HBA Legal salutes women in all-female promotions round

The firm elevated two to partner, three to special counsel and one to associate

HBA Legal salutes women in all-female promotions round
Iona Sjahadi and Claire Tota

HBA Legal has tipped the cap to women in an all-female promotions round.

Iona Sjahadi and Claire Tota lead the pack, making the leap from senior associates to firm partners. They will succeed co-founders and directors Nathan Hepple and Brett Ablong in managing the firm’s workers’ compensation and casualty practice groups.

In addition to workers’ compensation and casualty, Sjahadi also specialises in coverage disputes and fraud. She works from the firm’s Sydney office, and is experienced in the management of major, complex and catastrophic claims.

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She has defended the largest shopping centres, retailers, cleaners and supermarkets in the country, and has appeared before both NSW and ACT courts. She focuses on public liability defence and CTP (motor accidents) claims, and has also advised on contracts, risk management and general insurance issues, including dual insurance. Her clients include mining companies, home owners, real estate agents and owners/operators of recreational facilities.

Prior to her tenure with HBA Legal, she worked with Vardanega Roberts Solicitors, NRMA and Sparke Helmore.

“Iona is such an incredible insurance lawyer, but importantly for the partnership role she can hold her own among senior people within the business and has shown great skill in mentoring junior solicitors in a way that they really respond,” Hepple said.

Tota operates from the Perth office and specialises in federal workers’ compensation. She has experience in commercial law, contracts and procurement, and her clients include self-insured licensees and third party claims managers.

She has appeared before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Federal Court throughout her career, handling matters such as WA workers’ compensation and public liability. She provides strategic assistance on claims management, vocational rehabilitation, dispute resolution options and general litigation, focusing on commercial considerations and the obligations of her clients under the federal workers’ compensation scheme.

“Claire has been with us since HBA’s inception in 2011 and it was evident to me very early on that Claire was top talent. Claire and I have had open and frank conversations over the years and, together, we devised a clear career pathway for her so it’s a great day to see this come to fruition,” Ablong said.

Sjahadi and Tota stepped into their new roles on 1 July, and Ablong, who is the managing director of the firm, applauded the effect of their appointments on the partnership.

“While Iona and Claire have absolutely been promoted on merit alone, a really nice flow on-effect of these promotions is the evening-up of the gender balance at the partnership table. I certainly think that’s something to be celebrated,” he said.

Ablong said that career progression is something that HBA Legal takes very seriously; however, it’s wise for lawyers to take initiative in moving their careers forward.

“The thing about promotion is that the onus is equally on both parties—the supervisor and the person seeking progression. It’s critical that people take ownership and are proactive in the management of their own careers. Both Claire and Iona are great examples of this,” he said. “This is not to say we don’t identify talent and nurture that talent and sometimes have to take the lead, of course that happens too. But I think all too often lawyers just sit back and wait for someone else to take control of their career and then they get upset when it doesn’t happen.”

In line with this, Ablong said that supervisor support plays a vital role in progression.

HBA Legal also promoted senior associates Natasha Fiodoroff from the Sydney office, Deirdre Pennock from the Perth office and Nicole Kelidis from the Melbourne office to special counsel. Meanwhile, Courtney Burrows from the Perth office has been promoted to associate.

“Nat, Deirdre and Nicole are exceptional practitioners, they’ve been doing it for a long time, and it’s important they have a title that clearly demonstrates this point to our clients,” said Hepple, who is the firm’s strategy and growth director.

He said that HBA Legal seeks to provide career progression paths that don’t necessarily lead to partnership as well, and that senior lawyers “have a real responsibility to those following behind”—something he isn’t certain law firm partners give enough credit to.

“We understand that it’s important for people to be able to demonstrate career progression, and steadily rise through an organisation. For some, not necessarily these three individuals, but some people do not ever want to be a partner, they are not interested in it, they don’t aspire to it, they don’t want it in their life,” Hepple said. “And there’s nothing wrong with that. But within our business, we want to be able to have a marker for both experience and excellence where people are senior practitioners, have demonstrated the HBA values over a period of time, but are not a partner.”

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