The Trauma-Informed Lawyer hosted by Myrna McCallum

Trauma Shock and Wellness in Law Students, Lawyers & Judges: An Interview with Professor Sarah Katz

Episode Summary

Temple University Law Professor Sarah Katz, co-author of the article, "The Pedagogy of Trauma-Informed Lawyering" recalls her introduction to trauma-informed practice as a new lawyer entering Family Law practice and offers some insights into lawyer and law student wellness. She explains why all law students need an education in trauma-informed practice early in their legal studies.

Episode Notes

This episode discusses trauma shock and wellness in judges, lawyers and law students as well as the benefits of developing a trauma-informed legal practice particularly in the context of Family Law. 

Episode Transcription

Episode 7: Trauma Shock and Wellness in Law Students, Lawyers & Judges: An Interview with Professor Sarah Katz

Published: July 26, 2020

Myrna McCallum: I’m Myrna McCallum, Métis-Cree lawyer and passionate promoter of trauma-informed lawyering. Welcome to my new podcast, The Trauma-Informed Lawyer, brought to you in partnership with the Canadian Bar Association. 

I believe that law schools and bar courses are missing a critical competency requirement in their curriculum: trauma-informed lawyering. Becoming a trauma-informed lawyer will, among other things, challenge you to critically reflect on your personal behaviors, beliefs, and biases; call on you to positively transform the way you approach advocacy; guide your practice to avoid doing further harm to others; and ask that you commit remaining open to learn new and old knowledge you didn't know you needed before beginning your career. Your education starts right here, right now. This podcast comes to you from the traditional, unceded territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh [Squamish], səl̓ilwətaɁɬ [Tsleil-Waututh], and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm [Musqueam] people.

Myrna McCallum: Hi folks! So welcome back to the Trauma-Informed Lawyer Podcast. I believe when I left off in the last episode I had promised you a conversation on the subject of vicarious trauma as experienced by lawyers — it's a work in progress folks, it's coming! 

For now, I have this awesome episode to share with you. I recently conducted an interview with Sarah Katz. I stumbled upon Sarah’s work when I decided to do some research on “trauma-informed lawyering”. I wanted to learn more about it and understand just how common this approach was or how consistent, at least, the approach I had developed was with what people were researching and publishing. 

So I stumbled across Sarah Katz’s article co-authored by Deeya Haldar on “The Pedagogy of Trauma-Informed Lawyering”. Sarah is at the Temple Law Faculty. She has been there since July 2012. That is in philadelphia. She directs and teaches the family law litigation clinic where her students handle custody, child and spousal support, adoption, other family law matters in the family court. She researches and writes about trauma-informed legal practice, the child welfare system, child custody, intimate partner violence and other family law topics. Sarah also frequently speaks on these topics at scholarly conferences and training for attorneys.

Sarah, lets begin with you telling us a little bit about how you were introduced to trauma-informed lawyering. 

Sarah Katz: I was a legal services attorney at community legal services, which is the largest legal services provider here in philadelphia. I was there for 8 years and I represented parents in civil child abuse and neglect proceedings and I started there is a baby attorney in 2004 and very quickly within my time there I was trained from a framework of trauma-informed practice.

I really was introduced to the entire concept and the lens and the frame there. It really turned on its head my entire approach to representing the parents I was representing in child abuse and neglect cases because it really helped me understand the population I was working with —  the kinds of things that they had experience, the kinds of questions I should be asking as their attorney, the kinds of things I should advocate for. Because one of the things about parents who become enmeshed in the child welfare system, at least in the United States as a whole and particularly in an urban area, is that they are universally poor, they’re mostly, you know, black women or people of colour — mostly women were my clients. There was sort of a universality of their own experiences with childhood physical and sexual abuse, their own experiences with life long poverty, their own experiences with racism, and the level of exposure they had to both intimate partner violence in community violence. 

The thing I learned through my work in trauma-informed practice about the child-welfare system is that the child welfare system was really punishing the results of poverty as opposed to really getting at the root of the problems. So trauma-informed practice really helped me, again, how to understand my clients and be an effective advocate for them. 

