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Our History

In 2015, Ryan Carlisle Thomas celebrates its 40th birthday. While in many respects the firm today little resembles its early incarnation, it has nevertheless remained remarkably faithful to its original charter in the pursuit of social and industrial justice for ordinary working people.

The big union disputes in which the firm was embroiled in the 70s and 80s have given way to a broader engagement in social justice, perhaps best expressed today in its fight against sexual abuse and its strong advocacy for workers' rights to compensation and fair workplace laws.

Founded in 1975 under the name Ryan Carlisle Needham and Thomas, the founding partners John Ryan, Bob Carlisle, Gary Needham and Orm Thomas had been active in representing unions and their members while at the firm Holding Ryan and Redlich. The new firm was a natural extension of the founders' commitment to social justice and the objectives of the organized labour movement. A close association with the union movement, industrial representation and legal support for the victims of workplace injury were and remain at the heart of the firm.

Ryan Carlisle Thomas assumed its current title on the retirement of Gary Needham in 1983. The managing partner of the firm today is Ron Pearce.

In seeking to establish a forum to encourage cooperation among labor law firms and to resist legislation detrimental to working people, Ryan Carlisle Thomas led the formation of the Australian Plaintiff Lawyers Association in 1992. This organisation eventually became the Australian Lawyers Alliance. Managing partner Ron Pearce was the first national treasurer of the organization.

As its portfolio of legal services has grown, so too has its presence across metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria. The several offices in which it was once housed in Dandenong, Melbourne and Bendigo have grown into a comprehensive network that spans 24 offices across metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria. The largest single expansion of the firm's reach occurred in 2007 when it acquired the 100-year-old law firm Stringer Clark in 2007. The acquisition saw it become the largest law firm in Western Victoria. Stringer Clark continues to trade under its original name.

Yet, in spite of its growth, the firm has held fast to the easy informality and client care ethos of a smaller company.

A modern law firm staffed by dedicated people

Today, Ryan Carlisle Thomas employs more than 120 people across the State, offering a broad range of services designed to cater for the broadest possible legal needs of working people whether at work or in their private lives.

Within the workplace, RCT has extended its traditional industrial law expertise into one of Victoria's most successful workplace injury compensation practices, its largest department being WorkCover. The firm is also expert at helping people unlock the benefits of insurance policies which are often part of a worker's superannuation scheme, where death or temporary or permanent disability is involved.

RCT's strong employment law practice enables it to handle matters of unfair dismissal, contract disputes, discrimination and bullying in the workplace, along with disciplinary hearings. We also handle military compensation claims, Comcare and Seacare claims, road accidents while at work, and asbestos exposure in the workplace.

Outside of the workplace, the firm has strong practice in seeking compensation for the survivors of road accidents, injury in public, asbestos exposure, and sexual and institutional abuse.

Family law, wills and probate, property and conveyancing, small business advice, and criminal law complete our suite of services which are designed to meet the legal needs of our clients both in and outside of work.

Since our establishment we have successfully handled many prominent cases - for more information on some of these please see significant cases.