Abstract: Examination of Therapeutic Jurisprudence and Trauma-Informed Practice within an Exploitation Legal Clinic (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Examination of Therapeutic Jurisprudence and Trauma-Informed Practice within an Exploitation Legal Clinic

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Paradise Valley, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Kasandra Dodd, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Georgia, Athens
Hannah Armstrong, B.A., MSW Student, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Background: Specialty legal clinics are incorporating trauma-informed practices with the concept of therapeutic jurisprudence, an interdisciplinary method of legal scholarship that aims to reform the law to positively impact the psychological well-being of those involved in the legal system. Specialized legal clinics are still a very new intervention and are only present within a few universities. Understanding the effectiveness of these clinics is needed for several reasons. First, vulnerable groups such as youth involved in governmental systems (i.e., foster care, juvenile justice) are often targeted for exploitation. Second, the effectiveness of clinics is often difficult to ascertain as it is specialized and maybe a silo in their methods and procedures. This study will explore the phenomenological experiences of third-year law students and one legal fellow working in a university legal clinic specializing in the engagement of trauma-informed practices with victims/survivors of sexual exploitation. As little research exists to support this work, the information from this study will contribute to emerging literature regarding trauma-informed interventions and what is most effective for survivors of exploitation within a court setting.

Methods: A qualitative method through a phenomenological approach will allow participants to tell the lived experiences of their roles working with survivors and victims of exploitation. The study took place at a legal clinic within a university setting in the United States. The clinic works with victims and survivors of sexual exploitation.

The method of data collection was semi-structural interviews. Participants were contacted via email per convenience sampling at the legal clinic by the research team for recruitment. The purpose and the expectation of the study were explained, and consent forms were provided. Six people actively participated in the study of the 10 law students and staff eligible to participate. Five participants were third-year students, and one participant was a legal fellow. The interviews lasted approximately 45-60 minutes each.

Audio and video of each interview were recorded and transcribed. All data was stored within an encrypted file to which only the approved research team had direct access. Thematic analysis was utilized to examine the data. The researchers used intercoder reliability to verify the data collected.

Results: The two coders initially created themes from the data separately. These themes were integrated to create an overview of the data. The final themes were New Ways of Knowing, Interface with DFCS Social Workers, Importance of Trauma-Informed Knowledge, and Awareness of One’s Emotional Investment.


Providing the experience of a specialized clinic provides participants with expertise not found in traditional classroom settings. In specialty legal clinics center around trauma-informed practices, these experiences further transcend traditional legal knowledge and increase the participant’s ability to be empathic, levels of communication, and an increased understanding of cross-professional disciplines.

Also, the research team will collaborate with the clinic to create ongoing evaluation methods to review its effectiveness regarding staff training, staff well-being, and satisfaction of services from victims/survivors. The goal is to create a trauma-informed workforce that implements positive outcomes for clients.