In a recent (2023) article published in the International Journal of Law, Policy and The Family, legal scholars from Australia sought to explore the question of what constitutes "good" domestic violence lawyering. The study sought the views of specialist legal services in Australia to gain insight into how lawyers can best support clients who have experienced domestic violence.
Concerns Raised by Clients
In Australia and overseas, numerous reports and studies have highlighted concerns about the responses clients receive from their lawyers in cases involving domestic and family violence (DFV). These concerns range from lawyers lacking sufficient understanding about DFV and how to respond to it in their work, to being judgmental and not believing their allegations. Concerns have also been raised about the approach of lawyers representing the other party, including bullying, pressuring victims to agree to unsafe orders, facilitating legal systems abuse, and minimizing or denying allegations of violence. Lawyers representing children or children's interests have also been reported to have a poor understanding of DFV, particularly in terms of the impact on children and co-parenting.
Characteristics of Good Domestic Violence Lawyering
According to the study, "good" domestic violence lawyering is characterized by a client-centered approach that prioritizes the safety and well-being of the client. This involves not only understanding the legal issues at play but also considering the client's emotional and practical needs. To be DFV-informed is to be attentive to safety at all times and at all stages of the legal process, which includes conducting risk assessment and safety planning, and managing and progressing the client’s case as safely as possible. The researchers found that effective domestic violence lawyering requires an understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence and trauma-informed care. Being trauma-informed involves not only understanding the nature of trauma and its impact on people but also recognizing how the legal system itself can contribute to and compound trauma.
Key Factors for Effective Domestic Violence Lawyering
The study identified several key factors that contribute to effective domestic violence lawyering, including the importance of building trust with clients, providing ongoing support, and working collaboratively with other service providers. The study found that good DFV lawyering is about legal knowledge combined with a deep understanding of DFV, its dynamics, the way it is experienced differently by different groups, and its impact on clients.
Benefits of Good Legal Representation for Victims and Perpetrators
Good DFV lawyering has benefits for both alleged victims and perpetrators. For people who experience DFV, good legal representation benefits include assisting clients to identify abusive behaviours, translating experiences of DFV into harms recognized by law, assisting victims to access procedural protections when attending court and giving evidence, providing victims with assistance and referral about their non-legal needs, and assisting clients to reach outcomes, including orders, that enhance and promote safety.
Lawyers who represent perpetrators of violence can engage in "reality testing" claims, advise against unmeritorious actions, ensure that any outcomes reached, including orders made, are practicable and workable, ensuring that people leave court understanding their obligations, reducing "tension levels" during legal proceedings, and providing referrals to clients for other non-legal services that might assist.
Recommendations for Legal Practitioners
The current study recommends that legal practitioners undertake further training and education about DFV, with some recommendations being specific, such as training on the use of screening tools or revising best practice guidelines, and others more general, such as improving knowledge of the nature and impact of DFV. The goal of these recommendations is to ultimately improve the competency of legal practitioners in handling DFV cases, ensuring that victims receive the support and protection they need.
Ethical Responsibilities of Lawyers and Practical Realities in Cases Involving DFV
The study recognizes that the various impediments or constraints to good practice that emerge in different models of legal practice or through environmental or institutional factors. It also highlight some of the challenges and gaps that currently exist in the legal profession and the ethical responsibilities of lawyers in cases involving domestic and family violence (DFV) representation to both lawyers representing victims and those representing perpetrators.
The key takeaways from this study include that good domestic violence lawyering prioritizes the safety and well-being of the client through a client-centered approach that includes understanding the dynamics of domestic violence and trauma-informed care. Key factors for effective domestic violence lawyering include building trust with clients, providing ongoing support, and working collaboratively with other service providers. Good legal representation benefits both alleged victims and perpetrators, and the study recommends that legal practitioners undertake further training and education about domestic violence to improve their competency in handling domestic violence cases.
Young, L., Wangmann, J., & Douglas, H. (2023). What is 'good' domestic violence lawyering?: views from specialist legal services in Australia. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, 37(1), 70-94.
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