The Padagogy of Trauma-Informed Lawyering


“Trauma-informed practice” is an increasingly prevalent approach in the delivery of therapeutic services, social and human services, and now legal practice. Put simply, the hallmarks of trauma-informed practice are when the practitioner puts the realities of the client’s trauma experiences at the forefront in engaging with the client, and adjusts the practice approach informed by the individual client’s trauma experience. Trauma-informed practice also encompasses the practitioner employing modes of self-care to counterbalance the effect the client’s trauma experience may have on the practitioner.

This article posits that teaching trauma-informed practice in law school clinics furthers the goals of clinical teaching, and is a critical aspect of preparing law students for legal careers. Trauma-informed practice is relevant to many legal practice areas. Clients frequently seek legal assistance at a time when they are highly vulnerable and emotional. As clinical professors who each supervise a family law clinic, we of course teach our students how to connect with their clients, while drawing the appropriate boundaries of the attorney-client relationship. Equally challenging and important is helping our students cultivate insight into identifying and addressing trauma and its effects. Many of our clinics’ clients are survivors of intimate partner violence or have experienced other significant traumatic events that are relevant to their family court matters. Law students should learn to recognize the effects these traumatic experiences may have on their clients’ actions and behaviors. Further, law students should learn to recognize the effect that their clients’ stories and hardships are having on their own advocacy and lives as a whole. It is particularly crucial that we educate our law students about the effects of vicarious trauma and help them develop tools to manage its effects as they move through their clinical work and ultimately into legal practice.

This article argues that four key characteristics of trauma-informed lawyering are: identifying trauma, adjusting the attorney-client relationship, adapting litigation strategy, and preventing vicarious trauma. Specifically, the article discusses how to teach trauma-informed lawyering through direct examples of pedagogical approaches.