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Vicarious Trauma in the Legal Profession, a practical guide to trauma, burnout and collective careJoanna Fleck and Rachel Francis pub LAG 2021
Vicarious Trauma in the Legal Profession is a practical guide to trauma, burnout and collective care. Using case studies from lawyers in their own words, it provides the individual with tools for self-reflection and provides organisations with an understanding of trauma-informed working practices and guidance towards implementing collective care, training and support in the workplace.
Lawyers working in legal aid, social justice or with survivors of injury regularly work with traumatic and emotionally potent caseloads and often draw on skills for which they have had no formal training. They bear witness to the pain of clients, to the suffering that humans inflict upon each other, and to the incredible strength of survivors of violence, torture and abuse. They do this while dealing with the financial pressure of poor rates of pay, constantly overstretched resources and a relentlessly hostile political environment.While there has been a growing conversation within the legal profession about the mental health of lawyers, much of it looks at mental health as a primarily personal issue: the individual’s work/life balance and stress as a personal response. Vicarious Trauma in the Legal Profession draws focus to the impact of traumatic casework for lawyers and how collectively change can be made.
Book Review from Mary Jackson, LawCare
This is an important book that plugs what has been a very noticeable gap for a very long time, highlighting as it does a phenomenon that was once thought to affect mainly front-line workers, Vicarious Trauma. Most research relating to Vicarious Trauma has been carried out in the USA, Canada and Australia. I would go so far as to say it is essential reading for all lawyers as well as those in charge of the regulation of the legal professions. It is a timely reminder that lawyers are also human beings who bear witness to the suffering of their fellow women and men in an effort to obtain some form of redress or justice, often enduring low rates of pay, poor resources and little support.
What I like most about it is that it is accessible, readable and practical drawing as it does on anonymized case-studies and comments from lawyers in their own words. It does not pretend to be a pseudo-medical tome nor a self-help manual but manages to strike the balance between educating its audience on the whole concept of vicarious trauma and its various physiological effects while at the same time offering suggestions and ideas for both coping with these and ultimately asking for the professions to respond appropriately and take action. It is written with great sensitivity and a sense of urgency.
I particularly liked the idea of building reflective practice into the working day and the message that there needs to be a collective focus on self-care throughout. Why? Simply because this work really does matter, it exacts a toll from those who choose to do it. Baroness Helena Kennedy QC in the foreword puts it best when she says:
No professional person should be unsupported in their work nor so poorly rewarded that their survival in the profession they love is put at risk.
I commend the purchase of this book to you and hope that it may lead to positive change at all levels of the legal professions to include training, peer support, counselling and better resources and remuneration. You can buy the book here
More information on Claiming Space an organisation run by the authors offering training for lawyers working with vulnerable populations
LawCare factsheet on Vicarious Trauma
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