Deakin law graduate Tom Burgoyne is in the running for his second major law award this year after being nominated as a finalist in the 2018 Australian Law Awards.
Earlier this year, Tom won the Regional Lawyer of the Year Award at the Law Institute of Victoria’s Legal Awards and is now a finalist in the Regional/Suburban Lawyer of the Year category in the national awards.
Tom graduated in 2008 with a Bachelor Arts/Laws (Hons) degree and after a 10-year career with Slater and Gordon he is now Director and Principal of his own firm - Fortitude Legal - which has offices in Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo.
‘I head the Geelong office and manage a practice of personal injuries litigation in motor vehicle accidents, workers’ compensation and public liability claims. We are a start-up law firm made up of practitioners all with national law firm experience,’ he explains.
Tom grew up in Portland in south-west Victoria before moving to Geelong to study at Deakin. To pay his way through university, he made the conscious choice to work in manual labouring jobs such as wool scouring and builder/brickie labouring.
‘I figured that if I progressed through and completed my degrees I would likely be working in a sedentary, office environment so I wanted to relish the opportunity to work in physical roles with a wide range of different people. Growing up in a regional area, I was instilled with values and respect for a hard-work ethic and being authentic. There’s not much room for ego,’ he says.
Tom also thought that if he were to practise law, he wanted to work in a local community and his range of practical jobs gave him a unique insight into the real and devastating impacts of workplace injuries.
‘When it came time to apply for seasonal clerkships at law firms, I was very fortunate to be accepted into a seasonal clerkship at Slater and Gordon where I was able to work on workplace injuries and motor vehicle accidents matters,’ he says.
He went on to complete a graduate program with the firm (including a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice) before managing the motor vehicle accidents injury practice in Geelong as a first-year lawyer.
‘At first, this was daunting but I quickly learned to back myself and it shaped me into the practitioner I am today,’ he says.
Working widely across litigation matters, Tom progressed to senior associate level before establishing Fortitude Legal where he’s passionate about representing local people at what is often the most difficult time of their lives.
‘They may be dealing with devastating injuries or have lost a loved one in a fatal accident. Although the law can never truly undo the damage that has been inflicted upon someone, obtaining just compensation for someone is crucial for their ultimate survival and is recognition of what has happened to them,’ he explains.
He says torts law has the by-product of holding negligent parties to account but the legislation governing these claims can be complex.
‘It’s rewarding navigating a client through this and achieving an outcome that enables them some security in the future. You meet some truly resilient and strong clients in this line of work - which was also the inspiration for the name of our firm.’
Over his career Tom has acted in a number of high-profile local matters and advocated for legislative change.
Most recently he was involved in ‘test case’ litigation for a local cyclist in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and Supreme Court (testing the scope of the Transport Accident Act 1986), and he continued to lobby for legislative change which included an article in the Law Institute Journal.
‘This has resulted in a Bill being introduced into Victorian Parliament (the Treasury and Finance Legislation Amendment Bill 2018) which seeks to amend the Act to correct the anomaly this case outlined. The amendment is also retrospective to my client’s accident which is very rare. I was also fortunate to have been given the opportunity to assist the Law Institute of Victoria in writing submissions in respect of legal issues surrounding the introduction of automated vehicles on our roads,’ he says.
As an ongoing mentor to junior lawyers and school students, Tom says he takes deep pride in his professional role and responsibilities.
‘You never set out to try to obtain recognition (and initially I was quite embarrassed at being nominated) but I’m very grateful – both personally and professionally – and I see this as reflective of the clients I represent and the colleagues I work with rather than any personal achievement.’
The Australian Law Awards will be held in Sydney on 31 August.