Q&A with FeganScott’s Victim Advocate Paralegal

Rachel Blackburn joined the FeganScott team in 2021 as the victim advocate paralegal. With a diverse range of experience centered around sexual assault and abuse, Rachel brings a trauma-informed lens to her role, providing direct client support.

Trained in crisis intervention, victim’s advocacy, and civil rights victim investigation, Rachel connects clients to sexual abuse and assault resources– including referrals to mental health professionals– while providing support throughout the legal process under the supervision of FeganScott attorneys.

Read more about Rachel below.

Q: What brought you to FeganScott?

RB: When starting my professional career, I began working as a criminal defense paralegal, mainly supporting victims through Title IX sex-based discrimination cases. My primary responsibility in that role was to connect and communicate with clients to ensure they understood the different phases of their legal journey.

When I began pursuing my master’s degree in higher education administration with a concentration in trauma leadership and Title IX investigations, I found the job opening at FeganScott for a trauma paralegal, which aligned with my personal and professional goals.

Q: What have been some of the highlights since joining the firm? How has the past year changed how you manage this role?

RB: Given the virtual nature of the world post-COVID-19, it has been a balancing act to support clients via technology instead of face-to-face contact. To me, technology has been beneficial in supporting clients. Clients can talk with me in their own space, and as our victim’s advocate, I want them to feel comfortable contacting me anytime throughout the legal process. Zoom, emails, texting services, and phone calls are all utilized to ensure our clients can always reach me when needing support.

My highlights this past year were Beth and the team encouraging and opening doors for me to earn my victim’s advocate credentials from the National Advocate Credentialing Program (NACP) and my civil rights victim’s investigation certification from the Association of Title IX Administrators (ATIXA).

Q: Congratulations! Can you tell us more about the credentials?

RB: The National Advocate Credentialing Program (NACP), given through the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA), provides trauma-informed training, education, and credentialing to all victim assistance and allied professionals. The program focuses on promoting a standard of knowledge among those interacting with trauma survivors and ensuring each survivor receives a level of care and respect that empowers and promotes their well-being.

Thanks to the training, the information and resources I can access are invaluable, and the continuing education that is made available is essential, especially as my role and the nature of my work continue to evolve. Additionally, receiving my NACP credential has connected me with advocates across the country. Now, FeganScott has access to national and local advocacy resources from across the country, and I can guide our clients to the appropriate services from trusted resources in the network.

The civil rights investigation certification is also essential to my role as I am often the survivor’s first point of contact in the legal process. The Association of Title IX Administrators training and certification program provides training to ensure that advocates manage sexual harassment and sex-or gender-based discrimination appropriately. You learn new strategies and skills critical to performing thorough, reliable, and equitable investigations. This course has equipped me with the knowledge and skills to ensure we provide the best support possible.

As a victim’s advocate, I prioritize any training and credentialling made available to continuously learn how to protect and support survivors.

Q: Why is having a victim’s advocate important?

RB: You typically will not find a victim’s advocate at a private law firm, but FeganScott is an exception. Beth prioritizes having a victim’s advocate because the fast-paced reality of the court system is often overwhelming and highly stressful for clients. It is crucial to have a trained professional serve as their guide to offer emotional and legal support and to keep the attorneys up to date about the client’s needs.

I am whom the client turns to for connection. I’m here as an additional resource to their personal mental health professionals to support them emotionally through the legal process, be their voice in a complex system, provide them with resources and support strategies, and ensure they receive regular updates about their legal claims. From start to finish, an advocate puts a compassionate face on the legal system by ensuring victims are supported in all areas of their lives.

Q: How long do you typically serve survivors? Is there a time limit?

RB: I am here for the client from the beginning to end of their legal work with the firm. As the attorneys are working on the case, I’m providing updates to the client at every stage of the process, helping them navigate the legal system, getting information to better support their case, providing emotional support and resources, and breaking apart complex barriers.

In our current case against the University of San Francisco and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, for example, part of my duties include sending out regular communications to our student-athlete clients. I want to ensure that the client knows what’s happening in their case, so they can instead focus on healing and their ongoing studies and work – and I will continue to do so throughout the duration of the case.

Q: What specific kinds of support do you offer survivors?

RB: Being there for a client can mean various things. As the victim’s advocate, I connect them to the appropriate resources and offer one-on-one support. My methods include talking with them about support strategies, helping them find emotional and mental health providers if requested, walking them through mediation, recommending coping strategies, and being the person for them to lean on and talk to through the legal process when it becomes stressful.

It’s critical that the client understands they aren’t alone, that the attorneys and I are on their side and want to obtain justice for them. I emphasize supporting the client in whatever way they find fit.

Q: What have you learned from your experience at FeganScott this past year?

RB: Most of my previous experience comes from working in the criminal justice system and University sanctions, which I’ve learned is very different compared to handling cases within a firm like FeganScott. This past year challenged me in many ways but also presented ample growth opportunities to help trauma victims in the civil sector.

Consequently, this experience has taught me the advantages of working as a victim’s advocate on the civil side; I have more one-on-one connections with our clients. Serving as the liaison between attorneys and the clients in such a personal matter has taught me a lot about how to best advocate for survivors.

Q: Could you tell us more about your educational pursuits and what motivates you outside of your work with the firm?

RB: I recently obtained my master’s in higher education with a focus on trauma-informed care from Appalachian State University—which is where I also earned my Bachelor of Science in multi-disciplinary anthropology. I pursued this continued education opportunity to better support individuals faced with civil rights investigations of sexual misconduct in schools, colleges, and the judicial system. I wanted to advocate for those experiencing traumatic events and facing complicated civil procedures, and as a survivor myself, I understood how draining and stressful those systems could be. So I specialized in Title IX compliance and trauma support, and I feel this has supported the work I’m doing here at FeganScott and enables me to better serve and understand the clients in our line of work.