Making a difference on the justice frontline

Making a difference on the justice frontline

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The ability to make a difference in the lives of our clients and contribute to a fair and just society where rights and responsibilities are upheld motivates our lawyers at Victoria Legal Aid, and Criminal Lawyer Fatima Arjumand Mir is no exception.

‘Being a part of an organisation that affords its employees opportunities to address entrenched disadvantage and contribute to a better society attracted me to Victoria Legal Aid.’

Fatima believes the diversity and range of roles at Victoria Legal Aid has also assisted her development.

‘I first started as a Legal Help Lawyer on Victoria Legal Aid’s Legal Help phone line, progressed to a legal and policy officer position in the Assignments team and am now part of the New Lawyers Program.’

Our New Lawyers Program offers lawyers the opportunity to build on their experience and skills through suburban job placements as well as a six-month placement in a regional office.

Life in the New Lawyers Program can be hectic and Fatima’s day is often challenging.

‘As a criminal lawyer in our Ringwood office, my primary duty is to assist clients with their summary crime matters.

‘A day can vary depending on what I am rostered to do that day, and can range from being a duty lawyer at court, seeing clients in an appointment or working on files in the office.

‘If I’m rostered to be a duty lawyer in court, I’m often giving clients advice about their legal issue, seeking their instructions, negotiating with police prosecutors or appearing on behalf of clients before a Magistrate.

‘Whilst on duty, I would typically be assisting multiple clients and come across a range of interesting and challenging issues. There is never a dull moment.’

Fatima Arjumand Mir
Above: Criminal Lawyer Fatima Arjumand Mir

While the work is rewarding, there is no denying the challenges.

‘Time pressures, heavy workloads, clients with an intellectual disability and vulnerable clients experiencing financial difficulties, language and cultural barriers, substance abuse and mental health issues are all part of a normal day.’

As for the personal qualities required for success in the role, Fatima is forthright.

‘Confidence in yourself and your ability to assist your client, resilience, a caring nature for vulnerable clients and the ability to recognise when you are at your limit are all desirable qualities for a duty lawyer.’

Pressed on what she finds most satisfying about her role, Fatima doesn’t hesitate.

‘My role provides a voice for those who are usually not heard and people should never forget the significant role defence lawyers play in the justice system.’

The role can also be very emotionally rewarding says Fatima.

‘I always recall fondly a client I serviced as a duty lawyer. She had a number of drink driving offences before the court that occurred six years ago and had left the state after they occurred in order to turn her life around.

‘Her personal circumstances were quite sad as she had turned to alcohol after being a victim of family violence and had incurred the drink-driving charges while driving to get to work.

‘By the time I met her she had rehabilitated herself. She had successfully completed an alcohol rehabilitation program, given birth to a child, secured a job and become involved with her local community.

‘However, the multiple drink-driving charges were hanging over her head and she was worried about imprisonment.

‘I assisted her with a plea that day and the matter finalised with her receiving only a financial penalty and the Magistrate acknowledging her efforts to turn her life around.

‘Even the police prosecutor in court acknowledged her positive rehabilitation, told her she was doing a great job and wished her all the best.

‘She was so grateful for my help and subsequently dropped off some flowers and a thank you card to show her appreciation.

‘It’s hard to top days like these.’

As for her final thoughts on the New Lawyers Program, Fatima says it’s a perfect fit for lawyers looking to make a tangible impact on people’s lives.

‘I always wanted to work in a role where I could provide a service to those who need it most.

‘I believe Victoria Legal Aid and the New Lawyers Program has provided me with that opportunity.’