The Perfect Marriage

Thursday, February 27, 2014

ringsHa! I’ll bet when you saw the title of this article that you thought it was going to be about husbands and wives and wedding vows and, well, you know…marriage. This is not a commentary about that kind of marriage. But, if I’ve got your attention, read on. You’ll get to the marriage part eventually…

 ***

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “What’s a social worker doing in a law firm?” To be honest, it was just that question that led me to my first job interview with Hickman & Lowder nearly four and a half years ago. 

I remember when Jill Fowler, our Director of Administration, phoned me as a follow up after I forwarded my resume to her. It had been several weeks or more since she had received my information and I was a bit surprised by her call – it was long enough that I thought that someone else had been hired.   Once Jill and I exchanged information about the nature of the call, the conversation went pretty much like this: 

Jill: “Are you still interested in the job at Hickman & Lowder?” 

Me: “Well, I’m not really interested. I’m more curious than interested.” (Probably not the best ‘first impression’ response when one wants to be considered for a new job…) 

Jill: “Are you curious enough to come in for an interview?” 

And that I was.

***

The above conversation initiated a series of interviews that led to my being hired as the Firm’s very first Care Coordinator and also marked the beginning of an uncommon union, the marriage of law and social work.

Much like the time shortly after a couple walks down the aisle, my first few weeks with the firm was the ‘honeymoon’ phase of our marriage. I was happy to be with Hickman & Lowder and, I sensed, they were happy to finally have a social worker on board in fulfillment of their vision for the future of the firm. But I don’t think that the attorneys or staff truly understood the skills that a social worker could bring to our clients. And I certainly had little knowledge or understanding of the law as it relates to elders or persons with special needs.

The honeymoon phase quickly moved into the ‘getting to know you’ phase. I spent time with the 'team' at Hickman & Lowder - attorneys, paralegals, legal assistants and others - learning what they do and how and why they do it. I helped them to understand the skills of a social worker and how those skills could be used to enhance the lives of our clients. We developed ways for the firm to provide a more holistic approach to our clients. And we tried to find ways to help our clients and their families to understand the value of this union of law and social work. 

Finally, after several months of marriage, we reached the ‘acceptance’ stage. I began visiting clients in their homes or in the facilities in which they lived. I had the opportunity to spend time getting to know our clients and their families in a way that the attorneys could not, from the perspective of a social worker. I could take the time to form a deeper understanding of the wishes of our clients and objectively assess their needs. I could then share that information with the clients’ attorneys who would use it to design a more comprehensive and individualized plan of action for our clients’ futures. 

As a part of ‘understanding,’ I made it my mission to get to know the quality service providers, from home care and hospice to facility care and transportation, in the Greater Cleveland community. I also set out to let others know about the new marriage of law and social work at Hickman & Lowder. 

Using the knowledge I had gained in my earlier career experience and in my time with Hickman & Lowder, along with my recently reinforced ‘connections’ in the community, we set out to let others know of our recent marriage. Since then, Care Coordination services have been provided to clients in a variety of situations, including: 

  • to assess the home situation and arrange in-home services to help a client delay a move into an assisted living facility
  • to locate appropriate community agency support for a young client with special needs so that her mother, her sole care provider, could take a part time job and get a bit of respite from her caregiving role
  • to help identify the appropriate placement when care at home was no longer feasible for a middle-aged client diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease
  • to help determine if a client’s need for care was sufficient enough to qualify her for benefits through her long term care insurance to help her remain at home
  • to help a client with no family or social supports to find an appropriate living arrangement that would ensure quality care and support for the remainder of her life
  • to evaluate a client living in a nursing home to determine if supports could be put in place that would allow the client to be discharged and to return to her home
  • to find appropriate hospice and community support for a client whose life expectancy was limited and who wanted to remain at home
  • to attend care planning meetings in a nursing facility to ensure that the appropriate questions are asked and to advocate for the clients rights to be upheld
  • to monitor the care being provided in the home of a client to ensure the best quality of care as his needs change over time 

And all the while that the Care Coordination services were being provided, the attorneys were doing what they do best – putting all of the legal and financial affairs in order and finding ways to pay for the necessary supports and care. 

Now do you get it? Law and social work – it really is a perfect marriage!

Posted by Terry Fires-Maloy, MSW, LISW

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