The Modern Law Library

How reckoning with trauma can help you, your clients and the legal profession

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"You can't think yourself out of trauma," the introduction to Trauma-Informed Law: A Primer for Lawyer Resilience and Healing warns. "An analytical response is insufficient. As lawyers and law students, we have been trained to learn only with our minds. But there are other epistemologies—other ways of knowing and interacting with the world."

Trauma-Informed Law, published by the ABA Law Practice Division, arose as a collaborative effort between Canadian lawyers Helgi Maki and Myrna McCallum and American lawyers Marjorie Florestal and J. Kim Wright. It seeks to suggest not only how lawyers can provide better client service to traumatized people but also how lawyers, law students and judges can deal with their own traumas.

Maki points out many people say while the initial incident that brought them into contact with the court system was difficult—be it a divorce, an assault or a contract dispute—their experiences once inside the judicial system were harder to bear and caused more emotional damage. What other profession, she asks, would accept that as an outcome for its clients?

In this episode of The Modern Law Library podcast, Maki and the ABA Journal’s Lee Rawles discuss the impact of trauma on the legal profession and the ways that researchers have seen it impact people on a personal and systemic level. Lawyers may be reluctant to label their own experiences trauma, but Maki explains vicarious trauma and how burnout is a “cousin” to trauma.

One element that the book stresses is how important it can be for judges to become aware of how trauma can impact everyone in a courtroom and basic measures that can be taken to decrease the risk of causing further harm during courtroom proceedings. The ABA House of Delegates recently called for more research to be done on how court workers are impacted by what they see at work and by threats to their personal security.

Maki and Rawles also discuss ways legal professionals can build support systems without endangering client confidentiality and how law schools can prep law students for the inevitable challenges that they will face in the profession.

Related links:

The Trauma-Informed Law Project

The Trauma-Informed Lawyer Podcast by Myrna McCallum

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In This Podcast:

<p>Helgi Maki</p>

Helgi Maki

Helgi Maki is a consultant and an executive coach. She helps lawyers improve their resilience skills to benefit their legal practice and well-being and improve client satisfaction. Maki is a graduate of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law with a Master of Arts in political economy from Carleton University. She joined the Ontario bar in 2003 and the New York bar in 2005. Maki incorporates mindfulness practices into her work, drawing on over seven years of mindfulness instructor and movement teacher training. Previously, she was a partner at a large law firm and has done legal technology and data analytics consulting. Maki advocates for trauma-informed lawyering to increase access to justice, improve client service and support lawyer well-being. She is the co-editor of Trauma-Informed Law: A Primer for Lawyer Resilience and Healing (ABA, 2023).

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