Increasing Capacity to Cope : A Toolkit for lawyers of clients with a disability or experience of trauma.

Mr Daniel Toohey1

1University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia

This practical workshop will demonstrate some tools lawyers can use to provide better support for clients who are struggling to engage with legal processes due to a disability or experience of trauma.  It is expected these tools will help lawyers take a more therapeutic jurisprudence informed approach that cares about the psycho-social effects of legal processes and seeks to improve the wellbeing of clients.

Susan Daicoff refers to calls for lawyers to move from the ‘zealous advocate’ to ‘wise counsellor’: focussing more on telling the client the legal ‘truth’ they need to hear instead of aggressively carrying out the client’s wishes.  The aim is to have a better informed client who is empowered to make wise decisions with an understanding of wellbeing that recognises legal issues are only one part of the puzzle.

Lawyers of clients with disability or experience of trauma can need additional skills to improve the capacity of the client to cope with conflict and empower the client to make wise decisions in difficult circumstances.

This workshop demonstrates some tools lawyers can use to help clients who are struggling to cope with conflict, borrowing heavily from tools used successfully in the human services sector.  The workshop will:

  • Highlight aspects of legal processes that are commonly problematic for clients with disability or experience of trauma.
  • Describe a number of practices used within the human services sector to improve communication and wellbeing of clients with disability or experience of trauma.
  • Demonstrate through role-play some ways in which these tools can be used in legal practice.


Daniel’s legal and counselling qualifications, and interest in resolving strata and community disputes let him to research towards preventative dispute resolution, and ultimately to work in community development with a focus on connecting people with a disability or experience of trauma into their local communities.  Having worked in tribunals in both Queensland and New South Wales, Daniel is now working as a legal practitioner and clinical teacher in the University of Newcastle’s free legal clinic.

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