Myrna McCallum: So I know that you are a proponent of teaching trauma-informed lawyering in law schools. Can you just talk a little bit about why you support that and why you think that education is needed especially right now? 

Sarah Katz: As I just described to you, I was first introduced to the notion of trauma-informed practice and what that meant as a baby lawyer. 

I'm sort of lucky in a way that I was in a practice environment that I was introduced to it early on in my practice experience. It really has influenced the way I approach my own practice of Law and how I teach the practice of law.   

I really think this is something that we should be teaching in law schools, you know, from the beginning —not just in clinics — but really introducing across the board for a variety of reasons. One is that child welfare is not the only area where clients’ trauma experience is relevant to the representation. The reality is that the experience of trauma is so prevalent in the community and the world at large that it's always something we should be thinking about as attorneys when we’re talking to our clients. What I often say about trauma-informed practice is that “a little goes a long way” — a little bit of knowledge about the impact of trauma and how it impacts the brain can go a long way in terms of changing your approach to empathizing with a client, communicating with a client, understanding your client. 

But the other reason I think that trauma-informed practice is so critical as a part of legal education is the emphasis on the practitioner themselves and taking care of that person. And so such an important component of any trauma-informed practice is self-care — thinking about how to prevent vicarious trauma amongst the helpers — and nobody tells you about that! Right? In law school, nobody talks to you about the impact and how lawyering can kind of take you down, right? *laughs* Without appropriate boundaries and self-care. I mean the reality is, in my first year as an attorney, I definitely experienced vicarious trauma.  I was having recurrent nightmares about the things that were happening to my clients.

I would lose sleep over how little control, how powerless I was to sort of fight this big system that was taking my clients children away. And I really, you know, I developed over time coping mechanisms for that. 

But the reality is, it shouldn't have taken a year of insomnia and nightmares to sort of then be introduced to a series of practices that could address how to appropriately take in the information that I was being exposed to the attorney for my clients. 

Myrna McCallum: That's interesting that you bring up that piece around vicarious trauma or secondary trauma. I find that when I deliver training to lawyers on trauma-informed advocacy and trauma-informed lawyering, the place that I tend to land and emphasis quite a bit is the piece around vicarious trauma because that also seems to be the area that resonates quite a bit with practitioners. 

I think a lot of lawyers haven’t acknowledged or haven’t been informed of the ways in which repeated exposure to traumatic information or graphic evidence can really have an impact on us as practitioners and maybe we don’t even see what those impacts are. Because some people have these ideas that “oh, maybe a negative impact or some kind of impact on my psyche manifest as panic attacks or depression or an uptake in drinking”. 

But, it could be so subtle. And these are the things that a lot of people seem to want to focus on and talk more about. Those subtle indicators could be nightmares, an inability to even sleep or concentrate, or low productivity —  those very subtle little ways that seem to weave their way into your work life and impact the way you approach the practice and the product that you produce at the end of the day.   

I’m thinking about this right now, Sarah, because I was reading an article this morning that was published in The Law Times of a lawyer at a large firm who is talking about mental health among legal professionals. One of the things he said was that law can be crushing. And I thought that was really important. I think that was an important thing to hear because I don’t think enough lawyers think about the fact that this work is harder in ways that we’re even conscious of or prepared for. Actually, his words were “law can be punishing”. 

Sarah Katz: Right.

Myrna McCallum: When we think about billable hours and we think about repeated exposure, it totally makes sense that he would say something like that and people would be experiencing legal practice in that way. 

So can I ask you, what do you think are some steps that lawyers should take to safeguard their mental health? 

Sarah Katz: I’m a big advocate for doing this actually really intentionally. 

My law students in my clinic now do an exercise where I have them develop a self care plan and I really ask them to think about what drew themselves to the work — like why are they here — and sort of what are the benefits or “pluses” of being part of this work. But also, where are the scratch points — the challenges — and what may be difficult. And being really intentional about what may be hard. 

