OTLA Trial Lawyer Winter 2022

10 Trial Lawyer • Winter 2022 By Megan Johnson OTLA Guardian Anna Harper’s trauma history dated back to early childhood, at the hands of abusive and neglectful parents. She was intermittently removed from her home by child protective services, but never fully protected. As a teen, she tumbled into the arms of countless abusive boyfriends, married one of them and had two children with him. Her life hit the bottom when her children were removed from her custody due to her inability to protect them from his violence. With therapy, she began the slow, painstaking process of rebuilding her life, at 31-years-old. Her path out was marked by joblessness, housing insecurity and turmoil, but her strength and spirit prevailed. With the agreement and support of her therapist, she began building new friendships and eventually tried dating. Her next abuser came along more quickly than she could have ever imagined. She was sexually assaulted on a first date. This time, Harper went directly to the police. She reported her abuse, participated in the criminal process, and reached out to me for help. The attorney trigger In my office, she presented herself as “all business.” She was organized, logical, and seeking support and guidance for her next steps in the remarkable act of standing up for herself. She brought with her a satchel containing calendars, notes, contact information, and folders of records of her life history. She spoke clearly, but her hands shook with fear and adrenaline as she sat across fromme. She blinked back tears, and valiantly won the inner battle to not lose composure. She had me from the get-go. I liked her. I knew I was uniquely situated to help her. I knew her life had been marked by deep, ugly trauma. I would do my job — represent her to the best of my ability, in a trauma-informed way. Being a successful advocate for trauma survivors is a multi-faceted skill. First, it requires understanding of the science behind trauma memory creation and storage. Second, it requires utilizing practices that use the science—“traumainformed practices” — to support trauma survivors. Finally, a successful trauma-informed attorney must cultivate Megan Johnson trust and bring a high level of empathy to best support and represent victims of trauma. After 18 years of working with abuse survivors, I assumed her shaking hands belayed her biggest fear — the daunting and unfamiliar process of standing up for herself. To that end, I calendared her for a phone call every 30-days. My reliabili ty, cons i stency and crystal -clear communications would soothe her fear of the unknown, and build the trust and confidence I needed to fully represent her. Our calls were difficult. She would clam up and offer me little to no information unless I directly asked her pointed questions. I felt like I was cross-examining a hostile witness, so I went slowly, gave her space and repeated myself often. On the third or fourth call, she offhandedly told me she thought she was going to throw up every time she saw my number on her caller ID. I was stunned. She told me the calls were a reminder that her civil case was going to go horribly, terribly wrong. She finally cried and told me she learned, long ago, that she Trauma Informed Interviewing ...I dedicate a piece of my p ra c t i c e t o en s ur i ng a communi cat i on plan i s developed with my clients, not dictated to them.