In March, the Public Interest Leadership Program (PILP) heard from Erin Miller, Manager of the Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Program at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. Erin Miller presented on understanding the dynamics of trauma and trauma-informed legal advocacy.
Miller addressed the neurobiology of trauma and how trauma and particularly long-term chronic trauma, can affect the brain and subsequently our clients’ behavior and presentation in court and meetings. Although Miller works specifically with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, her presentation was relevant to working with survivors of trauma in many different contexts.
Below are some tips and tricks Miller shared for working with clients experiencing trauma:
- Let the client know up front how you are going to approach the meeting. Explain why you are going to ask him or her certain questions and how long the meeting will be. This way, your client can prepare for what is ahead and any triggering or personal questions you may have to ask.
- Let the client have control of the meeting as much as possible. Let him or her decide where to sit, whether you can take notes, how the temperature in the room is, etc. Letting the client know that he or she has agency in the attorney-client relationship can go a long way in building trust.
- Validate the client’s feelings and experiences and make sure his or she knows you are listening. Thank your client for sharing his or her experience and acknowledge that it is not an easy thing to do. Make sure that your client feels heard and understood.
Miller also addressed secondary trauma and vicarious trauma and the emotional toll that working with survivors of trauma can have on attorneys. She stressed how important it is for attorneys to practice the same self-care that they would encourage their clients to practice.
For more information on Erin Miller’s program, visit: https://www.nwh.org/classes-and-resources/community-services/domestic-sexual-violence/domestic-and-sexual-violence-services
Meeting recap provided by PILP Member Anne Sheldon (DOVE, Inc.)