Cost of Caring – What Family Lawyers Need to Know

  • 20 novembre 2023
  • Kavita Bhagat

This three-part series draws from materials that formed part of my presentation for the OBA - ELD-FAM CPD on Trauma Informed Lawyering – A New Standard for Client Service and Lawyer Wellness presented on November 3, 2023.

Part 1: Identifying the symptoms of Vicarious Trauma.

As family lawyers we engage with clients who have been directly traumatised. We listen to graphic details of the violence that our clients are subjected to, the intimate and at times gory details of their personal lives.

Law school provides us the training to separate logic from emotions in order to competently and thoroughly analyze legal issues. In truth it is impossible to bifurcate logic and emotion. It is only later in our journey that we recognise that we now need to equip ourselves with the tools, supports, and coping strategies to mitigate, manage, and transform vicarious trauma.

SH*T happens when the SHIFT happens.

It is important to recognise that there is a COST OF CARING, it manifests itself in different ways. Some of the most common symptoms are set out below.  

Workplace symptoms

  • avoidance (e.g., arriving late, missing meetings, skipping intake questions, avoiding clients, procrastinating)
  • hypervigilance (e.g., feel clients are in danger, hypervigilance, overprotectiveness, feel clients are threatening)
  • seeing things as “black or white”, seeking a “yes or no” 
  • becoming argumentative, and
  • reliance on alcohol, drugs, medication
  • messy office, poor hygiene

Personal life symptoms

  • disturbed sleep pattern
  • headaches
  • stomach ache
  • avoiding people
  • inability to focus
  • irritable, angry outburst
  • correlating everything to your personal life
  • dragging your heels on making major personal decisions in your life
  • extreme fatigue/always tired
  • negative thinking and a tendency to become upset about everything
  • strained relationships with family and friends
  • compromised parenting
  • doubts about whether the world is a safe place
  • losing faith in humanity

Sometimes a question posed to you as a peer, colleague, mentor, senior associate, coach should hint to you that those around you are coping with vicarious trauma.