With somebody who has either experienced a divorce themselves — we do a lot of domestic relations work in the clinic that I direct now. So, if they have direct experience with divorce either themselves or maybe they’re a child of a divorce there may be things around their client’s experience that may be challenging. They may have challenges around stories of intimate partner violence if they have direct experience with that. Or, certainly, there is such a prevelance of sexual violence so thats another thing that we deal with a lot in the clinic. 

But you also don’t know what you don’t know, right? So the other place where I think lawyers can get kind of tripped up is around exposure to things that they have no frame of reference for, right? They’ve never experienced this kind of violence. They’ve never experienced this kind of thing. I really think the lack of ability to cope that results in the trauma or secondary trauma really comes from either an “overidentifying” or an “under identifying”. 

And so, forcing the trainees to be kind of intentional about that and think that through. Like, take a step back and if it requires sitting down with the little form I have — do that. But really just being reflective about what's going to be hard and what's going to be not so hard. And then, coming up with sort of “What am I going to do with this? Where do I gain strength? I gain strength from just reconnecting with family or friends” or,  “I really need to exercise or I sort of lose my mind” or, “I really need to have some down time like zoning out to TV”. 

Myrna McCallum: But not much of that! *laughs* 

Sarah Katz: Right! *laughs*

Myrna McCallum: I think some people see binging for like 15 hours on a weekend as “self-care”. 

Sarah Katz: Right. 

Myrna McCallum: But yet, also, you hear people saying actually, zoning out, watching a lot of Netflix or scrolling on Tik Tok — or whatever it may be —  can also be a sign of depression. Right? Numbing out and… 

Sarah Katz: Sure, and that again comes back to the intentionality aspect of like “how do I keep this positive” and “how do I draw the appropriate boundaries so that I’m able to — even in these pandemic times where a lot of us are working from home — leave it at the office as it were?” 

Those are really more about emotional boundaries as opposed to physically leaving the file at the office! Right? You know? *laughs* 

Myrna McCallum: Right! 

Sarah Katz: But I think that we as a profession have this problem with, you know, its sort of like achievement at all costs. This sort of race-to-the-bottom kind of thing and that's very much the ethos that’s dominated our profession for so long. And that's why, I think, paying attention to vicarious trauma, paying attention to self care is actually a critical aspect of turning this around. 

I mean if you really read the literature about substance abuse and mental health, like most mental health and substance abuse issues tie back to trauma experience as a negative coping mechanism for those things. 

We have an untreated substance abuse and mental health problem as a profession. And I don’t think it's a mistake — I don't think you can kind of detach the two. 

Myrna McCallum:Yep, absolutely. So as I listen to you, Sarah, I’m thinking of a couple other interviews that I held. I think my second episode was with Dr. Gabor Maté. Who a lot of people know his work — he’s a trauma and addiction expert here in Vancouver but he presents all over the world. He talks about the same type of thing in that... at the root of people who are having mental health issues… at the roof of that is trauma. One of the examples he used is that a number of women that he had worked with on the Downtown Eastside who had addictions to meth or whatever it was. He said that everyone one of them had been sexually abused as children. 

And so the question we really need to be asking, particularly in the justice system, in which by the way I love the he talks about the criminal justice system. He always says “the justice system is absolutely criminal… 

Sarah Katz: *chuckles* 

Myrna McCallum:... and people should be studying it.” He’s got a point! And so one of the things he says is that judges and lawyers should really be approaching offenders who come into the court not as the problem, but as somebody with the problem. 

I guess the question they should be asked is “what happened to you?”. And so I think at the root of that is really… that’s a trauma-informed way of inquiring with someone about what brought them to the courtroom, what brought them to the world and reality that they live today. 

And so I often talk about Gabor’s suggestion about using that question but what do you think lawyer’s need? Especially right now in this time that we’re living in — in this pandemic. Not just lawyers but lawyers, judges and law students. 

Sarah Katz: Yeah. I mean I think the beauty of that “What happened to you?” instead of the “What’s wrong with you?” question is it really broadens the inquiry. 

