Cultural Humility within Trauma-Informed Lawyering

Many aspects of trauma-informed lawyering, in which the practice of cultural humility falls under, is often generalized as “good lawyering.” Recognizing and responding to the client’s feelings of anxiety, clarifying legal processes the client will be dealing with, and advocating for appropriate rights and protections are all examples of good lawyering but can also be great examples of being trauma-informed. 

In trauma-informed practice, there are four key assumptions about people at all levels within an organization. They: 

  • Realize the widespread impact of trauma and understand potential paths for recovery. 
  • Recognize signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved in the system. 
  • Respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices. 
  • Actively seek to resist re-traumatization for clients as well as staff. 

Practicing cultural humility falls within the assumption of being responsive to trauma. Within a trauma-informed response, there are six guiding principles, rather than a prescribed set of practices or procedures, that are generalizable across multidisciplinary settings: 

  • Safety 
  • Trustworthiness and Transparency 
  • Peer Support 
  • Collaboration and Mutuality 
  • Empowerment, Voice and Choice 
  • Cultural, Historical and Gender Issues 

When we consider these guiding principles alongside those of cultural humility, the theme of collaboration and mutuality – which focuses on the importance of partnering and the leveling of power differences – is highlighted. The underlying basis for collaboration and mutuality is the idea that healing happens in relationships and in the intentional sharing of power and decision-making. When we connect cultural humility as a practice within trauma-informed lawyering, it strengthens our ability to recognize trauma and affect how we respond to clients.