Date of this Version


Document Type

Conference Presentation

Publication Details

James, C. (2018, February). Vicarious Trauma in Lagal Practice. Paper presented at the 2018 National Wellness for Law Forum: Do No Harm, Gold Coast, Australia.

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Copyright © The Author, 2018

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License


This paper examines the emergence of vicarious trauma and our reluctance to accept it as a known risk in legal practice. Lawyers who work especially in criminal law, family law, and personal injury areas are exposed to images and recordings of traumatic events, and may also work with survivors of trauma who are required to relate their experience in detail. Others, such as defence lawyers, work with clients who confess to violent crimes, and they may need to ‘put aside’ feelings of shock or revulsion in order to represent the perpetrator. While the medical professions and ‘first responders’ take care of members’ wellbeing by acknowledging risks of the vicarious trauma and providing support, an apparent stigma stops law firms, prosecuting authorities, and the legal professional associations especially in Australia from acknowledging the risk or to train and protect lawyers from the effects of vicarious trauma. Research on trauma and the condition of PTSD shows contending theories including many symptoms related to experiences from workplace bullying, to secondary trauma stress, to vicarious trauma. This paper summarises research on the history, likely causes, treatments for and best defence against vicarious trauma in legal practice.

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