I think as lawyers, as judges, right we're trained to kind of think about standards and statutes and you know, “What's the three pronged test?” and that really doesn’t get at the broader question of what’s going on for this person. Whether it’s in the criminal justice system or sort of more broadly being like anybody having a point of access with our court system or having a legal problem. 

I mean what you just said about, you know, sort of the substance abuse. For the mostly women that I was representing in the child welfare system, you know, the vast vast majority of them were being drawn in. The vast majority of the cases were for substance abuse, right? That's what was drawing them into the child welfare system. But, you know, nobody really sets out and is like “I’m going to be a drug addict! That’s my goal in life!”. 

And again, if you ask the right question, you got from these women it was just this widespread experience of both childhood sexual abuse as well as intimate partner violence. And you know for so so many of them, if you asked the “What happened to you?” it was “Well, I was in this abusive relationship and I started using” or “My abuser got me using”. 

And so, if we didn’t think broader than just like what's in the kind of four corners of this petition being brought against this person, then we really miss what was really going on, right? And so I guess that's sort of my point is that I think if we think about framing the question as “What happened to you?” we actually get a deeper understanding than the sort of the legal standard or sort of the normative legal questions/inquiries would allow us to get at. If that makes sense? 

Myrna Mccallum: Yeah, absolutely and it brings me to my next question. Can you tell us a little bit about ACES? Like I read a couple of the articles that you’ve written and ACES was mentioned. And this is something that I think that folks are talking about more and more beyond just trauma-informed care and people who work as social workers or mental health therapists. Recently, I interviewed a fellow from the UK who was talking about using ACES to inform the training that he delivers to police in Wales on trauma-informed policing. 

So can we talk a little bit about what ACES are and why you think it's important for folks within the legal profession to be alive and be aware of ACES? 

Sarah Katz: Yeah, well, so ACES refers to “Adverse Childhood Experiences Study” which was originally done in 1998 San Diego in California. And really the punchline of this sort of this longitudinal study was that exposure to childhood trauma has a direct relationship to later physical health problems and morbidity, right? And so really what it found was the more exposure one had had to childhood physical abuse or sexual abuse or exposure to domestic violence, having an incarcerated parent, that the more of those ACES factors that you had as a child the more likely you were to experience serious physical illness or die early. 

The study was repeated in Philadelphia, my hometown, in the early 2000s. The motivation in repeating the study, as I understand it, is one that San Diego is not an incredibly diverse area — mostly suburban, mostly affluent. But even so, the findings were what they were. But repeating it in an urban area of Philadelphia has an extraordinary really high rate of deep poverty. But also they expanded the ACES factors in the second time around and looked more broadly at things like community violence, exposure to community violence and other community factors like living in factors and really found the same thing. 

And again, I’m summarizing in a nutshell, but really these conclusions were very similar: the more exposure you had to childhood adversity the more likely you are to experience serious physical health problems you know, chronic medical issues and/or early death. And that's why ACES are so important and, you know, really what that's about is exposure to childhood trauma that has this lasting health impact. You know, that impacts not just physical health but also mental health. 

Myrna McCallum: I think in one of your paper’s I was reviewing your most recent family law paper that talks about trauma-informed practice within family court systems. And there's a mention in there about why trauma-informed-lawyering really is an approach to changing all of our systems. It's not an individual practice that we should take on, but all of our systems need to become trauma-informed. 

Sarah Katz: Well, I mean, I think some of it particularly in the Family Court Context — which is what I know the best since it's what I do, what I’ve done. You know, it goes back to the first principles about what the court is about and what it's there to do. I mean, I think at least theoretically, it's there to help stabilize families and keep families whole, right? 

And so, if we think about that as the goal — and I think you can kind of extrapolate that to other aspects of the court system, certainly, again. At least theoretically, our criminal justice system is driven by the desire to sort of help you repair damage and make things whole, right? So that very same system shouldn’t be perpetuating trauma. 

