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After 4 decades as a lawyer, ‘it’s still a challenging, interesting, enjoyable job’

On a recent podcast episode, one 72-year-old lawyer reflected on his greatest achievements to date — and said he has no plans to slow down.

user iconLauren Croft 25 January 2023 Big Law
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Maithri Panagoda AM is a partner and compensation lawyer at Carroll & O’Dea Lawyers. He recently published a book celebrating four decades in legal practice and his career that has encompassed that 40-year period.

Speaking recently on The Lawyers Weekly Show, he discussed his life in the law and his most notable achievements. Mr Panagoda was born in Sri Lanka 72 years ago and lived there until he was 25 before moving to England to complete higher studies after taking his oaths as an advocate in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.

He then moved to Dubbo to work at the Western Aboriginal Legal Service before eventually moving to Sydney 10 years later to work for Carroll & O’Dea.  


Mr Panagoda also worked on a landmark case in the mid-90s around the experience of Indigenous Australians in custody and the first deaths in custody case that was litigated in Australia, which he also reflected on.

“I think people were very happy about the way the process was operated, and so it’s very much a learning experience for the whole legal team on both sides. To achieve something, you don’t necessarily have to challenge each other,” he said.

“You don’t necessarily have to go to courts and get a judge to make a decision. You don’t have to give evidence and open yourself for cross-examination. So, I think it was a fantastic system that we were able to develop.”

In line with this — and amid the currently turbulent legal market — Mr Panagoda said integrity is now one of the most important things a lawyer can have.

“If you are passionate about something, then you go for it and commit yourself fully. I was very fortunate, I mean, I was able to raise a family while doing this work, and it’s really a commitment, long-term commitment. You spend 10 hours a day in the office, that type of thing. But I mean, at my current age, I’m still doing similar work, long hours,” he added.

“So, it’s a question of being true to yourself, a hundred per cent commitment to your task, trusting your clients and winning their confidence and looking after them. Of course, you get paid for what you do, but money is, I think, secondary. The satisfaction you get, the joy you get by getting a good result for a deserving person, I think that rates very high. And obviously, if there’s something that you can’t do [or] you can’t achieve, you tell the client and be honest and understanding because the clients come to you trusting you that you will do the best job. So that’s how I mentor young lawyers. We have a lot of young lawyers coming up.”

Mr Panagoda also teaches at Notre Dame University, where he mentors students as well as younger lawyers at Carroll & O’Dea.

“It’s turbulent times, challenging times, and a lot of people are working from home and office. You’ve got to be able to trust your fellow workers and get things done. I mean, we have core teams now via Zoom, so it’s a very different scenario. People like us had to learn new techniques [and] technology, but it’s a wonderful area to work in. I’m still very passionate about my work. I’m early; every day, I’m in the office by six-thirty or seven, so it’s a wonderful experience, and being able to train young people on the right path and enjoy the work and balance your personal interest, family and then work — I think these are the important things,” he explained.

“My current work is mostly to do with the historical child abuse from the royal commission. Very, very challenging, very traumatic events. The clients are in their 50s and 60s now, so you have to have that understanding, the empathy, and also being able to listen to those stories and make sense out of it. So, it’s still a challenging, interesting, enjoyable job.”

And despite already having a long legal career, Mr Panagoda said he was still enjoying his legal work — and there are a number of things exciting him moving forward.

“Everything is a challenge, and you need to find new ways of confronting these situations. Law is not just one area, it’s the beauty of new avenues opening up, and you need to be able to consider them, take up the challenge and use your knowledge and experience to explore those new avenues. So, it’s a great area to practice in; never a dull moment,” he added.

“I’m still enjoying it. I think there’s a bit of pressure from my children to slow down, but I don’t think I need to. And I’ve got a very strong team, fantastic young people who are interested in the work, who are committed to the work. So, I will keep going. I think as long as I can drive a car, I think I will continue to work at the same pace.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Maithri Panagoda AM, click below: