most amazing feedback from the girls and teachers. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for an outstanding program.”