Tue 28 May 2024

Trauma-Informed Practice

I was recently certified as a Trauma-Informed Lawyer by the Law Society of Scotland. One of the motivators for me becoming trauma-informed was due to my experience of how difficult and stressful litigation can be for all involved.

As a personal injury lawyer, I regularly act on behalf of both individuals who have sustained life altering injuries, and family members who have lost a loved one. I want to ensure that the way I practice and how I approach cases is the best way to support clients.  Whilst the process is always going to be difficult, I want to help clients move beyond the litigation rather than be re-traumatised by it.  I found that the training provided by the Law Society was passionately delivered and incredibly insightful.  Throughout the course, which was spread over five weeks, I had time to reflect on my own practice and consider how best to adapt to better accommodate and support the needs of my clients. 

What is Trauma-Informed Practice?

As lawyers, we aim to actively adopt good practice, taking a person-centred approach. Trauma-informed practice is one level above that, providing you with knowledge and a unique skillset to make sure your client understands your advice, enabling them to instruct you on how they wish to progress their claim. This is the most effective way to work with people impacted by trauma and prevents re-traumatisation. You will secure better evidence and greater engagement from your client which will allow you to do a better job, whilst also providing a better service to your client. There are also ways to adapt your approach to cases which assists with preserving your own wellbeing against vicarious trauma. 

How do you practice in a Trauma-Informed way?

As a lawyer, trauma-informed practice means responding and approaching client care with the impact of trauma in mind and avoiding re-traumatisation using trauma-informed principles. Trauma-Informed principles allow for the development of trauma-informed relationships, and these should provide your client with Safety, Trust, Choice, Collaboration and Empowerment.


Clients should feel safe throughout all their dealings with their solicitor on both a practical level and an emotional level. On a practical level, you should think about where meetings take place and whether you should offer to go to your client's home. Don't assume it's easy for your client to get to your office.  On an emotional level, think about what you can do to help people feel safe enough to trust you and your organisation. Often making yourself vulnerable helps with this perhaps by sharing a little about who you are, the way you work and what's important to you. 


Trust is the foundation of the solicitor/client relationship and good communication will be essential to building that trust.  Be clear about what will happen and always do what you say you'll do, when you say you'll do it.  Be predictable and consistent and stick to what you have agreed, but also be flexible, understanding and act human in your reactions. If your client is upset then take a break, ask them if they want some water or need a bit of space for a couple of minutes.  Make it clear you have their best interests at heart.


Ensure your client has control by providing choice. Control and choice don't exist with trauma so it's important to allow this where possible. There will always be a choice which can be made whether that be over how a statement is taken or at what time. 


Clients and their lawyers should work in collaboration with one another towards a common goal.  As lawyers, our role is to provide advice, setting out the options whilst also pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of their case. It is important your client understands this advice so you can work together to decide the course of action they wish to take. Keeping clients involved in the process is essential so that they understand the issues involved, the complexities and are well informed about any barriers to their claim. Whilst it can be difficult to have conversations with clients where you are pointing out your concerns about their case, it is essential not to avoid these discussions. 


As a trauma-informed lawyer, you can use what you know about the impact of trauma on individuals to help them with what they are going through. If they're feeling unable to cope or deal with what is happening, it is important to help them by signposting them to other organisations. Acknowledging their feelings and accepting them helps to empower people to take control and make sense of things. Through the litigation process, I believe clients should feel empowered by having taken steps to seek justice and, on conclusion of that process, they should be in a position to positively reflect on having done so, regardless of the outcome.

How to protect yourself from Vicarious Trauma

It is also crucial to protect your own wellbeing. Recognise the impact of trauma on you and respond to that. It's important to find the right balance. You have to care about what has happened to your client, be kind, show empathy and also make yourself vulnerable.  At the same time, you have to act in a way which is safe and remain detached to an extent, recognising the limits of what you can do to help people, as you're just a lawyer. If there is anything which goes beyond legal skills, you need to signpost people to someone else who is qualified to assist them, such as a medical expert.  

NHS Education for Scotland recommend remembering practicing the ABCs of self care: -

(1) Awareness - of the impact of trauma, your own responses and the need to think about coping strategies

(2) Balance - taking breaks, recharging and having boundaries

(3) Connection - the importance of connecting with your community including colleagues, family and friends 

The support which can be provided within teams and by organisations to mitigate the impact of vicarious trauma is also vital. The foundation of trauma-informed principles is in being human in your interactions and making yourself vulnerable to interact with people in a personable way. In taking this approach, you need to react with compassion.  Empathy is a vital skill, although boundaries need to be outlined too.

The Future

Going forward, it is clear that trauma awareness and trauma-informed practice is here to stay.  In April 2023, the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill [ Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill – Bills (proposed laws) – Scottish Parliament | Scottish Parliament Website ] was introduced in the Scottish Parliament. The aim of the bill is to ensure victims are treated with compassion and their voices are heard. The Bill is controversial, mainly due to the proposal for the abolition of the not proven verdict and a pilot of judge only trials in sexual offence cases. There are a number of other significant changes proposed in the bill, including those set out in Part 2 which seek to embed trauma-informed practice in both criminal and civil courts. 

Whilst there is no denying that practicing in a trauma-informed way is often more onerous and time consuming, ultimately, as lawyers it is our responsibility to ensure that we obtain the best evidence and are always acting in the best interests of our clients. The onus is on us to ensure we get to know our clients and consider their own personal circumstances, as no two clients will ever be the same. Only with that knowledge, is it possible to properly advise your client on the options available to them in progressing their claim. 

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