It's not about, you know, you always getting your way because you’ve had this horrible experience. But rather, the experience of just being heard in a meaningful and empathetic way. I’ve seen that, time and time again, positive models of this and more negative ones of clients going into court and having their story be heard in a meaningful way goes a long way to buy into the results — whatever those sort of results are. Whereas, if they feel like they were sort of cut-off, not listened to, not heard, not empathized with… it kind of doesn’t matter the result, right? They’re unhappy. So certainly from a litigation framework. 

That's really what trauma-informed practice is all about. It really is a method of empathy. Just the simple act of feeling like one is empathized with and being heard out goes a long way in terms of furthering the mission and values of the court system. That really is what I believe! 

Myrna McCallum: I totally hear you, Sarah. I really do. When I think about empathy and law it just feels so disjointed. Oftentimes, I think recently I was tweeting something, or on instagram, and I was using the hashtag “empathy before ego”. Because when I think about the practice of law and when I think about my legal training and legal education, I don't ever — once ever — did I hear the word “empathy”. But definitely what was not spoken, but definitely encouraged, was this real ego-centric mindset that we’re all sort of really important and we’re all big deals. We’re “the cream of the crop” and “we’re going out in the world to do big things”. And then what happens is you get these lawyers coming out with huge egos and their egos tend to trip them up when they meet with clients. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen lawyers present publicly and also in a closed hearing. I’ve seen the way they’ve engaged with some of their clients — not all of them, but some of them — and what I see at the forefront is ego and never even a glimmer of empathy. 

Sarah Katz: Mhmm. 

Myrna McCallum: And so, I’m curious about what your ideas are for bringing empathy. How can we bring empathy into our legal education? Into our legal practice? 

Sarah Katz: Well, I think some of it is, and this is where trauma-informed practice again is it the “be-all-end-all”? No, but I certainly think it provides a rich framework to sort of leap off of to kind of understand both the impact of trauma on the people we serve as attorneys or judges or, you know, the court system at large. And then also on ourselves. The sort of myth as an attorney as an island or some sort of ego-driven-results-only-machine… don't really comport with human behaviour, right? *laughs* or how we function. And I think learning to step outside of that. And I think you’re right. It kind of trips us up as a profession as a whole because we’re not trained. In law school, we’re not introduced to these concepts that there’s this people component to what we do that's really really important.

I say to my students all the time, that there’s a reason that one of the terms for “attorneys'' is “counsellor”. Right? That's a big part of what we do as attorneys. Even if we’re litigators, we’re not in court every single second of every single day — we do a lot of counselling! Whether our clients are people, you know individual people or corporations or whatever, I mean a lot of what we’re paid to do as attorneys is to sort of evaluate situations and give people guidance and there’s a human component of that no matter who your client is or whether your role is transactional or litigation oriented and building empathy can only help in terms of your capacity to communicate and be effective in that. 

Myrna McCallum:We’ve talked a little bit about law schools and maybe what the experiences have been for law students and we’ve talked about lawyers. Can we talk a little bit about judges? How adopting a trauma-informed judicial practice could serve them, their colleagues, and the public that they serve? 

Sarah Katz: I mean this goes back to what I was just saying about people just truly feeling heard by the court system, right? Particularly, for people who don’t have counsel also, right? Which is a huge issue in my world of family Court. In Philadelphia, 85-90% of the litigants don’t have an attorney in domestic relations court. The court system is dealing with a lot of individual people who may lack sort of education or resources to figure out how to navigate the systems they’re being asked to navigate. But, even for those with an attorney it really comes down to sort of the ability to conduct a fair and searching inquiry as a court. 

Going back to what you said about ego, right, if we can just dial it back a little bit and understand what happened to you. And, you know, I've had judges say to my own client, to the other side, like, “What’s wrong with you? Who would say that?” and that doesn’t get you very far in terms of resolving whatever is the dispute that's before the court, right? So it really is about just taking the ego out of it a little bit and truly making parties feel heard. 

