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Hastings Women’s Law Journal

Authors

Julie Saffren

Abstract

Professional Responsibility in Civil Domestic Violence Matters explores the fundamental ethical duties that arise in civil domestic violence practice. The article stresses the importance of an attorney having a comprehensive knowledge of domestic violence dynamics and describes how these complex dynamics impact the attorney-client relationship. Knowledge of domestic violence and its impact on the victim is required if the attorney is to fulfill their duty of competence, including providing legal services in a culturally competent and trauma-informed manner. The importance of safety and specific ethical responsibilities in the face of high lethality cases are also discussed. The author examines attorney professional responsibility in high lethality domestic violence matters through the lens of the 2011 findings from the Santa Clara County Death Review Report. This report analyzed ten incidents that resulted in sixteen domestic violence-related deaths, including five incidents of murdersuicide. Several of the deaths involved parties who were entering the legal system related to divorce or separation, consulting attorneys regarding separation, or experiencing heightened stress due to marital finances or suspected infidelity. These tragic deaths provide an opportunity for attorneys to increase their knowledge of domestic violence risk factors in order to serve clients in a competent and safe manner.

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