In the podcast “the trauma-informed lawyer”, Canadian lawyer, Myrna McCallum, interviews renowned physician and author, Dr Gabor Maté, about the subject of trauma and compassion.

Dr Maté claims that if he could spend a day with a group of lawyers teaching them compassionate inquiry it would transform their practice. A lofty claim? Perhaps. But one that merits closer inspection.

Compassionate inquiry is a theme that is central to much of Dr Maté’s work that includes books on stress, addiction and childhood development. It is described as a psychotherapeutic approach that reveals what lies beneath the appearance we present to the world.

In Dr Maté’s own words:

The purpose of Compassionate Inquiry is to drill down to the core stories people tell themselves – to get them to see what story they are telling themselves unconsciously; what those beliefs are, where they came from; and guide them to the possibility of letting go of those stories, or letting go of the hold those stories have on them …”

So how does this apply to lawyers? In the podcast with Myrna McCallum, Dr Maté describes how the most prominent dynamic in the court system is inquiry. In particular, an examination of what has happened, who was responsible and why. The role played by the lawyer is central in determining the basis on which this examination is undertaken.

As a family lawyer, this strikes me as being in the heart of our work: listening and showing compassion to our clients, whilst retaining the distance and judgment necessary to advise them. This has perhaps never been more apt than in the current situation, where families across the country find themselves back in lockdown once again.

It is in finding that balance we best help our clients face whatever challenges come their way.