NLS’s Law & Social Work Program Combines Disciplines to Better Serve Clients
Individuals and families seeking legal aid frequently have more complex non-legal concerns that are constantly evolving and changing. Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated these issues, and for some, created very difficult situations that they are now having to navigate. For this reason, having social workers on staff at NLS is crucial for our ability to provide quality legal services to the client communities we serve.
While most would agree that on the surface attorneys and social workers do not appear to have the same motivations behind the work that they do, a deeper dive reveals that both professions share a lot of the same ethical framework. While an attorney advocates for their clients within the legal arena in the form of legal aid, social workers advocate for their clients with access to information, services, resources, equality of opportunity, and meaningful participation in decision making.
Having social workers on staff means that attorneys at NLS are now able to work toward treating the whole person and not just their legal issues. The focus of the social workers is to help the client increase not only their stability and security but also their ability to work effectively with their attorney and navigate the court process.
At NLS, attorneys, social workers, and clients come together to create a plan to respond to as many of a client’s needs as possible. The social work plan may identify assistance in areas including housing, medical care, mental health and substance abuse, transportation, utility or rental assistance, improvement of coping and communication skills, development of a safety plan, relocation, connection with a therapist and/or support groups, and coordination with the criminal justice system.
Having knowledgeable social workers on staff also allows clients to access community resources much faster. NLS social workers are extremely knowledgeable of available community resources and supports as well as the eligibility criteria for them. Our social workers also work with clients to determine if there are any obstacles for them in applying for these resources. This includes helping clients complete applications, obtain necessary documents, and assisting with any language barriers that may be present.
Expertise in crisis management and conflict resolution helps our social workers dissect complex problems in a more trauma informed, culturally responsible manner. Their knowledge of working with complicated, individual, family, and community dynamics are a crucial contribution to the team that allows NLS as an organization to better advocate for the communities we serve.
Social workers provide NLS attorneys, the courts, and community partners a deeper understanding of our clients, the difficult situations they often find themselves in, and how these issues often combine to disrupt their ability to adequately participate in their legal cases. Since NLS began its Law & Social Work program, NLS social workers have worked with legal aid clients and community partners to resolve problems in other areas, including social problems, medical problems, and economic problems that are often intertwined with the clients’ legal issues to provide better, more holistic services.