Representing Adult Victims of Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence: Duty of Competence

Production Date: March 13, 2018 Practice Areas: Ethics Estimated Length: 3698 minutes


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Trauma victims present a number of characteristics that result from their trauma. This includes PTSD with all its plethora of symptoms, as well as the effects of gaslighting and trauma bonding. Understanding these characteristics is critical to understanding how victims view the world and interact with others, including their lawyers. It is also important because victims of trauma will present cognitive, logistical, and communication challenges. However, as attorney Maria-Vittoria Carminati notes in this important program, ignoring, not understanding, or mishandling these issues can result in lawyers failing in their duty of competence.

A lawyer has a duty of competence, at all times and regardless of who the client is. If the lawyer does not fully comprehend why the client-victim is behaving in certain ways, they may fail in their duty of competence. Ways to do this would be to be impatient, impose too onerous burdens, or failing to accommodate the client’s well-grounded needs. Communication can also a challenge because of trauma victims’ various behaviors. Although victims of trauma can be challenging clients, they are also among the most deserving of legal services and most in need of strong advocates who will compassionately and fiercely stand up for them. As a result, lawyers should endeavor to learn how to be better lawyers for them and help them in their times of need.  

Learning Objectives:

  1. Identify what the manifestation of domestic violence and sexual assault can be in an adult victim
  2. Grasp the effects of trauma resulting from domestic violence and sexual assault on adult victims
  3. Address the way that trauma affects a victim’s interactions with the legal process and the victim’s lawyer
  4. Discuss how those interactions can pose a challenge to competently representing a client
  5. Develop techniques to use to address those challenges while showing adequate sensitivity to the victim’s state of mind and pathology
Timothy S.
Grosse Pointe, MI


Stephanie M.
Englewood, NJ

Very knowledgeable and compassionate advocate. Well done!

Karin I.
Crestwood, KY

Very thoughtful and useful presentation.