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The Advocates Launches New Training Initiative: Trauma-Informed Lawyering

September 13, 2023

The Advocates for Human Rights is launching a new training initiative to help volunteer attorneys prepare to represent clients seeking asylum in the U.S. The on-demand and interactive lessons will be accessible online, giving volunteer attorneys the flexibility to watch them wherever they are, at their own pace, and in their own time. The trainings take a client-centered approach, featuring video and audio clips from current and former clients sharing their experiences of working with one of our dedicated volunteer attorneys while moving through the immigration system. Former and current volunteer attorneys also share their perspective and insights.

The first available training is on trauma-informed lawyering. Many of the clients that The Advocates takes on for pro bono representation have survived traumatic experiences. They may have witnessed killings, been assaulted, been the subject of child or domestic abuse, or forced into trafficking. Encounters with immigration officials and adversarial proceedings are particularly difficult and potentially re-traumatizing for clients who endured human rights violations from authorities and institutions back home. Finally, the long, drawn-out process of moving through the immigration system post-flight leaves the client in limbo for years, which is re-traumatizing.

Trauma can affect the client's ability to tell their story effectively and to fully participate in their contacts with the immigration system because of the way that traumatic memories are stored in the brain. When a lawyer understands how past trauma may be affecting their client's behavior and ability to participate in immigration proceedings, the lawyer's perspective shifts from "What's wrong with you?" to "What happened to you?" This leads to a more empathetic and ultimately more effective client-attorney relationship.

After completing the trauma-informed lawyering training module, a volunteer lawyer will: 

  • Be able to identify possible trauma in their client's history even if the client doesn't disclose trauma or appear distressed;
  • Have the tools they need to engage with their client in a client-centered and trauma-informed way; and
  • Have tips for helping their client through a trauma response.

Additional on-demand trainings currently in development include how to prepare for an affirmative asylum hearing in front of an asylum officer and how to prepare to appear in court before an immigration judge. Access the training on trauma-informed lawyering and future trainings here:  

Sign up to be a volunteer attorney and for the newsletter to be the first to know when new trainings are launched.