Attwood Marshall partner: Cryptocurrency isn't going anywhere

Debbie Sage believes that the country needs to embrace such assets more

Attwood Marshall partner: Cryptocurrency isn't going anywhere
Debbie Sage

For Debbie Sage, law wasn’t part of the plan – she started out studying to be a software engineer. But a law elective piqued her interest in the justice system, and she soon found herself at 2023 Employer of Choice awardee Attwood Marshall Lawyers as a paralegal.

Nearly 20 years later, she has made partner at the firm and also heads up its aged care department, helping to meet the need for specialised legal advice in this area. But she has never forgotten her tech roots, and continues to keep her finger on the pulse of tech developments like AI and digital assets.

In this interview, Sage talks about the need to embrace cryptocurrency, building trust and rapport through face-to-face interactions, and showing one’s human side as a lawyer.

What made you choose a career in law?

Law wasn’t part of my initial life plan. I came to it by curiosity. I knew early on that I was a very quick learner and had a knack for IT, so I studied to be a software engineer at the University of Canberra. However, I randomly took a law elective and discovered that I enjoyed learning about the justice system more.

In 2004, I moved to the Gold Coast and worked as a trust officer for the Public Trustee of Queensland in the protective management section. A year later, I started working as a paralegal at Attwood Marshall Lawyers, where I realised my true passion for becoming a lawyer. I’ve been with the firm for almost 19 years now, and during that time the team has really nurtured and supported me through every step of my career. I studied and earned my credentials while working full time and starting a family, which was hard work. But the culture and invaluable experiences I have gained here, especially early on, have been truly transformative and solidified my passion for the law.

What's your favourite part of the job?

One of my favourite things about being a lawyer is the opportunity to make a positive impact on so many people’s lives. I have the privilege of helping people navigate legal challenges and find solutions to their problems. This sense of fulfilment and the ability to advocate for others is incredibly rewarding. The constant learning and analysis required in this field is engaging and motivating. Every case presents a unique set of facts and legal principles, which keeps me on my toes and challenges me to think critically.

The comradery and teamwork within the legal profession is something I also truly appreciate. Collaborating with my colleagues, brainstorming strategies, and working together toward a common goal is not only enjoyable but also fosters professional growth.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so?

Over the past year, I have experienced a whirlwind of rewarding experiences and accomplishments. I was named as a finalist in the professionals category in the 2023 Gold Coast Bulletin Women of the Year Awards. It was incredibly humbling to be recognised among such accomplished individuals and to have my contributions in law acknowledged.

Amidst all of this, being named a partner this year at Attwood Marshall Lawyers has been my proudest accomplishment. This promotion is a significant milestone in my career, and it fills me with immense pride to join my esteemed colleagues in the leadership ranks of the firm.

What is going on at your organisation? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?

As head of our aged care department, I’m particularly excited about some big changes that are happening in that space for us. We welcomed back a very esteemed colleague last year, Larisa Kapur, from her extended maternity leave. Her presence and expertise had been greatly missed so we were thrilled to have her back on deck. We’re also expanding the department further with another new hire in the next month, which we’re really looking forward to.

As a society, we are all having to confront challenges posed by an ageing population. And there is a real demand for specialised aged care advice. Larisa became an accredited aged care professional with Aged Care Steps last year very shortly after rejoining, and so we now have two accredited professionals in our department. Our new hire will also start the accreditation program, allowing us to give the highest quality advice and service to individuals who are transitioning to aged care or planning for their retirement. It’s an exciting time for the department.

What are the challenges you expect in your practice going forward?

We’re keeping an eye on the new Aged Care Act, which is going to be a real game changer for the sector. The legislation is much more client focused than we’ve previously had before, which is definitely a good thing. It’s been needed for a long time.

I’m going down to Sydney in March for a flagship industry conference on the reforms, and I’m really looking forward to rubbing shoulders with experts, legislators, politicians, operators, and advocates in our community to learn more about what they think about the changes that are currently afoot. I have been an active campaigner for better protections and treatment of our elderly, particularly related to efforts to specifically criminalise elder abuse and abuse against vulnerable persons. Addressing failures in the system is something I’m very passionate about and would like to see more progress being made on.

What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry?

There is so much focus on technology and AI taking over the legal industry. But I think technology will work hand-in-hand with us. We just need to be careful about how technology will affect our client interactions.

People talk a lot about remote working, however I am still very much a fan of face-to-face interactions with a client. You can’t take away the importance of building trust and rapport through a face-to-face interaction. With a Zoom call, you’re missing the ability to energetically read a room. The person on the other end may also struggle to get to know you.

I don’t think you can ever take away the benefits of face-to-face interaction and advocacy – especially in an area of law like wills and estates and aged care, where we’re dealing with clients who are usually going through a really difficult time. It’s so important to show your human side and have empathy as a lawyer, especially when you’re dealing with the elderly population, many of whom have difficulties communicating over technology. They need to trust us.

What do you think the profession should focus more on?

As I mentioned earlier, I was very tech-focused early on in my career. And I’m now a very big cryptocurrency, digital assets person. It’s a side passion of mine and I think we need to learn how to embrace it on a much wider scale. More and more young people are asking about asset protection and how they can incorporate their crypto and digital assets into their estate plan. I think we’re going to keep seeing this, and we’re going to have to adapt accordingly.

There is massive wealth in digital assets now, and with that comes all sort of implications for inheritance law and how that wealth can be passed down to the next generation.

Every country is dealing with it differently. As a society, I think we need to find more ways to accept and embrace cryptocurrency. In Australia, we need more ATMs on the street and more businesses accepting it as a means of payment. Most businesses in the US have a way of accepting cryptocurrencies – but not here.

We need to keep up, because it’s not going anywhere, and only becoming more complex as more types of digital assets emerge.


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