Trauma-Informed Legal Advocacy (TILA) Project

The Trauma-Informed Legal Advocacy (TILA) Project offers guidance on applying trauma-informed principles to working with survivors of domestic violence in the context of legal proceedings. Building on the accessible, culturally relevant, domestic violence- and trauma-informed (ACDVTI) framework developed by NCDVTMH, the TILA Project offers strategies that make these principles relevant to the work of legal advocates as well as lawyers who represent survivors.

The TILA Project uses a scenario-based approach. Within each strategy, we practice applying an ACDVTI perspective, considering what might be happening from the perspective of the person we are working with, and what practical strategies might help.

Each scenario is based on real questions from the field. We are indebted to those survivors, legal advocates, and lawyers who have provided us with their valuable insights, and who asked questions that formed the basis of these scenarios.

The TILA Project was established by Rachel White-Domain, JD. If you have comments, suggestions, or questions, or to request training or consultation, please contact her via email by clicking this link.


If you are involved in a legal case, please note that we cannot provide legal representation or legal advice. For information about the law or to find a lawyer in your area, please visit You can also click here for links to our resources for people who are experiencing abuse.



Trauma-Informed Legal Advocacy: An Introduction

» Webinar Recording: Trauma-Informed Legal Advocacy: An Introduction

How can legal advocates and attorneys who work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault take a trauma-informed approach to their work?

Domestic violence and sexual assault programs across the country have increasingly adopted a trauma-informed approach within their organizations. But when we support survivors in a legal context, specific challenges may arise that make it harder for us to maintain a trauma-informed approach to our work. This webinar will provide a framework as well as concrete tips for applying a trauma-informed approach to supporting survivors in the context of legal proceedings.

This webinar is intended as an introduction to trauma-informed legal advocacy. Rachel White-Domain, JD, presents on behalf of NCDVTMH.

A Trauma-Informed Approach: What Domestic Violence Court Professionals Need to Know

We were honored to present on a webinar hosted by the Center for Court Innovation and moderated by Katie Crank. Rachel White-Domain, JD, presents on behalf of NCDVTMH. This webinar is now available online. For more information or to watch the webinar, click here.



Module 1: Strategies for Connecting with Survivors Involved with Legal Proceedings

The legal system creates specific challenges for doing trauma-informed work. Module 1 addresses how we can take a trauma-informed approach, as well to maintain the role of an ally, as we provide support and legal representation to survivors of domestic violence involved in legal proceedings.

Scenario: Legal Interviews & Traumatic Triggers (PDF)

Scenario: Trauma, Memory & Trust-Building (PDF)

Scenario: Frustration & Anger: Reflective Practice Strategies (PDF)

Worksheet: Reflective Practice (Word)

Module 2: Preparing for Court: Emotional Safety Planning & Planning for Sobriety

Legal proceedings are often stressful for participants, whether or not they are survivors of trauma. Many survivors of domestic violence find the proceedings challenging in ways specific to the trauma they have experienced—ways that others may not be able to anticipate. At the same time, abusers may use legal proceedings as an opportunity to try and intimidate their partners. To assist legal advocates, lawyers, and survivors in preparing for court proceedings, the TILA Project has developed two scenarios, as well as a webinar, tipsheet, and worksheet on this topic.

Scenario: Emotional Safety Planning for Court (PDF)

Scenario: Planning for Court—Sobriety (PDF)

Webinar: Preparing for Court Proceedings with Survivors of Domestic Violence: Tips for Civil Lawyers and Legal Advocates (opens another page on the NCDVTMH website)

Tipsheet: Preparing for Court Proceedings with Survivors of Domestic Violence: Tips for Civil Lawyers and Legal Advocates (PDF)

Worksheet: Preparing for Court Proceedings: An Info & Work Sheet for Survivors, Legal Advocates & Lawyers (Word document)

Module 3: Advanced Skills for Legal Advocacy with Survivors Experiencing Mental Health Conditions

Scenario: “Staying on Track” (PDF)

This module is currently in development. Future topics to be addressed include recognizing and responding to emotional crises that arise in the context of legal advocacy, and working with survivors who are hearing voices that others do not hear or who have other experiences sometimes described as “symptoms of psychosis.” 

