Theodora Ahilas is a Principal Lawyer at Maurice Blackburn and the 2018 winner of the Law Society of NSW President’s Medal.
You are the current holder of the Law Society President’s Medal. What did receiving this award mean to you?
Receiving the President’s medal last year was an absolute honour and privilege and the icing on the cake for years of acting for and serving the most vulnerable and deserving group of clients, suffering in most instances terminal conditions, which were caused by dust exposures in the course of employment or through bystander and domestic exposures.
As the head of Maurice Blackburn’s asbestos and dust diseases national practice, you are fighting for those affected by terrible illnesses. How did you start in this line of work?
I have been extremely lucky to do a job for which I feel an absolute passion. To me the last 30 years of practice has been a vocation, not a job. I come from a working-class non-English speaking background and I knew that obtaining a law degree was to be used to serve and act for those in our society who don’t have a voice or, ordinarily, access to the law or justice. I landed my first job as a law Graduate in early 1990 with Turner Freeman in their asbestos litigation department. I have been practicing in this area of law since then.
Many of the people you represent are suffering from a terminal illness as a result of going to work. What does justice look like and mean to them?
Justice to someone with terminal illness always means securing compensation for family to ensure that their family are looked after financially and are secure after their demise. I have observed with humility, clients gasping for breath or literally taking their last breaths giving oral testimony to ensure a case is successful. For many families, justice is about being heard, being given a platform to tell the story of their loved one.
What do you love most about your job?
There are so many things that I have loved about this job. If I had to pick one, it would be the clients I have met, the stories of courage and the dignity of the human spirit that I have observed interwoven in the rich tapestry of life.
In addition to your law work, you also work with the Thorasic Society, which advocates for the prevention of respiratory diseases. Can you tell us a little more about your work there?
I’ve had this opportunity through my work. I realised a long time ago that if we bridge the gap between medicine and law, that collectively, we can work together and instigate measures to prevent exposures to diseases, by instigating strict measures in the workplace to eliminate exposures to dust and assisting in making available and accessible treatments, clinical trials and the prescription of drugs on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme for the most deserving group of people.
The Law Society of NSW’S President’s Medal recognises an outstanding member of the profession. Nominations for the 2019 award are now open.