New toolkit to help lawyers better support clients experiencing distress

The ‘With You Toolkit’ is a first-of-its-kind trauma-informed organisational toolkit to help lawyers improve services to better support clients in distress

A project led by Associate Professor Chris Maylea has resulted in the creation of an innovative toolkit designed to help lawyers better represent clients in crisis and those experiencing mental ill-health.

The ‘With You Toolkit’ was recently launched at Parliament House by the Federal Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, representing a first-of-its-kind trauma-informed organisational toolkit to help lawyers improve services to better support clients in distress.

“There is a high prevalence of poor mental health, suicidality, and distress among clients who seek free legal services,” says Associate Professor Maylea.

“In response to this, we started the ‘With You Project’ which is aimed at reducing the distress of these clients and it was because of this project that the ‘With You Toolkit’ was created.”

“The ‘With You Toolkit’ offers practical advice to help guide legal assistance services in understanding what a trauma response can look like, how it can impact memory and communication, providing legal advice in a way that can be heard, and building trust with clients with a trauma history.”

The toolkit was also co-designed alongside people who have lived experience of mental ill-health to ensure their voices were heard.

“During our consultations, we found that many legal assistance clients had trauma histories that had led them to need legal assistance, and many found the legal system re-traumatising,” says Associate Professor Maylea.

The toolkit makes specific recommendations around how free legal services can be safe, effective, and preserve dignity.

“This meant putting the voices and views of clients at the centre of how legal services are designed and delivered, working in an integrated way with allied professionals like social workers or financial counsellors, trauma-informed supervision for lawyers to protect them against vicarious trauma, and systems change work,” says Associate Professor Maylea.

“Our project will also deliver training for the legal assistance sector across the country, designed with the help of those with experience of distressing encounters with the legal system.”

The toolkit and training will be freely available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Community Legal Centres, Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, and Legal Aid Commissions across Australia.