And I think that really is about the fair administration of justice. When people feel like they’ve been heard, they buy into the result better, they you know feel ownership over whatever the result is. Whether, again, it's in the criminal context and there’s a conviction or a lack of conviction or whether its, whatever is the result in the kinds of civil litigation that I do. People feeling truly heard goes a long way.

You know and also around the goal of just sort of access to justice and people feeling like they have access to the court system and are able to have their disputes resolved. And sort of understanding [that] you as an individual person go to file something in a civil court and up in sort of blow up with the clerk that's supposed to give you paperwork, right? I mean that clerk really needs training in trauma. I’ve seen it time and time again, like, someone comes and they don’t know what paper to file or they didn’t bring the appropriate thing. And then when they’re told no, they might sort of disproportionately respond and blow up and really, that clerk whose not a judge whose not an attorney, needs to have as much understanding about trauma as the judge him or herself to be able to appropriately work with that person. 

Myrna: Its adopting and becoming trained in trauma-informed practice is not just limited to the lawyers and judges. It's also for the court clerks and all the people who work within the court system — including the deputies and the sheriffs who are in the courtroom, maintaining safety for everyone. It's really training across the board for all these justice players. 

Sarah Katz: Mhmm. 

Myrna McCallum: And definitely, it's funny that you mention access to justice, because a few moments ago I wrote it down to bring it up to you. But it sounds to me that you agree and you promote this idea that, in becoming trauma-informed within the context of our legal practice and our legal systems it will also further the objectives in access to justice. And it will open up or remove barriers I guess for people who are in a, I guess, marginalized or disenfranchised position to access systems and outcomes.

Sarah Katz: It goes hand-in-hand with those goals of making sort of court systems and systems of dispute resolution accessible. Right? And just something that people can access regardless of their position in life or level of education, race, or ethnicity or whatever! And often we don’t do that well across the board in our court system. Certainty not in this country. 


Myrna McCallum:Yeah. I think not in many places are we doing it well enough. There was a judge in Ontario who was presiding over a child porn case. And in his sentencing decision, one large piece of his decision wasn’t about the offender or the victims, it was about trauma and vicarious trauma that lawyers bring into the courtroom by producing all this graphic information and evidence that court staff aren’t necessarily prepared to be exposed to. 

And he was really, I would say, calling us to action — as lawyers, as legal researchers, as professors — to study vicarious trauma in the courtroom. To find a better way of producing graphic and traumatizing information that avoids or minimizes the risk of vicarious trauma. To maybe even change the rules of evidence. Because, you know, the question really was: do we need to produce this graphic, traumatizing information in the format that we do? Do we need to expose these people? And he talked about how he had a private conversation with the people who were a part of his court before they even went into the courtroom and started the sentencing hearing. Just to really check in with them and let them know “you’re going to hear some stuff today.” Which I thought was really profound and unique. And I think needs to happen a lot more. More people need to study it, need to research it, need to produce papers on it. And then people who have control — ministers, lawmakers — need to look at the rules of evidence to see how they can protect us, who are justice participants, from becoming traumatized just by doing the work that we do. Because it shouldn’t be this way. 

Sarah Katz: Mhmm. 

Myrna McCallum: And I’ve lawyers say and others say that they’ve walked away from their work in justice because it was too much. 

Sarah Katz: Yep. Yep. 

Myrna McCallum:They couldn’t do it anymore. They couldn’t hear about it anymore.

Sarah Katz: Right. 

Myrna McCallum:I’ve also heard people say once they retired, that's when the panic attacks hit them. The depression hit them. They were almost immobilized by nightmares and all kinds of things right? 

Sarah Katz: Right. 

Myrna McCallum: And it shouldn’t have to be that way. Trauma-informed practice and trauma-informed lawyering, really it comes down to empathy over ego, practicing self awareness, and transforming the system. It really is a system change that needs to occur by taking small steps to change the way we engage, the kind of space that we create to promote safety, to promote empowerment, and to always recognize that we’re there to serve these people. It's not about us as lawyers, it's not about us as judges: it's for the people who come into our processes. 

Sarah Katz: Absolutely. 

Myrna McCallum: We’re there for them. 

