Flying the flag for mental health clients

Flying the flag for mental health clients

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The desire to make a positive difference to the lives of others and advocate for changes in the law to relieve entrenched disadvantage all contributed to Senior Lawyer Naomi Newbound joining Victoria Legal Aid.

Victoria Legal Aid has appealed to Naomi since commencing as a criminal lawyer at our Sunshine office in 2009.

‘The size and scope of the organisation attracted me as I knew that it would afford me the best opportunity to do varied, interesting and rewarding work.

‘The organisation has a significant public profile within the legal fraternity and in the eyes of the general public, which maximises its potential to make a difference to the lives of its disadvantaged clients.’

Now working as a Senior Lawyer, ARC List Coordinator for the Assessment and Referral Court (ARC list), which sits in the Magistrates’ Court, Naomi enjoys her challenging work.

‘This court is a specialised mental health court whose role is to divert mentally unwell clients from the prison system and address the causes of their offending behaviour.

‘It also seeks to attend to their treatment needs and secure their links to the broader community.

‘My role involves making sure Victoria Legal Aid is providing the best possible service to the ARC list by ensuring the list is adequately staffed by suitably qualified people, any operational issues are addressed and the role of the Assessment and Referral Court continues to be promoted within Victoria Legal Aid, the Magistrates’ Court and the broader legal community.’

Senior Lawyer Naomi Newbound
Senior Lawyer Naomi Newbound

While the work is satisfying, there is no denying the challenges inherent in the work.

‘It’s a constant challenge to access limited community resources for my clients, especially in the areas of accommodation, drug counselling and mental health treatment.

However, despite the challenges, Naomi knows she is making a difference in the community.

‘By working in this field, I am making an important contribution to some severely unwell people.

‘At the point where they enter the ARC List, they are typically coming out of a downward spiral, of drug abuse and admissions to the psychiatric ward.

‘Once their mental health treatment needs are addressed and they have stopped using drugs, they are often able to return to much more functional lives.

‘This means that they can sometimes return to paid or voluntary work and resume healthy relationships with their families.  In terms of community benefits, this means that the person is no longer committing offences, so fewer victims and associated criminal charges.

‘The costs involved in prosecuting criminal offences and keeping people in jail are enormous, so the therapeutic justice approach is far more beneficial.

Despite the demanding nature of the work, Naomi feels the rewards far outweigh the testing times.

‘Though Victoria Legal Aid’s intervention, I’m often able to witness improvement in a client’s presentation and their capacity to lead a fulfilling life, and to make a direct contribution to that outcome is very satisfying.

‘In a recent case, one of the ARC list clients had been languishing on the list for months without getting much traction.

‘After some motivational interviewing I was able to give my client greater insight into his situation and improve his willingness to engage in the ARC list process.

‘I also advocated in court for increased reliance on mental health outreach services which led to a more effective delivery of services to the client and a marked improvement in his mental health.

‘As a result of our intervention, the client resumed a relationship with his previously estranged father and the mother is less stressed and better able to support her son due to our successful application for her to receive the carer’s pension.’

As for her advice to junior lawyers wishing to practise in her area, Naomi recommends volunteering and seeking out a mentor

‘Volunteer work at community legal services is a terrific way for junior lawyers to gain experience in the areas of criminal law and therapeutic justice, whilst making a worthwhile contribution to society.

‘Local community legal services are often looking for volunteers, as are other specialist services such as the Mental Health Legal Centre.

‘Engaging a mentor in the legal profession who you can consult for specific legal advice and support and nurture your professional goals is also beneficial,’ she said.

More information

Read more about the Assessment and Referral Court List.

Find out more about careers at Victoria Legal Aid