Adair Donaldson honoured as Queensland’s top small firm solicitor for groundbreaking approach to trauma

Adair Donaldson honoured as Queensland’s top small firm solicitor for groundbreaking approach to trauma

16 August 2023

Transforming trauma into closure as state's best lawyer

Something clicked for Adair Donaldson as a young lawyer in Dalby many moons ago.

Identifying solutions where others saw problems, the Toowoomba based solicitor has since spent 27 years revolutionising the way trauma victims are assisted.

“I remember when I was at Dalby the federal government announced $54m dollars to simply start a conversation in relation to illicit drugs and I think that’s what spurred me on,” Mr Donaldson said.

“On the frontline there I was thinking, ‘why are we treating youth as a problem to be solved rather than looking at them as the solution to the problem?’.

“There has to be a better way of assisting people that are experiencing trauma.”

Kickstarting a career devoted to embracing closure and consequences rather than pure monetary compensation, Mr Donaldson has been a leading advocate of holistic approaches to trauma. Supporting people from the Darling Downs for nearly three decades, the father of four was honoured as Queensland’s Small Firm Solicitor of the Year at the Queensland Law Society 2023 Excellence in Law Awards a fortnight ago.

“It’s the greatest compliment to be acknowledged by your peers,” he said.

“What makes it special is the fact that this isn’t a regional award, this is for the whole of the state where the majority of practices in Queensland are small, that is having up to 19 practitioners, so it’s a significant field we were up against whether it be in Brisbane, Townsville or Gold Coast.

“That fact that people believe I have made a difference is very special for me.”

Not content to simply maintain the status quo, the award winner identified strategies that victims of trauma could adopt to ease their pain. Sufferers of sexual abuse, separation, loss of land or defence force related trauma, among a plethora of others, have all benefited immensely from Mr Donaldson’s unique perspective.

“A lot of people think that money is going to be the number one governing factor for them, and certainly that is a priority, but what they’re looking for is closure,” he said.

“I always talk about the ‘four A’s; the acknowledgment, the apology, giving them an assurance that by sharing their trauma it’s going to make a difference for others, and then finally to get them financial assistance.

“I’m very proud that we’ve taken a different approach because normally people look at lawyers and think we’re incredibly litigious and adversarial.”

Spreading this inimitable work all around the nation, Mr Donaldson has built a large regional practice in Toowoomba, worked as a partner in a national legal firm, founded Donaldson Law, consulted for the National Rugby League, and led the way in improving legal awareness among the young and old. Even with his extensive and influential body of work, the challenge of changing human behaviour is one Mr Donaldson acknowledges he will never conquer, despite his best efforts.

“I’ve been used by the National Rugby League since 2008 to engage with players and clubs, and you may be thinking, ‘far out you haven’t done a good job’, but the NRL employs 1800 young men in the at-risk category and we’ve educated them on what the legal consequences are if they put a foot wrong,” he said.

“One thing I know is that we are never, ever, ever going to eradicate people making poor decisions in relation to sexual assaults or violence, but what we can eradicate is ignorance of the law and that’s where I’ve led the way.

“You would like to think the work that we do would become less with the nature of the stuff we’re doing, but unfortunately that’s not occurring.”

National demand has never detracted from the prominent lawyer’s commitment to issues affecting the region. Intrinsically linked to the Darling Downs and based in Toowoomba, Mr Donaldson said the pertinence of holistic trauma methods has never been more apparent.

“People are going through trauma in our area at the moment with respect to people losing their land to the bypass,” he said.

“Through no fault of their own they’re going to be losing their properties and livelihoods.

“Whether it be trauma related to land resumption, separation, or the large number of ADF personnel that I’ve always looked after, we’re able to provide these services from our home base in Toowoomba.”

From his days in Dalby as a budding, motivated solicitor, to receiving the highest of honours in his field, Mr Donaldson has not wavered in his trailblazing vision to treat trauma with compassion.

Liam Cook – The Chronicle

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