Defender Well Being: Keeping Legal Hearts and Minds Intact
Attorneys and others legal professionals who work with clients who have suffered great hardship and trauma can find themselves significantly impacted by the work. This impact can appear both on the job and outside of work, in the personal realm.
Defenders may simultaneously feel both inspired and enthused by the important mission, AND exhausted and overwhelmed by the volume and intensity of the work.
Sometimes legal professionals develop mental health symptoms similar to those of the traumatized clients they serve, including depression, anxiety and PTSD.
There are a number of terms often used to describe this experience or condition: burnout, secondary trauma, vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, the cost of caring, or the trauma exposure response.
These conditions all relate to the cumulative toll that results from working with traumatized individuals repeatedly over time in a system that further traumatizes individuals.
Suffering secondary trauma and burnout impact the defender community and the clients served. These can lead to poor performance and can even contribute to violations of the rules of professional conduct (RPCs).
In this new resource section of WDA website, legal professionals can learn about:
- research studies and findings involving secondary trauma and burnout in the criminal defense practice area,
- tips and coping skills for managing emotional well-being while working in a high stress environment serving individuals impacted by trauma, and
- strategies to reduce stress, observe and manage emotional well-being, including knowing when to seek support and where to turn for resources when help is needed.