Personal injury lawyers don’t often rate highly in the public mind, with ‘ambulance chasers’ among the less-than-positive names associated with some of those practising in the field.
Not that such perceptions can deter Donna Percy’s commitment to the discipline in which she has worked as a sole practitioner since December 1 2003, however.
Ms Percy specialises in what she terms ‘catastrophic personal injury’.
Despite the challenges of her role, Ms Percy says she has enjoyed herself beyond expectations.
“It’s not just dealing with clients who have had awful things happen to them, but also the impact on their family,” Ms Percy told WA Business News.
Ms Percy said her diverse academic background had proved very useful. She did an undergraduate degree in psychology, postgraduate in social work, and undertook her legal studies while working in the spinal injury unit at Royal Perth Hospital.
“It is essential to be able to listen, to be affable and available,” she said. “People like to think you care and that you have the time for them.
“You can’t cross the role of lawyer and counsellor, though.
“It is easier to listen and relate if you have a background in the area, understand the language and have some idea of what they are going through.
“If people need help, I can prompt them to the right place to get help. There are community resources and organisations that can fulfill that role.
“The times I have been most affected have involved the death or maiming of children, but I guess I have become a bit immune.”
Ms Percy left her position as a partner with Dwyer Durack, a firm she had been with for 13 years, to start her own practice.
“My practice had become quite specialised in a big firm – there were aspects of management and administration that I was just not interested in,” she said.
“I have always enjoyed being an individual and my new set-up gives me an amount of flexibility that I wouldn’t necessarily get elsewhere.
“A lot of personal injury lawyers advertise, but my practice is word of mouth, and I have 18 clients so far.”
When Ms Percy had her daughter, now six, she took just one week off work.
“You can be very creative in organising the things that need to be done,” she said.
“I believe you can be a good mother, a career woman and a wife.
“I used to get up at four to breastfeed, be at work by five, go back home to breastfeed, shop and do some housework, and then go back to work.
“My husband took a year’s leave, and for me, going to work was a real security – at least I knew what I was doing there.”
Not all women have that flexibility, however, and many women are forced to choose between work and family.
“In the early 1990s a lot of bigger firms were resisting women integrating work and family, but then it just gets thrust on them,” Ms Percy said.
“If you have valuable solicitors and want to keep them, then you simply have to bend over backwards to accommodate their lifestyle.”
Although historically the law had been a male-dominated field, the hurdles for women now were no different, she said.
“I have just always assumed that I would never be treated differently because I was a woman and that my judgment would be trusted about when I was at work.”