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  • Vicarious Trauma
  • Volume 9 | Winter 2008

from the chair

The Honorable Pamila Brown

Dear Colleagues,

I am honored to bring you this edition of the Commission’s eNewsletter, focusing on the impact that working with survivors of domestic violence and sexual violence has on legal professionals, and effective ways to address it. 

Vicarious trauma, secondary trauma, burn out, and related terms have been used to describe the symptoms and experiences of those working with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.  However, until recently, there was no specific research about the experience of legal professionals working with victims and the unique contours of that relationship in developing, identifying and responding to the needs of lawyers serving victims.  Moreover, it has only been in the last few years that attorneys have openly spoken about the need to care for themselves by addressing the trauma they experience doing this work and exploring effective ways to do so.  It is now understood that some form of trauma is experienced by lawyers in addition to advocates, social workers, judges and others who devote their work to helping others who are victims of domestic violence and/or sexual abuse and that it should be addressed in order to enable us to continue to sustain ourselves in this important work.

We are fortunate to have two articles that provide invaluable information about this topic for lawyers. A recent study conducted by Dr. Andrew Levin regarding the experiences of attorneys and law students working with victims of domestic violence and criminal attorneys found that attorneys experience secondary trauma and burnout more than mental health workers and social service workers.  In his article, Secondary Trauma and Burnout in Attorneys:  Effects of Work with Clients Who are Victims of Domestic Violence and Abuse, Dr. Levin explores recommendations for how to address the results of his work, including educational programming for law students and lawyers on trauma and its effects. 

Then, in her article Healing Ourselves, Margaret Drew, an attorney who has over 25 years of experience representing victims of domestic violence, shares her personal experience and insight on ways for us to sustain ourselves, recognizing that legal professionals want to be effective and healthy as we continue to represent survivors.

As always, the Commission welcomes information from you regarding resources or promising practices. Our heartfelt thanks to all of you for your work on behalf of survivors.

The Honorable Pamila Brown
Chair, ABA Commission on Domestic Violence