Ironbridge Legal special counsel on mentoring juniors and a day with RBG and Antonin Scalia

Donna Boyce loves being a part of younger lawyers' professional development

Ironbridge Legal special counsel on mentoring juniors and a day with RBG and Antonin Scalia

For Donna Boyce, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia’s friendship is one people can learn from in these divided days. In a profession that can tend to be “unnecessarily unreasonable and difficult,” Boyce believes that lawyers need to support each other with “more than baseline professional courtesy.”

The Ironbridge Legal special counsel makes it a point to not only pick up the phone and talk to people, but also to mentor junior lawyers. A critical aspect of her role, she says, is to ensure that her team thrives where they are.

In this interview, Boyce talks working within the boutique firm environment, surviving the pandemic with three kids at home and the effect of COVID-19 on the business of law in the field of litigation and insolvency.

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What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?

I chose a career in law because I thought it was a way in which I could help people in difficult circumstances to achieve positive outcomes. This is still my favourite part of the job – I enjoy facing difficult questions and creating solutions to get positive results for clients.

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

Ironbridge Legal has seen immense growth this year with the addition of a number of key staff. This growth has necessitated several new programs and incentives. An initiative which I find particularly important is my mentorship of junior lawyers – delivering top-tier training within the four walls of a boutique law firm. As an experienced special counsel, I believe a critical part of my role is to ensure the team are happy, supported and thriving in their roles.

Ironbridge Legal has a hands-on approach to mentorship, and we believe that building legal process management skills and good communication in our junior lawyers is vital to providing the highest quality service. For me personally, I enjoy watching other lawyers grow and knowing that I am part of their professional development.

What tech-related initiatives adopted by the organisation, if any, are you most excited about?

As a boutique firm, we have the benefit of being exposed to a range of tech-related systems which we evaluate on a matter-by-matter basis. We utilise a sophisticated practice management system, which is key to managing large-scale and high-calibre matters. I have enjoyed learning to utilise the features of the system and building them into my own personal process management.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so? Or what’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give fellow lawyers about it?

To give an honest answer, I think my proudest achievement of the last year has been surviving home schooling with three children, COVID-19 and working from home with my husband. Working from home can be good and bad, because when you work from home you can’t escape and there’s no work-life division. What I have had to learn is to be disciplined in switching out of work mode, so I do not end up working very long hours.

My advice to fellow lawyers would be find a good balance. Balance is exceptionally important to make you minimise stress, which can help foster good health as well as making a positive impact on relationships with colleagues, clients and those at home.

What should the profession focus more on?

I think the legal profession needs to focus on supporting each other in a personal way, with more than baseline professional courtesy. Lawyers should treat one another as people and individuals, not strangers, and show kindness, patience and common sense wherever possible. There is often a tendency in the legal profession to be unnecessarily unreasonable and difficult. Working collaboratively tends to be in the best interest of clients, and I have learnt that picking up the phone and talking to people rather than hiding behind an email is usually more productive in resolving matters.

What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward? What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry?

I believe that staffing presents one of the greatest challenges especially as countries have changed their quarantine restrictions and homegrown lawyers have started travelling and moving overseas again. Especially for boutique law firms, the quality of the people is critical to the service we provide. I also feel that mental health is critical for all lawyers as working from home has been challenging in a lot of ways.

In our specialisms, litigation and insolvency, it is clear that COVID-19 has had a big impact on the business of law. Restrictions have raised a number of difficulties for litigators, including issues with remote cross-examination and additional costs where COVID-19 has interrupted proceedings. COVID-19 has also had a major impact on businesses, and this has raised a number of insolvency issues. We have seen a number of people and businesses struggling to understand the implications of COVID-19 lockdowns. However, as the ATO begins to pursue tax debts more heavily and creditor leniency wanes, many people will need to make difficult decisions about their businesses. 

What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?

I am most looking forward to being out-and-about again. It is wonderful to be able to meet people face-to-face for lunch or coffee. I am also looking forward to travelling and seeing my family and friends overseas again.

If you were given an opportunity to spend a day with anyone (living or dead), who would it be and why?

If I could spend the day with anyone, I think I would like to spend it with both Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. If I had the opportunity, I would ask them how they managed to maintain such a close friendship, despite their apparent ideological differences. Their friendship certainly is something we could all learn from in today’s divided times.

Ironbridge Legal was named Boutique Firm of the Year at the 2022 Australasian Law Awards.

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