Module 4: Supporting Survivors Involved Contested Custody Cases: Trauma-Informed Strategies for Building on Parenting Strengths When Mental Health is a Factor

As legal advocates and lawyers, we may work with survivors whose abusers use their mental health history to discredit them as parents in custody cases. Working with survivors to build on their parenting strengths can reduce the chances that tactics that rely on mental health stigma will be successful. This document offers three practice scenarios in which a legal advocate or lawyer can use trauma-informed strategies to build on a survivor’s parenting strengths while a custody case is pending.

In each scenario, we will examine (1) which factors the court might consider important to deciding custody, (2) how knowledge of trauma, mental health, and domestic violence can help us understand what might be happening from the survivor’s perspective, and (3) how to use trauma-informed strategies to help survivors build on their strengths in areas that are relevant to the court’s decision.

Scenario Series: Supporting Survivors in Contested Custody Cases: Trauma-Informed Strategies for Building on Parenting Strengths When Mental Health is a Factor (PDF)


TILA Annotated Bibliographies:

Trauma-Informed Legal Advocacy in Asylum & Immigration Proceedings: A Curated Selection of Resources for Attorneys and Legal Advocates

This curated and annotated bibliography was created by Mayra Gomez for inclusion in the TILA Project. The articles included in this collection cover a variety of topics relevant to lawyers and legal advocates who are practicing a trauma-informed approach to working with trauma survivors in asylum and immigration proceedings.

Topics include the following:

  1. The Asylum & Immigration Process as a Source of Trauma
  2. Culture & Trauma
  3. Trauma & Memory in Immigration and Asylum Cases
  4. Trauma-Informed Legal Advocacy Techniques & Interviewing Strategies
  5. Partnering with a Mental Health Provider
  6. The Impact of Vicarious Trauma on Immigration Attorneys

Trauma & Memory: A Curated Selection of Resources for Attorneys and Legal Advocates

This curated and annotated bibliography was created by Mayra Gomez for inclusion in the TILA Project.

In order for lawyers and legal advocates to take a trauma-informed approach to their work with trauma survivors, they must have a basic understanding of how trauma can affect the ways that survivors think, feel, and interact with other people and the world. The articles in this collection provide information on the effects that trauma can have on the brain, with a focus on the impact of trauma on an individual’s memory. Rather than an exhaustive list of the research on trauma and memory, this collection is merely a starting point for self-study. Nonetheless, the articles in this collection provide a helpful beginning framework for embarking on this endeavor, especially for those who are interested in the implications of this research to survivors involved in legal cases. Articles that are available in full text format online were prioritized for inclusion.

Connect with the TILA Project:

We want to stay in touch! We have a lot in the works to expand access to the TILA Project.

If you want to join our email list, please send us an email by clicking this link.

Rachel White-Domain, JD, has provided training on the TILA Project across the country. At the same time, we recognize that community-based non-profit legal aid agencies and domestic violence programs may not have the budget to bring in outside speakers. For this reason, we can sometimes provide basic TILA training materials for supervisors working at these agencies to incorporate into their own in-house staff/volunteer or pro bono trainings. For more information on this initiative, contact Rachel White-Domain, JD, via email by clicking this link.


Additional Resources for Attorneys:

For lawyers who are representing survivors in custody cases, the following tools address mental health as a substantive issue in a case.

Denice Wolf Markham, JD, Mental Illness and Domestic Violence: Implications for Family Law Litigation, Journal of Poverty Law and Policy (2003).

Representing Domestic Violence Survivors Who Are Experiencing Trauma and Other Mental Health Challenges: A Handbook for Attorneys (written by Mary Malefyt Seighman, JD, Erika Sussman, JD, and Olga Trujillo, JD, on behalf of NCDVTMH).

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