Building the presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lawyers in the corporate world, Keighran Legal + Advisory is a newly launched Aboriginal-owned and operated corporate law firm focusing on real estate, hotels and construction.
Keighran Legal + Advisory is the brainchild of Gomeroi man and Managing Director Duane Keighran.
Raised in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Keighran was the first in his family to graduate Year 12 and he studied law at the University of NSW. He says he accidentally stumbled into the corporate world of law.
“I had a moment when I was in my second year of university. I was in Sydney at UNSW really struggling, my old fulla was up in Coffs in Aboriginal juvenile justice and he shared an office with the Aboriginal Legal Service,” he said.
“I came home for university break and asked Dad to get me an unpaid internship to go into the ALS and work. I wanted to go through the ALS, however, he couldn’t get me a spot.”
In 1997, Keighran was the first student to receive an Indigenous Student Cadetship with Henry Davis York, one of the oldest law firms in NSW.
“I then started in a corporate law firm instead, and since then it’s just been that path for me,” he said.
Since then, Keighran has worked in Dubai, for United States headquartered and London headquartered global firms as well as at prestigious firms in Australia.
“I was able to walk in two worlds, I was a corporate lawyer that made partnership at one of the biggest law firms in the globe,” said Keighran.
“It does get tiring, you’re often seen as the voice for Indigenous issues and asked for your views. But we can’t speak on behalf of everyone. However, there are obvious positives. In my last firms I was on the Reconciliation Action Plan steering committee for their first RAP … there was a willingness to create change.
“When I went overseas it was totally different. You’re just an Aussie over there, and I think that did help my longevity in corporate law.”
With an impressive CV, Keighran has worked in firms including Gilbert + Tobin, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Simmons and Simmons, JONES DAY, and most recently was a Partner and Deputy Head of the national property team at Colin Biggers & Paisley.
He is also a current non-executive Director of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council’s (NSWALC) social and affordable housing provider, National Housing Limited.
On Thursday, Keighran Legal + Advisory officially launched and Keighran stepped into his new role as Managing Director.
“We’re not here to take work from other Indigenous law firms, we want to support them and collaborate as well. Hopefully we are seen in the same light … We want to do the top tier stuff for government, corporate and Indigenous businesses,” he said.
After an impressive career, the decision to create the firm was based on on Keighran’s desire to give back. Through Keighran Legal + Advisory, Keighran will provide pathways for young Indigenous lawyers to enter the corporate world.
“I decided that it’s my time to [give] back, to do what I want to be doing which is creating opportunities and pathways for young Indigenous lawyers in the corporate world. The massive law firms are making ground with creating opportunities, but I want to be able to accelerate that,” he said.
“I want to ensure that it’s not only a cadetship or an internship — that it’s a total career with us.”
“We all come from different backgrounds, and it is a reality in such a historically elite world like the top corporate law firms, it is often very difficult for Indigenous students to compete with elite young people … we have to create better pathways that recognise the challenges Indigenous students face.”
The company will also provide opportunities for young Indigenous professionals in non-legal positions within the company.
With an impressive career under his belt, Keighran believes it all comes down to community and ensuring that young Indigenous lawyers know they have a place at the corporate table.
“Who we do want to challenge are the other big mainstream law firms, in 10 years time want half a dozen or more Aboriginal partners at our firm,” he said.
“When I retire, I want us to sit amongst the top tier law firms. We want to be the Indigenous representation in that space … known for representing corporate Australia, government and Indigenous businesses.”
By Rachael Knowles