Celebrated each March, National Professional Social Work Month is an opportunity to highlight the many contributions social workers make to the communities in which we live, including improving access to justice. Social workers across the country, now numbering in the 600,000s, assist individuals and families in need each day in a wide variety of capacities, including more and more at legal organizations to provide more holistic services to clients facing a variety of critical legal needs.
As many pro bono lawyers know, the clients they serve often carry more than just legal-related issues, and may be facing a variety of complex problems including those related to health and housing. A unique way for lawyers to support clients and provide more holistic services is to work alongside social workers engaged in supporting legal services work at a nonprofit or legal aid organization. Including social workers in pro bono has many benefits: social workers can build trust and rapport between the client and the pro bono attorney, provide resources for dealing with clients unable to cooperate, and better convey clients’ interests.
A few inspiring examples of in-house legal departments and law firms coordinating with social workers in their pro bono activities include:
- Pro bono attorneys from in-house legal departments like Sikorsky, along with students from Yale Law School, partner with Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC) to help veterans recovering from homelessness and mental illness overcome legal barriers to housing, health care, and income. CVLC staffs an office inside a local community care center, providing unique opportunities for multidisciplinary teamwork with on-staff social workers. In cases dealing with mental health, the community care center’s social workers provide resource referrals, psychosocial support, and other non-legal needs to clients who face a multitude of needs.
- Skadden Arps Meagher & Flom*† attorneys coordinate with social workers from the legal services organization Public Counsel to hold a legal guardianship clinic as part of the organization’s Children’s Rights Project. Social workers provide support for children and families during the final stages of a parent’s illness while lawyers established joint guardianship.
- UnitedHealth Group** formed a partnership with Children’s Law Center of Minnesota to represent children in foster care on a number of legal issues ranging from adoption, transfer of legal custody to relatives, and the procurement of mental health counseling. Pro bono attorneys often work with Children’s Law Center social workers to ensure the clients’ comfort before hearings. This interaction also allows the attorneys to better understand and represent clients’ interests.
Social workers have an important place working alongside pro bono attorneys, and this kind of innovative multidisciplinary partnership can greatly benefit underserved communities. This March, we appreciate their many contributions to moving the practice of pro bono forward.
* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
**denotes a Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatory
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project
Hat tip to PBI Intern Maria Vlasie for her assistance with this post.