A few weeks ago I spoke to solicitor Keeley Lengthorn, a partner in the family and child team at Taylor Rose MW, about the impact that working on traumatic cases has had on staff working from home during lockdown.
Lengthorn told me that since lockdown, she had seen an increase in cases involving violence, and injured or dead children. With schools shut at the time, and parents home-schooling, she was marking certain things in the case management system ‘Do not look at home’.
This system was undoubtedly helpful for colleagues who might have children sitting close by. But what I didn’t fully appreciate until this week, when I attended a Young Legal Aid Lawyers meeting, was how helpful this system could be for any lawyer involved in a traumatic case.
YLAL was discussing a new book by former committee members Joanna Fleck and Rachel Francis, Vicarious Trauma in the Legal Profession, published by Legal Action Group.
Solicitor Emma McClure, who specialises in prison and public law at Swain & Co, told the meeting that legal aid practitioners deal with a lot of traumatic material. ‘It’s important not to normalise that,’ she said, suggesting practitioners highlight such material with a ‘content warning’.
Discussing how the book came about, Francis recalled an email Fleck sent to her. A particular line stood out, that ‘we had to do something about people crying in the toilets’.
Fleck said they wanted to set out what vicarious trauma is, ‘to reassure people who will experience and feel the negative effects of those things, to throw in evidence and research that’s been done to persuade those in the profession still reluctant to accept this is an issue. We wanted to offer useful, practical suggestions for people to implement. We wanted to spur more conversations’.
Returning to my own conversation with Lengthorn, she recalled a colleague texting her at night ‘absolutely distraught’ because she had to look at pictures of dead children. ‘Normally, we would be able to talk about it in the office.’
As lawyers continue to deal with traumatic material at home, Francis and Fleck’s book couldn’t be more timely.