Sarah Katz: Everything you just said… that includes the safety not just in the courtroom but also courtroom spaces, right? And being thoughtful and intentional about how we keep opposing parties a part or survivors away from their abusers — things like that. I mean, again, there's a lot that can be communicated without actually communicating words, right? So just, you know, getting up to go use the bathroom 20 times while we’re waiting to go into the hearing means the abuser is passing the survivor over and over. That's intimidating. So being really conscientious of the ways in which trauma can be triggered. 

But I think one of the challenging things and why this is so relevant to legal practice across the board is that, when we talk about this idea — Deeya Haldar and I talk about this a little bit in the article we wrote together. But like, the trauma might be the subject of the litigation, right? You’re there for a protection order hearing. Or it might just be the backdrop. Like it's part of the life experience of the person or people that are before the court. It may be the context of the relationship between the parties, right? I mean one of the types of cases that I really prioritize for the clinic that my students handle are child support cases for survivors of intimate partner violence. Where, usually, we’re not litigating the fact of the abuse, right? That's not relevant to the determination of child support. But it's super relevant for that person's experience of going to court against their abuser. It's also realizing that, again, trauma is all around. It may not be the graphic things we’re presenting in the courtroom or nothing we’re talking about in testimony but it's still maybe relevant to how the parties are interacting — not just with each other but with the court. 

Myrna McCallum:Before I let you go, I wanna ask you I know when we started this conversation we talked a little bit about a paper that you are currently working on where you’re promoting trauma-informed education for law students especially in light of this pandemic. Can we talk a little bit, Sarah, about how you think this pandemic is either exacerbating mental health issues or how you just think trauma-informed practice right now — especially right now — is so critical?

Sarah Katz: Yeah, Well, I mean I think over the last several years — even pre-pandemic — at least American law schools have had this renewed focus on law student wellness. There was this huge report that the American Bar Association came out with that detailed the problems with attorney wellness in the profession and how we have such high rates of untreated mental health and substance abuse in the profession. 

A big part of the findings of that report sort of put it on American law schools to figure this out and start dealing with student wellness. And that's relayed into a host of various programming around prioritizing. But, the reality is, the need for law student wellness is not new. We’ve already talked about the sort of “race-to-the-bottom”, “achievement at all costs'' sort of ethos that pervades our profession. And that starts in law school right? That starts with trying to get on Law Review or whose going to get on the moot court team. And so, law student wellness provides the framework for then lawyer wellness right down the line. 

So law students have always had — from my experience —  mental health issues or other life stressors that are going to impact their studies. I think the pandemic, at least how its played out, underscored all of that and maybe makes it even more prevalent for the law students who are currently engaged in a legal education. I really sort of feel like the question is not “whether” our students have been exposed to trauma. But rather, “how much” and “how so” right? Because we’ve all experienced a degree of trauma. We’re watching high rates of people die of this disease. Our entire routines have been upended. Certainly, for Black and Indigenous communities, there’s been a much higher rate — not just for contracting the illness but death. 

So we all have a degree of community exposure to trauma at this point which I just think underscores all the more reason that we really need to be paying attention to everybody's wellness. That goes for the students but it also goes for the law professors and administrators. And really kind of keying in to like we’re all in a little bit of a state of trauma shock I guess. And we’re all finding our path through. But being upfront and being transparent with students about it and helping them sort of plan for their own self care. I think only, you know, sort of before there these larger goals that we’ve talked about throughout this conversation but certainly is relevant now. 

Myrna McCallum: I love that you are doing work with your students where you are encouraging them to create self care plans. I mean, I talk about self care plans all the time with lawyers and get people thinking about how they’re going to take care of themselves as they’re working with the client to navigate some really challenging stuff. And so, I think every lawyer needs a self care plan. We really need to take care of ourselves and we really need to make our profession healthy. This profession needs healing, as does our justice system. I just wanna say, Sarah, thank you for your time today. 

Sarah Katz: Thank you for having me! I was delighted to participate. 

Myrna McCallum:Until next time, take care everybody.