The Victim Trap: Top Danger for Trial Lawyers

SETTING: The home of Ms. Frances Quinn, — aka “Ms Frances,” a dedicated mid-forties after-school enrichment teacher.

MS. F’S OBSTACLE:  Lifelong depression and chronic pain, both emotional and physical — aka Playing the Victim.

MS. F’S OPPORTUNITY: Finding her self-identity, and ultimate strength — aka Empowering herself as the Protector and Victor.

Frances directs me to sit in a chair next to her. Her face, her entire demeanor is a portrait of defeat. Despite her actual age, she carries herself like a broken old woman. It feels like the oxygen has been sucked out of the room.

As we sit down together,  I can feel her fear. Her case is a classic “slip and fall.” A puddle of liquid in the aisle of a large supermarket. A spill so trivial in the grand scheme of things, yet it has caused her immense bodily pain from her neck and back injuries. But she’s used to pain. Her kidneys are failing. She’s on dialysis three times a week while waiting for a kidney transplant that she hopes will save her life.

But this is only an extension of a lifetime of pain. Disappointment. A broken relationship—one of many setbacks in the world of romance. It seems like everything in her life has failed her. Now she hides behind a wall of woe. Her face reflects that sorrow and defeat. Unsmiling. Negativity. An expectation of more never-ending pain.

How can I reach her? How can I find the gold within her that will connect to others so they really know and care about her? The focus-groups find her off-putting. They see her as nothing more than a victim waiting for an accident to happen.

She looks down at her hands…grasping them. Searching for some security in her broken life. I was a teacher not too long ago myself. Working with “at-risk students.” I share my positive experiences with her, but every positive thing I say might as well be the wind blowing tumbleweed through a desert of negativity. I know she hears me on some level, but it doesn’t really connect. It’s nothing but white noise. The voices in her head are much louder than mine and I know I need to cut through her despair.

I start by asking her to take me into her classroom. I want to be in that classroom.

“I’ve been told that you are the most incredible teacher, Frances. The students love you. They say the most remarkable things about you—that you change their lives. That you inspire them. That they had no hope of ever amounting to anything until they entered your classroom. Can you tell me about some of your students?”

She begins to lift her head. Hands relaxing. A faint smile on her face. She tells me about “her kids.” She speaks about her students truly as if they were her own.

I continue. “What was it that made you want to become a teacher?”

In barely a whisper she reveals the fight that she’s been a part of for some time—fighting for the funding of after school enrichment programs like the kind she works in now. She tells me the story of a ten year old girl who had been raped after school because she didn’t have anywhere to go. This happened about a year before Ms. F took the teaching position more than twenty years ago now, vowing to “never let that happen to any kid she knew.”  “Most people don’t realize that these programs can save kids lives. They keep kids off the streets, away from gangs and violence and sick people.”  She also tells me about “this older teacher I respected. She believed in me when I was just brand new working with students. I was her assistant. She told me then, nearly 30 years ago, that I had a gift. That I was born to teach.”

She’s talking to me. Seeing me, but seeing beyond me. I can tell she’s picturing herself in that classroom. The living room (where she lives with her parents) has become the classroom.

“Frances, what is it do you think that you give your students to inspire them? What is the main theme that you tell them?”

She answers quickly with one word, a word we will go back to through the upcoming trial. And there’s passion and feeling behind it. When she says this one word it’s almost like the light goes on inside her:


“What did you say, Frances?”

I want to make sure I heard what she said and to make sure she hears the power behind it. She repeats the word.


Now her eyes lock on mine.

“I tell them that no matter what, they must never give up. They must always power through. They must believe in themselves and have Strength.”

I take the impetus and run with it.

“And how do you feel as you enter that classroom and your students are looking up at you to gather Strength and inspiration? Who are you to those sweet kids?”

I can see her transforming before my eyes.

“I am the one they turn to for protection. I give them Strength to carry on…”

“Did you just hear what you said?” She nods. “Frances, you are their Protector! That’s who you are!”

Now she is no longer the Victim. She’s the Victor. The Protector. This is her truest, strongest self.

“As a Protector, you probably would do anything possible to keep your students, your kids, out of harm’s way, am I right?” She nods. “Yes, of course I would. I do. It’s all I’ve done for nearly 30 years.”

“So when you enter that classroom are you feeling any pain of any kind?” She nods her head. “Yes, but I find a way of dealing with the pain… It’s like I step out of this shell I carry around with me, and once I enter the classroom…I can deal with the pain. I’m home. I’m…” She quietly inhales, “…I’m strong.”

As I listen, I now feel like the classroom is her home and I feel like that’s how the jury needs to see that classroom as well.

Our session continues. “Frances, I want you to envision yourself as your student’s protector.” I instruct her to close her eyes and see herself… “….stepping out of your sadness and pain and anger. And stepping into your role as a Protector.

You pull up in your car in front of your school. You put on layers of armor, gloves, and a helmet. By doing so, you now embody everything that’s strong and powerful and safe. That’s how your students see you. And when you enter that classroom that’s how you see yourself…”

And now the “ahhh-hahhh moment” happens. She connects the dots all at once. She nods in agreement. She hears and sees what I’m saying and she understands.

“Frances, that’s the power you must take with you the minute you enter the courtroom. Because the courtroom is no different than your classroom. Everybody there is looking at you and seeing your strength. Your victory over victim-hood.  This is a woman who gets up off the floor not to weep and wail and woe-is-me. But to do everything and anything possible to return to where you are the hero, the protector for many children who need you to lean on. You are a teacher. You’re Ms. Frances. Your students are waiting for you. That classroom is the home where you were born to teach. What is it that you tell them over and over again?”

Frances answers with passion and strength, although her voice is quiet. “I tell them to never give up. To be strong. To have the guts to carry on. To never let anyone make you feel like you’re a victim. And you won’t be if you don’t act like one…”

This is just the beginning of our work together. The woman that I now face is nothing like the woman I faced at the beginning of our session together. This woman remembers who she is and why she is and where she needs to go to be the protector, the warrior, the strength that lives inside her.

Frances Quinn is a teacher and that’s the most powerful force of all.