OTLA Trial Lawyer Winter 2022

11 Trial Lawyer • Winter 2022 was never going to catch a break in her life. For Harper, the next bad thing is always just around the corner. Her civil suit was going to go horribly wrong, and my calls were a reminder of that unavoidable fact. It was only then I realized I had unwittingly retriggered my client’s trauma. I realized what I should have done from the very beginning — not assume that I knew what she needed. I told her I needed to speak to her regularly about her case to provide updates and spend time getting to know her. I asked her how she wanted to go about that. She simply said she would call me every month or two. And she did. After that, our calls were productive. She would share, laugh, cry, tell me what was going on with her life and ask me what was new with her case. I learned about her history, her goals, her successes and her fears. I learned the names of the people who could help her case. I learned she had stumbled on an online social media platform where other women were issuing public warnings about her abuser and his behavior on dates and in social settings. I learned that the things I needed to know about her, her case, her damages and her experience were all inside her, and the key to getting those things out was for her to control the time and space for that to happen. After that, if I needed to speak to her, I would email her and let her know nothing was wrong with her case but that I had a question or needed to give her a good update, asking her to give me a call. At intake, I now ask clients how they prefer to receive my communications. I inform my clients we need to speak regularly, for check-ins and to answer questions. I give them communication options and let them dictate the terms. I tell them for some, having me around is helpful, and for some, having me around is stressful and for most, it’s a little bit of both. I tell them we can change up the terms as often as they like, but regular communication is necessary and important. I never want to hear that our communication plan makes my client want to throw up, and I dedicate a piece of my practice to ensuring a communication plan is developed with my clients, not dictated to them. For most trauma victims, it takes heroic effort to trust an attorney with the whole of their experience. Clients will safeguard from disclosure the things that haunt them the most. The unraveling of that tightly held truth takes place slowly, over time. But it’s in that unraveling that the power of the case makes itself apparent. An attorney who hasn’t taken the time with their client will miss opportunity to fully understand the extent, and value, of their client’s harm. Few experts can tease out that which a client has decided to safeguard. Gaining trust I represented Mr. and Mrs. Green, whose child was non-verbal and autistic. He had been physically assaulted by his daycare provider at a center. He suffered bruising that was diagnostic of physical abuse. Damages were stacking up to be tricky because he couldn’t discuss his trauma with anyone and because the bruising faded within a handful of days. The Greens and I had an excellent rapport. In my estimation, I knew everything there was to know about what had happened and how to present the case. We communicated often and clearly. Toward the end of my representation of them, as I covered some of the key concepts of their case for the third time, they disclosed that months ago, their son began hitting and forcefully grabbing himself while in the bath, in the very same locations in which the bruising had been apparent after the assault. We had spoken at least once or twice since their son had exhibited this bath time behavior, specifically about how difficult proving damages would be given that See Trauma p 12