Carrying a heavy case load

14 May 2019

Lawyers spend years studying and working in order to reach qualification; often juggling both at the same time. What lawyers’ training usually fails to prepare them for is the emotional investment, which is particularly great for those working directly with clients who have experienced trauma. Clients may need advice at the most challenging point in their lives when their legal problems are both complex and highly emotive.

What is vicarious trauma?

The term “vicarious trauma” describes the process of one person being exposed, indirectly, to the trauma experienced by another. Lawyers hear directly about traumatic experiences from clients, read written accounts, and sometimes see images or watch video footage of traumatic events. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is included within this definition, although it is more often thought of as a condition that lawyers read about in the clinical reports about their own clients.

Lawyers may represent people who have committed acts which they find morally offensive, or spend long periods of time building a relationship of trust with a traumatised client in order to take a detailed account from them. As a result, a lawyer’s worldview may shift: where they once saw the world being a generally benign place, it becomes one where danger and death are normal.

The exposure may be more of a slow build, like the private client lawyer dealing with estate management, deaths and grieving relatives. For others, it may be a one-off exposure to graphic images or video footage of an accident or violent incident which triggers a particularly intense and long-lasting reaction. This could happen at any stage of a professional’s career.


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