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Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance

Responsible Business Insights

Working towards a sustainable future

A plan for reconciliation

Associate Tegan Kelly is a Torres Strait Islander woman in our Sydney office and Chair of our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Working Group, which devised and now administers the firm’s plan for reconciliation with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. 

A 12-month strategic plan verified by Reconciliation Australia in May 2021, the RAP sets out the different deliverables the firm will be working towards, who is responsible for them and the timeline to ensure things keep moving.

While Clifford Chance in Australia has run initiatives around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people before, such as the internship programme through which I started at the firm, our RAP is a way to formalise these and have a written record of the things we’re doing and what we’re aspiring to. It goes to the very heart of our inclusion core values. Clifford Chance operates in different communities and each of our offices is built on lands traditionally owned by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that were never ceded, so it’s really important for us to acknowledge that history.

The firm chose a ‘Reflect’ RAP from the four levels available, which acknowledges it is at the start of its reconciliation journey, though it plans to move to the two-year ‘Innovate’ level next. The focus this year has mostly been on assessing, establishing and developing relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders and deciding the firm’s vision for reconciliation. 

That said, we’ve had highly qualified and passionate guest speakers come in and talk about where the reconciliation journey is in Australia and what we can be doing as citizens and as lawyers to advance that movement.

Our RAP Working Group has also been undertaking research and education development projects such as building business cases for procurement for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses, for more inclusive hiring practices and for educating our people on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.

We’ll be continuing our work with CareerTrackers as well, which is the organisation through which I started at the firm, on its Indigenous internship programme. We are looking to host high school students as part of a work shadowing initiative in our Sydney and Perth offices, which will give the students an insight into working in the law. CareerTrackers have responded positively to Clifford Chance’s continued commitment to supporting education and professional development for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, with that commitment evidenced by my progression from intern to an associate.

While there has not yet been a huge amount of interaction with the local community, Tegan has received positive feedback from guest speakers about the level of engagement in some of the lunch-and-learn sessions, the kind of questions colleagues have been asking and the general appreciation they have shown for having these speakers address our people. 

One of the key highlights for me has been the response from everyone in the office. At our launch event, we had an Aboriginal didgeridoo master come in and so many people were amazed at how we could have something like that in our office. In our reception is a giant piece of Indigenous art, commissioned by a local artist, that I get to walk past every day and, for me, that’s amazing. It’s like a little bit of home in the office.

It’s also been really nice having people at events coming up and asking ‘how do I do an acknowledgement of country?’ or ‘what should I be saying?’ – that’s something that wouldn’t have happened a year or so ago and shows a level of education we didn’t have previously.

I am also heartened by the reaction of senior management to the plan and the opportunity they gave her to play a leading role in the working group. 

It’s important to have an Indigenous voice in these kinds of initiatives and to feel heard. The fact I was a graduate when I joined this group was an incredible opportunity for me to speak directly to the firm’s senior leaders. To be able share the things I’d like to see in the firm and the working group and for them to say ‘sure, what do you need and how would you like to run it?’ was incredible. It says a lot about their willingness to really get to grips with the issues.