A compassionate advocate for change, Theodora Ahilas heads Maurice Blackburn’s asbestos and dust diseases national practice. She’s fought for compensation for workers and their families for 25 years, and sees her role as a bridge between the law, industry and doctors. “I always wanted to be a social justice lawyer,” she says.
Theodora Ahilas says her motivation to study law owes much to her working class, non-English speaking background. “I’d seen people’s inability to access legal services when they needed to because they lacked knowledge and understanding of the law.”
After high school, she enrolled at another university in Sydney to study Arts/Law but didn’t enjoy it, so finished her Arts degree and then transferred to UTS.
“By day I did a Social Work degree, and then I’d walk to UTS in the evening and did Law in their first few years at the Haymarket campus,” Ahilas says. “Most of the students worked hard in their day jobs and were motivated to learn. I absolutely loved it.” She also met her partner Tony Sekr, a fellow law student.
Ahilas interned with Legal Aid and a commercial law firm. “It taught me that I never wanted to be a commercial lawyer – that it would be the worst torture doing that job,” she says.
Instead, she joined Turner Freeman Lawyers in their litigation department. Her first case was an asbestos claim. After staying with the firm for 14 years, she moved to her current job at Maurice Blackburn where she’s worked for 12 years.
“It’s such as honour to help these people,” Ahilas says. “99 per cent of the time the clients are too ill to come in person to my office – most have a very poor prognosis – so I visit them in hospital or at home. They have so much faith and trust in me at such a vulnerable time – it is such a humbling experience.”
And often Ahilas goes beyond the call of duty. Last year, she was called urgently to a man’s bedside in Darwin. “I got the first flight on Sunday morning and did all the work by 10:30 pm and then his wife said ‘Oh, Theodora, we don’t have a Will.’ By 2am, through the collaborative work of my team of ten people who pulled out all the stops, we executed his Will. On Tuesday morning he died.”
Ahilas dedication has not gone unrecognised. She has received the Justice Medal from the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, for her “extraordinary compassion and commitment to supporting the families of clients” and also won the UTS Alumni Award for Excellence, Faculty of Law.