Indigenous Law Bulletin
By Gary Lui.
On 30 June 2000 the law firm, Paul Richards & Associates, closed its doors for the last time. Paul Richards ran this unique firm in one form or another for more than 20 years. In that time, the practice and its lawyers represented and serviced many of the underprivileged and disadvantaged in Brisbane. The firm also had long and strong links with the indigenous community throughout Queensland, and perhaps the thing that was most striking about it was that a large percentage of the lawyers and paralegal staff forming the backbone of the firm, were themselves indigenous.
Paul started out as a solicitor in Queensland in 1973 working for two Brisbane firms before going out on his own. He was involved in the establishment of the Brisbane Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation for Legal Services. While working there, he met a number of bright young Murris and Torres Strait Islanders who demonstrated a desire to work in the law, and for their people. Paul was among the first to cultivate this interest and provide an avenue for them to actually receive training.
Paul Richards & Associates actually commenced operation in 1979 at Murgon, where the Murgon Aboriginal Legal Service retained it for a period. The firm then moved to Brisbane in 1981 and struck a retainer with the Building Workers Industrial Union (now the CFMEU). This was the start of a close relationship with the trade union movement that continued until the firm closed.
At least three Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lawyers completed articles of clerkship with Paul. In fact, he moved the admissions of so many lawyers in that time, that it was obvious to me when he moved my admission that the words had been committed to memory as a result of almost monotonous repetition. He also employed indigenous people as general legal staff and para-legals in conveyancing, family and criminal law. Former staff members are now magistrates and successful solicitors and barristers. One of his practices was to actively seek out and employ indigenous law students as employees, to expose them to the workings of a legal practice. Some finally chose not to follow a career in the law - however the policy afforded them another option in their career choices.
A ‘mugshot’ occupied pride of place in his office. This was the police photo of a bloodied Paul Richards, taken after his arrest in 1986 on a charge of obscene language. One hundred police with batons and dogs turned up at a peaceful dance held by the local Aboriginal community at Rosalie in Brisbane. In the ensuing fracas he was arrested while attempting to assist others that were being arrested. He succeeded in having the charge struck out and obtained compensation for his injuries at a time when many believed that convictions for such trivial charges were a foregone conclusion.
He was given a reconciliation award in 1997, recognizing his involvement in the indigenous community.
Paul continues to involve himself in indigenous affairs by providing advice and advocacy, which is often free of charge, to the indigenous community, in areas such as native title. He also does consultancy and locum work in various other areas that interest him.
By training indigenous people to be lawyers, or by providing an environment where professional skills could be acquired, the firm that he set up had a significant hand in establishing an association of non-indigenous and indigenous professionals. This has particularly benefited the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. I had the dubious distinction of being the last lawyer ever employed by Paul and many lamented the disappearance of such a unique practice. Many external factors contributed to its closure. However, there is some comfort in the fact that the community will continue to experience the benefits of one of the most successful, non-government funded, indigenous training initiatives ever run in Queensland.
Gary Lui is a senior case manager with the National Native Title Tribunal in Cairns.