‘The profession has finally admitted it has a problem,’ DBH managing partner says

For Amy Nikolovski, the legal industry still has ways to go in terms of eliminating harassment

‘The profession has finally admitted it has a problem,’ DBH managing partner says
Amy Nikolovski

Amy Nikolovski recently made legal history as the youngest and only woman to be elected as the leader of a major law firm in SA. The workers comp specialist, who is the youngest equity partner at DBH Lawyers, decided to pursue a legal career due to her passion for social justice.

Nikolovski has tackled some heartbreaking matters in her time as a plaintiff lawyer, but she has also recorded some noteworthy achievements in the area of addressing the sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination in the legal profession. As a strong advocate of gender equity and diversity, an important focus for this former SA Law Society president is driving a shift in the industry culture.

In this interview, Nikolovski talks a tragic case she handled early in her career, giving back to the SA community and DBH’s continued growth.

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

I entered law as I had a passion for social justice and the desire to continue my education. Neither of my parents had tertiary educations; in fact, my mother, an immigrant, wasn’t given the opportunity to even attend high school.

My favourite part of my job as a plaintiff lawyer is being able to make an actual difference in a person’s life. There is nothing better than getting a great result for a deserving client.

What is the most memorable case you've taken on/been involved in?

I have been involved in South Australian workers compensation matters that have set precedent for years and are still referred to until this day; however, they aren’t the most memorable. My most memorable are the terribly sad cases.

The one that will never leave me is a case that I was involved in in my very first year of practice. The client had multiple physical injuries and had developed a psychiatric condition as a consequence of those injuries and her inability to return to work. The matter was highly litigious, with the self-insured employer fighting the matter every step of the way. Just before the Christmas break, I had finalised the worker’s statement in preparation for trial in February.

On the day I returned to work following our Christmas shutdown, I had to take the most tragic phone call from my client’s mother: my client had attempted suicide by setting herself on fire and was in the ICU. It was unlikely she would survive, and she didn’t.

I then acted on behalf of her partner and two young children, and although they ultimately received compensation, it would never replace their mother.

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

There has been a lot of recent change at DBH. We have just rebranded and have rolled out our new advertising campaign, with a client focus.

Something that I am particularly proud of is that we have just entered is a long-term agreement with Novita. We have sponsored a program where we have purchased a van for them, which will be converted into a mobile coffee unit. It will allow disabled South Australians access to a potential career path in hospitality as a barista, as the DBH Coffee Van will support two workers to be trained each time it goes out. We are excited about this new partnership and our ability to give back to the South Australian community.

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?

One of my proudest accomplishments was the introduction of a mandatory CPD point in South Australia for sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination after years of lobbying to get LPEAC to approve it. I think that the HCA scandal and the media coverage that surrounded it may have given them a gentle push in the right direction, but after years of lobbying and making the elimination of sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination in the legal profession my main focus during the presidential year (2019), it was a joyous feeling to have it included.

Although having a MCPD won’t eliminate the behaviours, it is a starting point, and a step toward the cultural shift that is needed in the profession.

What should the profession and law firms focus more on?

Developing the culture, so that mental health and well-being are paramount and those who are struggling aren’t stigmatised. We also have a long way to go in stamping out sexual harassment and bullying.

We are taking baby steps now, and the profession has finally admitted it has a problem – we just need to implement the change.

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?

COVID-19 will continue to have an ongoing impact on the business of law in general. Until such time that we can be confident that borders won’t shut, and we won’t go into lockdown at short notice, it will be difficult to be confident of matters proceeding, a deal going through, etc.

I believe we still have a culture crisis in Australia which needs to be managed. Burnout is a real issue, and I am hopeful that the pandemic has taught us that being flexible is beneficial to all. We don’t need to be chained to our desks 14 hours a day to be productive – in fact, that should never happen.

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

Moving forward, I am looking forward to continued growth in our practice and developing other areas of law. I am also looking forward to rolling out the sexual harassment training via the Law Society of South Australia, which I have been trained as a trainer to deliver, and hopefully starting to see a cultural shift in the legal profession.

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