A qualitative examination of the experiences of defence lawyers in working with emotional material in the criminal law
This qualitative study investigated New Zealand defence lawyers’ experiences working with emotional material in their role. Fourteen defence lawyers across New Zealand participated in semi-structured interviews. Data were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis to identify patterns of experiences across participants. Four themes were identified that related to defence lawyers’ experiences of working with emotional material: industry expectations versus the role reality, managing emotions in the moment, personal conflict of working in a broken criminal justice system, and factors that help and hinder wellbeing while working with emotions. These findings add to the under-researched area of legal professionals’ experiences of emotion. They indicate that defence lawyers engage with emotions from different sources, including clients, difficult case material, and other legal professionals. Defence lawyers are required to engage in a range of emotion regulation strategies to manage both their own emotions and those of others to protect their wellbeing. This emotional management must be performed within the expectations and standards of the criminal justice system and the legal profession. The need for further research, policy and practice to support defence lawyers in their role is discussed, specifically about providing education and support services to support their wellbeing.