For the past 35 years, asbestos lawyer Stephen Plunkett has represented more than 5,000 people, many of whom have since died or have had their lives changed irrevocably by the deadly material.
On August 31 this year, the grandfather of seven will notch up three and half decades with Slater and Gordon, marking a celebrated career that has included running the country’s first asbestos-related lung cancer case in 1991.
In 1982, Mr Plunkett was offered a tree change, leaving Melbourne for Morwell to help grow Slater and Gordon’s then only regional office. Three years later he became a partner.
He didn’t waste a second, building the practice into a beacon for people in the La Trobe Valley in need of personal injury assistance, providing support for motor vehicle, public liability, medical negligence, workers compensation and of course asbestos claims.
Over the years, he has also represented thousands of people involved in the controversial Hazelwood mine and in 2014 at the height of the notorious mine fire disaster, he temporarily moved the office to Moe.
“For me, the proudest moments in my career have been running difficult cases through to their verdict to get favourable results that have ended up changing a client’s – and their family’s – life for the better,” Mr Plunkett said.
The 62-year-old is now entrenched in the fabric of his Gippsland community and has even worked with families across three different generations.
On numerous occasions he has rushed to hospital bedsides as asbestos clients passed away, in order to comfort family members and take statements before going above and beyond to ensure they received the support they needed.
“I love working for and representing my community, particularly those people affected by asbestos-related disease,” he said.
“All power stations across the La Trobe Valley have been riddled with asbestos – with the exception of Loy Yang – it has been rife in this region and countless people have suffered as a result.
“Asbestos has been a national tragedy, which has left thousands of Australian families with nothing but loss and despair.”
Mr Plunkett – whose son James is now an accomplished barrister after working a three-year stint in Slater and Gordon’s Morwell office – is still as passionate as ever and offered some advice to aspiring lawyers starting out.
“Be prepared to work extremely hard, be passionate about it, take on the tough cases and think laterally for solutions and never forget that your Client is paramount,” he said. “Your clients are reliant on you and you need to embrace and relish your opportunity to make a real difference in the world.”