Trauma-informed family law practice
By Carrie Laws
Carrie Laws considers how compassion can change client outcomes
Trauma is ubiquitous and experiences are widespread. Research from the 2019 World Health Organisation survey suggests that 70 per cent of the global population has experienced at least one traumatic event—and on average, 3.2 traumas over a lifetime.
As family lawyers, we support clients through the worst life can bring. Every client we speak with will likely have experienced trauma in some form, whether the ending of a relationship or abusive behaviour, and it will often be this which brings them to our door, seeking our advice and support.
It is vital we understand trauma, its potential lifelong impact, and how it affects a person’s functioning. Introducing and journeying to becoming a trauma informed practice is a step towards this.
Becoming trauma-informed doesn’t mean we treat trauma related difficulties – after all, we are not trained counsellors. Instead, it seeks to address the barriers those affected by trauma can experience while accessing the legal process. It also means, as family lawyers, we can do our jobs more effectively.
Adapting traditional legal skills
One of the Family Law Company’s core values is the ability to adapt to our clients’ needs – a big part of this is being trauma aware.
For example, meetings may take longer. If a client finds it difficult recalling events or coming into the office, space may be a trigger and cause an unexpected response you will need to address. Being trauma-informed means you accept it will take longer to build their trust and collate information.
While this may seem counterintuitive when it comes to managing your targets, better information and happier, supported clients will save time further along the process.
Focus on transparency for better client relationships
Trauma survivors often have difficulties expressing themselves – and listening to and comprehending what is said. This, in turn, can lead to avoidance, which may well lead to disengagement – making it difficult for them to take on board legal advice, or share the information needed to build their case. Honing your skills to actively listen and demonstrate authentic care and concern is key to building better relationships.
It is really important to set boundaries about what you can and can’t help with. Be clear and honest. Transparency promotes trust and will help prevent feelings of powerlessness.
Becoming a trauma-informed practice
There are five key elements of becoming a trauma informed practice - safety, trustworthiness, collaboration, empowerment and choice.
Taking this approach brings elements of change for the business – but there are lots of positives for both client and lawyer.
Benefits of a trauma-informed practice include:
- a proactive approach to safety
- safer physical and emotional environments for our clients and staff
- opportunities for choice, power and control through informed interactions with our client
- reducing the possibility of re-traumatisation
- helping to improve the social environment for clients in a way that improves their relationships with all professionals
- an environment that cares for and supports staff
- increasing the quality of the service we provide
- reducing the number and type of negative encounters for clients and colleagues
- helping clients to create or build on resiliency and supporting them with a strengths-based focus to their case
- increasing client satisfaction, in turn increasing success, job satisfaction and likelihood of new referrals.
In almost every case I have, the focus is, quite rightly, on taking a trauma-informed approach to the child, because the child’s welfare is at the forefront of all our minds. What is very often lacking, however, is a trauma--informed approach by any professional towards the parents, who are invariably suffering the effect of trauma themselves.
It is common to see parents in care proceedings who have suffered trauma of some kind in their own childhoods, or later in life, and it is often because of the impact of trauma on their own foundations of safety and security (at least in part) they find themselves involved in care proceedings. It is my hope by adopting a trauma-informed approach, we may be able to make the process a little less frightening for our clients.
Having a trauma-informed approach allows our clients, regardless of the circumstances leading them to require our services, a far better chance of successfully engaging with a legal process that will be significantly challenging for them.
Carrie Laws is director at The Family Law Company: the familylawco.co.uk