Lost and found in translation: Cross-disciplinary conversations between lawyers and clinicians

Jo Sampford, Miss Niamh Fields1

1Queensland Advocacy Incorporated, South Brisbane, Australia

Queensland’s mental health system has undergone significant change since the commencement of the Mental Health Act 2016 (Qld) on 5 March 2017. One of the significant changes has been the introduction of legal representatives for patients for particular types of hearings. The entry of a new wave of lawyers into what has previously been a largely clinical forum has played a significant (but not the sole) role in a number of procedural and cultural changes both in the Tribunal, and in mental health services in Queensland. It has also sparked many cross-disciplinary conversations, as lawyers and psychiatrists learn more about each others’ practices and perspectives.

At its best, these cross-disciplinary conversations can be both informative and therapeutic, and lead to collaborative problem-solving that is particularly important for complex cases. These conversations can also lead to better understandings of key concepts, such as the legal and clinical approaches to assessing capacity. In the rare case, cross-disciplinary friction can cause frustration for both professionals and tend towards adversarialism.

This presentation will review some of the significant learnings and changes since the introduction of Queensland’s new Mental Health Act. It will also provide some practice tips for both lawyers and clinicians on how to have better cross-disciplinary conversations.


Jo juggled roles as a mental health advocate, corporate lawyer and disability support worker before joining QAI in March 2017 to support the team’s growing mental health practice after the new Queensland Mental Health Act came into effect. During her first 18 months, she has represented in more than 250 Tribunal and Appellate Court hearings, and in 2018 was the inaugural recipient of the Public Guardian’s award for excellence in elevating the rights and aspirations of clients in disability funded services for her Tribunal advocacy work.

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