Women at Work: Deborah Rolfe | HerCanberra

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Women at Work: Deborah Rolfe

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Sometimes you meet a certain kind of woman who makes you wonder: ‘How does she fit it all in?’ Deborah Rolfe is one of those women.

Mother of three, managing partner of law firm Maliganis Edwards Johnson, philanthropist—a typical day for Deborah is juggling all of the above.

“I’ll usually start work at 7.30am and leave at around 4.30pm, which gives me time to go to the gym, do the washing, ironing and prepare dinner – then after dinner we’re off attending a charity function,” Deborah says.

“I honestly thrive off being busy, and find it hard to leave my work at work once I’m home.”

Deborah is the first and only female partner at her firm, practicing in personal injury and litigation.

Debbie Rolfe

After stints in criminal and commercial law, she says it’s the most “satisfying” area to practice in.

“With commercial law you are never really dealing with anyone face to face because you’re working with large businesses, but in personal injury and litigation you are helping people every day who have been involved in incidents such as work related injuries or car accidents – so it makes it feel more real,” she says.

“It’s also very rewarding to get a good result and get the client’s life back on track – people who may have lost their homes or families because of a debilitating injury.”

Deborah says she first realised the power of her words when debating in high school.

“I think the notion of justice was a very important thing for me – I always wanted to stand up for what I thought was right,” she says.

“I did legal studies in college and that set my course, so I decided I really wanted to practice in that area.”

After completing her law degree at the Australian National University, Deborah packed up and moved to Sydney for her first job at a law firm, where she spent several years before love brought her back to her hometown.

“I met my now husband [businessman Richard Rolfe], who was based in Canberra, and moved back when he proposed,” she says.

Deborah took seven years off to raise the couple’s three boys, returning to work in 1996 as a solicitor for Maliganis Edwards Johnson.

For most women, returning to work after extended time off can be daunting, but Deborah says her employers were “incredibly supportive.”

“MEJ has been very supportive in enabling me to have what I consider the perfect work life balance, in so far as I can manage a full time career and not take away from the family life at all,” she says.51188-MEJ-MREC_FA-for-GIF

Being appointed partner in 2007 – just over ten years after she started at the firm – was a “career highlight.”

“It’s been a real achievement because I had come back to work but was still working around [my children’s] school hours at the time,” Deborah says.

“Yes it’s stressful, but this is an environment that I’m used to. I love coming into work every day because it’s all about the people you work with and getting great results for clients. We work hard but we really appreciate our position and capacity to assist others.”

And while their careers keep them extraordinarily busy, it never stops Deborah and her husband from giving back to the community.

The couple has worked selflessly for an impressive range of charities and causes to raise awareness and funds, including the Heart Foundation, Canberra Hospital Foundation (for which Deborah is chairpersonfor) and local sporting teams The Canberra Raiders and The Canberra Capitals.

“Working for the hospital foundation appeals to me in particular because my twin sons were born eight weeks premature,” Deborah says.

“The care and the empathy we were shown at that time was enormous. What had been quite a traumatic experience was made much easier thanks to the hospital staff.”

Last year, Deborah and Richard were named finalists in the local hero section of the Australian of the Year awards for their philanthropy.

Despite the recognition, Deborah remains as humble as ever.

“It was really an unexpected honour – we have just always felt that it’s very important to give back to our community,” she says.


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