A desire to be a 'kind stranger'

A desire to be a 'kind stranger'

Monday, 5 June 2017

A strong desire to advocate for others and help them understand their rights was the catalyst for Lawyer Miriana Smoljko joining Victoria Legal Aid.

‘My grandpa was severely injured on a building site, and as he was an illiterate migrant worker, he relied on the goodwill of lawyers.

‘He and my grandmother navigated their way through life with the help of kind strangers and as a child I found great purpose in reading and explaining different paperwork to them, and advocating for them.

‘I became a lawyer with Victorian Legal Aid because it was an opportunity to be that “kind stranger” and help people better understand their legal rights and obligations.’

Now eight months into the New Lawyers Program, Miriana sees her role as the perfect opportunity to exercise her passion for therapeutic jurisprudence.

‘Working as a duty lawyer in the Geelong office offers opportunities daily to harness the potential of the law to act as a positive intervention in people's lives.

‘This is particularly so in the criminal division of the Geelong Children’s Court.

‘Often the Children's Court offers the ideal space to talk about how a young person can get help with addressing the underlying causes of their offending behaviour.

‘Our duty lawyer service also plays a critical early interventionist role in advocating for children to be diverted away from the criminal justice system.’

Lawyer Miriana Smoljko
Above: Lawyer Miriana Smoljko

As for the challenges in her role, it’s a familiar lament for all lawyers.

‘Time is a constant challenge! It’s always difficult trying to give clients enough time and fairly distributing it so that nobody is left behind as a duty list rolls on.

‘Fortunately, the New Lawyers Program offers great mentoring and the support of colleagues has been of great benefit as I embark on the rollercoaster of learning and finding my feet as an advocate.

Pressed for the qualities needed to succeed in the role, Miriana doesn’t hesitate.

‘A duty lawyer requires a willingness to learn, optimism, professionalism and an ability to engage in reflective practice.

‘Every day offers a new opportunity to reflect on how our service can be enhanced to improve a client’s experience and their interaction with the criminal justice system.’

Despite the emotionally taxing nature of her work, Miriana feels the benefits make it all worthwhile.

‘I recently met a young girl on duty who had developed severe trust issues due to experiencing family violence.

‘It took time for her to comfortably articulate that her offending was a way of coping with her trauma.

‘Often there is a hesitation to recommend or grant a child diversion if a young person has similar priors. However, presented with a bundle of past family violence intervention orders that were issued to protect this young person, eventually the prosecution decided to support an application for diversion, as did the court.

‘This young girl sat in a room with the Children's Court Diversion Coordinator to develop a plan for her to reengage with school and receive help from Headspace.

‘She walked out of court saying, ‘I didn't know I could get this kind of help. Sometimes I feel forgotten and I was angry the last time I came here. I'm happy to get this new chance and that the judge appreciated what I've been going through.’

‘This story demonstrates the vital role Victoria Legal Aid has to play in advocating for the law to be used as a therapeutic intervention for children.’

More information​

Read more about our New Lawyers Program.

Read more about Headspace.