‘Mentoring adds richness and soul to my working week’ – Naomi Newbound and the enduring value of mentoring

‘Mentoring adds richness and soul to my working week’ – Naomi Newbound and the enduring value of mentoring

Thursday, 11 February 2021

‘We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give’ – Winston Churchill

Providing a mentee their own cheer squad

It takes lawyers many years of honing their craft to reach the top of their game, and encouragement, guidance and mentoring play a critical role on this journey.

Our Senior Lawyer Naomi Newbound is a strong advocate of the mentoring process, and was recently recognised with our 2020 New Lawyers Program Mentor Award. The award was voted upon by junior lawyers in our New Lawyers Program, and acknowledges Naomi’s significant contribution towards their development.

Naomi believes mentoring plays a crucial role in improving a junior lawyer’s confidence, ability and knowledge, which in turn will enable them to do higher level advocacy, or take on more complex file work.

Naomi Newbound smiling and wearing a purple cardigan, blue polka dot top and holding her award.
Senior Lawyer Naomi Newbound

‘When I mentor a lawyer, I am in effect acting as their personal cheer squad, and supporting them to achieve their goals.

‘I start by advocating on their behalf to take on a challenging case and help them prepare it. What starts as a vague dream, can become a reality within a matter of days, proving that with persistence and a plan, they can achieve their career objectives. Once they have formed the habit of fulfilling their aspirations, it is less daunting to take on new challenges as they build the necessary skills and gain confidence,’ she said.

Naomi’s anonymous mentee voters praised her caring and supportive approach to developing their skills.

‘Naomi has been a wonderfully supportive host for me in the New Lawyers Program. From my first day, she was committed to exposing me to a range of opportunities, both in the Assessment and Referral Court (ARC) List and in the broader summary crime team. Naomi always made herself available to workshop my files when I had questions, was compassionate and responsive when I needed to debrief after a day in court, included me enthusiastically in meetings with ARC stakeholders and welcomed me to shadow her more complex files. She put effort and thought into my development and progressively gave me more responsibility as my confidence grew. I am very grateful to have a hardworking and collaborative mentor who was committed to my development as a young practitioner in a complex and fast paced practice area.’

Building upon mentee’s successes

While any lawyer’s first attempt at doing something is always the most difficult, Naomi believes it gets easier over time. Therefore, she encourages her mentees to piggyback their successes. Mentees are advised that once they have done one appeal file, they should look for another, or next time, prepare to do their own appearance in a higher court plea. The aim is to build a bank of such experiences, to help them become an expert.

As well as pushing her junior charges, Naomi is always available as a sounding board and source of feedback.

‘I provide support to their endeavours, as part of the mentoring process. I am available to check everything from complex legal documentation to tricky communications with other people, for a diplomacy check. This provides my mentees with a safety net, giving them the confidence to accept new challenges and stretch outside their comfort zone. I also acknowledge what they are doing well and advise on where they can improve.

‘To achieve best outcomes, I introduce my mentees to my networks within and outside our organisation. In this way, they meet other top lawyers that can help them with particular cases, and go on to form their own professional networks. I am also there to guide in the day-to-day business of being a good solicitor, such as maintaining a diary, keeping files in order and providing consistent follow up to the client and their support network. I lead by example and demonstrate the strategies that I have developed over time. Then, I monitor their progress via regular check-ins, to help them stay on track. This is not a cold, clinical process. Rather, I share my own stories, which include many mistakes and embarrassing experiences in front of magistrates and clients, to illustrate the story of how I grew and matured, and developed the strategies and skills required to be an effective lawyer and good colleague.

‘I make sure to include some tales of the trips and traps for young lawyers, including the dangers of not being organised (missed court dates, disappointing results). In doing so, I hope to save them time wasted in rectifying mistakes, which could have been avoided with proper planning and attention to detail.’

While advising her mentees of the pitfalls of their profession, Naomi realises that new lawyers will inevitably be overly critical of their mistakes, and an important aspect of mentoring is to teach the importance of resilience and maintaining a sense of perspective.

‘Mistakes happen! We are people not machines and there’s always a way to fix things. In extending care and kindness to my mentees, I teach them that there is almost no mistake that cannot be rectified, and there is nothing to be gained from beating yourself up.

Lawyers do not like to make errors, as it is a blow to one’s pride, and there can be a lot at stake, including a person’s liberty. I am proud that I can help our young lawyers develop the personal skills to manage this stress, and keep working and thriving in a demanding environment.’

Mentoring gives back far more than I give

While mentoring is an imposition on a lawyer’s time, it’s not all one-way traffic, and Naomi says there are significant benefits for the mentor.

‘Mentoring is one of the practices that serves as an antidote to burn out and the associated tendency to become complacent or cynical.

‘Pushing a mentee to work on a more complex case, or do more demanding advocacy work, provides the opportunity to test the boundaries of my own knowledge and preconceptions, which in turn helps me grow as a professional.

‘Carving out time for mentoring in my weekly schedule also adds richness and soul to my working week, as time that might have been frittered away on less useful exercises, is instead put towards someone else’s development.

‘Mentoring our junior lawyers is an opportunity to develop both as a professional and at a personal level. Where the temptation in life and work is to focus only on those things that serve your own needs, mentoring is a selfless and altruistic activity which encourages personal growth.

‘My ultimate goal as a mentor is to encourage my mentees to become excellent lawyers and to achieve their career goals. It makes me proud to see them develop whilst under my guidance, and even more proud to see them take on new positions, and continue to achieve and excel.’

Mentoring the next generation

There are many reasons to be a mentor, but for Naomi, the reasons are personal.

‘I had my own mentors early in my career. A couple of them are people that I respect to this day, and others have transformed into enduring personal friendships. They represented the kind of lawyer that I wanted to be: ethical, capable and respected by others.

‘These people set an example and instilled in me good habits that have assisted me throughout my career. They taught me not just how to be a good lawyer, but by their example, how to be a good mentor. Now it’s my turn to step up and mentor the next generation of lawyers, and pay back the benefit that was provided to me. I hope to carry out the role of mentor well.’

Naomi, if your award and mentee feedback at Victoria Legal Aid is any indication of your mentor talents, we think you’re doing just fine.

More information

New Lawyer’s Program

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