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Putting the “Care” in “Vicarious Trauma”
Those in need of a lawyer are often in one of the most stressful experiences of their lives. Divorce proceedings, criminal accusations, or personal injury claims turn entire lives upside-down, while something as routine as the purchase of a first home can still be overwhelming. What for the client may be a fulcrum holding their future in the balance, for their lawyer may be just a Tuesday—one of perhaps over a dozen files ongoing at any time.
Yet, it is easy for the lawyer to invest themselves in their clients’ causes and fortunes, taking their wins and losses to heart, making the clients’ pain their own, and vicariously experiencing the “most-stressful-experiences-of-their-lives” of perhaps a dozen clients simultaneously. Consequently, lawyers find themselves experiencing increased rates of depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health issues associated with vicarious trauma.
Vicarious trauma is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. It is a state of tension and preoccupation with the trauma experienced by others. It is often discussed in relation to fields such as criminal and family law, where the mere facts associated with the file can be distributing. A study in the Pace Law Review titled “Vicarious Trauma in Attorneys” found that lawyers working on files involving domestic violence or criminal defendants demonstrated significantly higher levels of vicarious trauma than mental health providers and social workers dealing with the same matters.
However, traumatic experiences are not limited to those with facts out of a television crime procedural. Lawyers can easily become a reservoir for their clients’ stress and anxiety. It’s been found that the amount of stress felt by a client is correlated with the amount of time spent with their lawyer (J. Steven Picou, “Disaster, Litigation, and the Corrosive Community” 82 Soc F 1493). In fact, generally, “the most common documented impact from civil litigation is emotional and psychological harm” (“Anticipating and Managing the Psychological cost of civil litigation”, Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice, 2017).
Lawyers should take care, then, to maintain distance and objectivity from the clients and their files. While a lawyer must always strive to be a zealous advocate and represent their client to the best of their abilities, it can be dangerous to take the client’s problems to heart, so to speak. Becoming emotionally invested in a file can, perhaps counterintuitively, undermine the lawyer’s ability to help.
Taking steps, then, to address the symptoms of trauma or other mental health concerns when they arise can prevent more serious breakdowns and practice failures in the future. The Ontario Member Assistance Program (https://homeweb.ca/map) is a free service available to all lawyers, paralegals, judges, law students, and their families, providing counselling and resources to address various mental health concerns, including vicarious trauma.
Shawn Erker (@ShawnErker) is Legal Writer & Content Manager at LAWPRO.
Nevertheless and Nonetheless – or Is That None the Less?
Nevertheless and nonetheless mean the same thing (‘notwithstanding’), so they can be used interchangeably. Nonetheless is a more recent coinage.
Both started as three words, but over time ended up as one. It’s now always nevertheless, but the three-word form none the less is still seen, especially in the UK.
There is a certain logic to none the less, if spelling it as a single word might suggest an odd pronunciation (non-EATHE-less, with the second syllable rhyming with breathe).
But you’re fine nevertheless with nonetheless.
Use Your Words (A 30-Day Challenge!)
It’s so tempting to scroll through your LinkedIn feed and ‘like’ stuff, isn’t it? There is so much pressure to show up and post something. Everyone else seems to be. But is hitting the ‘like’ button really the right response?
Today’s tip isn’t just a tip. It’s a challenge!
For the next 30 days, every time you find yourself reaching for that ‘like’ button, stop yourself. Ask yourself if you can go further. Is there anything you can write that would add value? Convey point of view, experience or insight? Or simply present your personality?
Why is this so important?
LinkedIn is about expanding your network to your 2nd and 3rd degree connections. One way to do that is to comment on other people’s content. If your comment is interesting, helpful, insightful, inspiring, controversial or even just plain old funny, it may start a conversation. At the very least, your network will take notice. More importantly, your network’s network will take notice. That’s how you expand your reach. ‘Liking’? Not so much. Think about it. Do you notice when others ‘like’ a post?
So, for the next 30 days, try something different. Use your words! And see where it takes you.
For related reading, see these past articles on Slaw:
Also, see the following related articles by Sandra Bekhor:
Past or Present?
A student who is helping a partner with writing a book (I hope he gets due credit) called to ask which verb tense to use in describing cases.
My answer was that it depends on context.
I think you would say that a judge found, held or stated something in a particular case.
Perhaps where you are talking about a judge’s obiter dicta rather than ratio decidendi, you would use the present tense: In this case, So-and-so J discusses the applicable factors. But you would say, The judge said in dicta that …
Where the description is depersonalised, the present seems more normal: the case sets out a three-part test, stands for a proposition, distinguishes an earlier case.
But let me know what you think.
Finding WSIAT Decisions Online
The Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT) has published a detailed tip sheet on finding WSIAT decisions online.
It explains how to search by topic, issue, words or phrases and more. Step-by-step instructions are provided for searching by WSIB policy number, section of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, and with summaries.
Instructions are for CanLII but also cover the “Noteworthy Decisions” section of the Tribunal’s website.
Hat tip to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development What’s New newsletter for highlighting this resource.
Finding Ontario Court Information Online
You can search by either party name (i.e. surname or business name) or by case number.
Information provided includes the parties, the name of the lawyer representing the person or company (if represented), the claim amount (for civil matters), the date the case was opened, the most recent order type and date (for civil matters), the next appearance type and date (if a future appearance has been scheduled), and whether the case is subject to a publication ban
Note that the service “will not provide information about cases that are subject to statutory, common law or court-ordered public access restrictions.”
