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University of Michigan Law School




Narratives of trauma told by clients and communities of color have inspired an increasing number of civil rights and antiracist lawyers and academics to call for more trauma-informed training for law students and lawyers. These advocates have argued not only for greater trauma-sensitive practices and trauma-centered interventions on behalf of adversely impacted individuals and groups but also for greater awareness of the risks of secondary or vicarious trauma for lawyers who represent traumatized clients and communities. In this Article, we join this chorus of attorneys and academics. Harnessing the recent civil rights case of P.P. v. Compton Unified School District, we illustrate how trauma-informed lawyering can both advance civil rights and provide healing for affected communities and individuals. In so doing, we focus our analysis on the use of racial trauma evidence in the Compton school litigation specifically and in contemporary civil rights representation more generally. Building on our prior work on race, cultural trauma, and civil rights lawyering, we investigate the meaning of racial trauma for individual, group, and community clients and for their legal teams while detailing the importance of establishing a trauma-informed practice for today’s civil rights lawyers. This litigation-based investigation shows that sociolegal meaning is bound up in the struggle to accommodate community violence-centered racial trauma advocacy within traditional lawyering processes and legal ethics frameworks. Often overlooked, that ethical and professional struggle affects the form and substance of lawyer decisionmaking and discretion in civil rights cases.

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