You may have seen that the US District Court for the District of Columbia has issued guidance (it isn’t framed as a directive, exactly) on its preferences for typefaces in documents submitted to the court.
Briefs (as they call them in the USA) must be at least 14-point in size (judges tend to be older, and presumably need large-print formats), and in a font with serifs. (Oddly the court’s notice is in a sans serif typeface.)
The court then goes on to say it has ‘determined that certain typefaces, such as Century and Times New Roman, are more legible than others’.
Garamond is singled out as ‘particularly’ difficult to read, because it ‘appears smaller than other typefaces.’
The concern appears to be that lawyers will exploit smaller or narrower fonts as a way of getting around the strict page limits for court documents, thereby putting a strain on judicial eyes and patience.
I’ve always found Garamond rather elegant, and I use it for my own writing. Couldn’t the DC Circuit just ask for it in 16-point type?
Other courts have waded into these treacherous waters.
The United States Supreme Court also likes Century and its progeny, mandating in Rule 33 that briefs ‘shall be typeset in a Century family (e. g., Century Expanded, New Century Schoolbook, or Century Schoolbook) 12-point type …’ (They also seem to like two spaces after a period, which is so 1950.)
Times New Roman gets no mention, so SCOTUS mustn’t like it, or not well enough. Times New Roman is, by omission, effectively proscribed by the highest court in the States.
The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, for its part, does not like Times New Roman at all.
That court’s Rule 32 requires a roman, serif font that is at least 12-point in size (7th Circuit judges must have better eyesight than those on the DC Circuit, and they’re OK with sans serif for headings).
In its Requirements and Suggestions for Briefs and Other Papers, the 7th Circuit counsels against Times New Roman.
This font was, the court says, designed for quick reading of newspapers (hence the name) with narrow columns of text. It less suitable for ‘book-length (or brief-length) documents’.
The guide goes on to say, ‘Lawyers don’t want their audience to read fast and throw the document away; they want to maximize retention. Achieving that goal requires a different approach—different typefaces, different column widths, different writing conventions. Briefs are like books rather than newspapers.’
So, not much agreement among the American judiciary on this burning question.
What does an actual expert on the typography of legal documents have to say?
Matthew Butterick, in his aptly titled Typography for Lawyers, places Garamond and Century Schoolbook on the ‘A list: Generally tolerable’, his highest category. Plain old Century is on the B list (‘OK in limited doses’), Century Gothic is among the Cs (‘Questionable’), while Times New Roman is relegated to the F list (‘Fatal to your credibility’).
Take that, DC Circuit!
Butterick goes on to say that Times New Roman ‘is not a font choice so much as the absence of a font choice’, not particularly attractive or readable, but there by default when you open a new document in Word.
He concludes (emphasis in original): ‘If you have a choice about using Times New Roman, please stop. You have plenty of better alternatives’.
But if you’re appearing before the District Court in Washington, DC, probably not Garamond.
Up Your Research Game With Lexbox Premium
If you’re a power Lexbox user, you’ll be interested to know that Lexbox Premium is now available. The premium account includes:
- integration with Clio
- 5GB of uploads storage (or even more: 20GB for an additional fee)
- up to 100 alert feeds (or even more: 400 extra alerts for an additional fee)
- unlimited history, hyperlinking of your docs to primary law, and search within your docs
See a comparison between Base (free) accounts and Premium accounts here. The Premium account is $20/month and is billed monthly.
It’s also important to note that “all revenues generated are kept within the CanLII family and serve to improve the CanLII user experience.”
The meanings of words change over time.
A nice example is condescending, which not so long ago meant something along the lines of ‘being gracious to the underlings’ (the King James Bible, Dr Johnson and Lord Byron use it in this sense). Since the later nineteenth century, it has meant ‘patronising’ (in a bad way; that also once had a neutral or even positive connotation).
Another is meticulous, a quality we now seek in new legal hires, but a word which used to mean ‘timid’ or ‘fearful’ rather than ‘detail-oriented’.
Only a pedant would cling to the old meanings; and we must recognise that language is not of marmoreal permanence.
What is different is a misuse or error that sticks, as opposed to a gradual shift in meaning or tone. I could care less is an example. It’s just a lazy shortening of I couldn’t care less, and the difference in meaning is worth preserving.
When usage is changing, it is still worth fighting to retain an older meaning where the new one lacks precision, logic or truth.
As events in recent years have repeatedly shown, words and truth matter; they should not be distorted to mean their Orwellian opposite.
How to Set Up Alerts on Lexbox
Lexbox is a free* online service that allows you to set up CanLII alerts that are automatically emailed to you.
To set up an alert on CanLII using Lexbox:
- If you haven’t already done so, create a Lexbox account.
- Go to CanLII and run your search.
- Once you are happy with the search, click on the grey Set up alert feed button. If you’re not already logged in, it will prompt you to do so.
- A box with the details of your alert should pop up. You can rename your search and choose how often you wish to be notified. Then click on Ok.
When you go into Lexbox > My Alerts you should now see the search you have just saved.
If you want to monitor amendments to a piece of legislation, the process is much the same. Simply find the legislation you wish to monitor on CanLII and click on Set up amendment alert.
Similarly, to set up an alert for any cases citing a specific case or piece of legislation, find the document you want and then click on Set up citation alert.
* For the first 10 alerts that you set up on CanLII. There is a cost for additional alerts.