What to Expect in the Courtroom

Avoiding Malpractice: Tips for Social Workers to Manage Risk

What To Expect in the Courtroom

As many know, it is common for social workers to be asked to testify on behalf of clients related to divorce trials, custody hearings, child placements, and other matters. Social workers also sometimes find themselves in the unfortunate and usually unexpected position of having to testify on their own behalf in court, to defend against a malpractice lawsuit or a complaint against their license.

In a follow-up to last month’s featured ten tips on providing sworn testimony, below is some information that may be particularly helpful to social workers new to testifying in court.

What to Expect:

  1. Enter the courtroom and sit down until you are called to the stand.
  2. The attorneys will speak with the Judge first.
  3. You will then be called to the witness chair.
  4. You will be sworn in.
  5. Present yourself professionally and confidently; have faith in yourself and the work you performed, and be respectful of the Judge, attorneys, and others.
  6. You may be questioned by attorneys from both sides and the Judge.
  7. Once the questioning is complete, ask whether you may be dismissed from the courtroom and released from the subpoena.

Keep in mind that if you are an NASW member policyholder in the NASW-Endorsed Professional Liability Program, you have the important support, for reference or advice at no cost to you, of the NASW-Endorsed Program Helpline, who regularly help prepare members to testify as witnesses, and who will designate a local attorney and provide assistance in defending you against licensing board complaints and malpractice claims.

The NASW-Endorsed Professional Liability Program pays for subpoena legal defense costs by providing you with a lawyer in your local area, and protects you for any type of subpoena, from subpoena for medical records to subpoena to appear as a witness in court. In the case of a professional social work malpractice lawsuit against you, it also designates and pays for your full legal defense up to the limits provided by your policy, in addition to the costs of any settlements or damages up to the limits provided by your policy.

If you are asked to testify on behalf of a client, or if you believe a licensing board complaint or malpractice lawsuit may be filed against you, please report these situations immediately to your professional program provider helpline so that you can receive what could be life changing guidance, preparation, and assistance.

Please ensure to contact your insurance carrier before engaging any counsel as many policies provide that the insurance carrier has no duty to reimburse you for expenses that you incur without the written consent of the carrier. Thus, your first call should always be to your insurance carrier before undertaking any additional action.

Do you have a question you would like to see addressed in the Tip of the Month, or wish we would address a previous Tip in more detail? We welcome your ideas! Please email suggestions to asi@naswasi.org (include “Tip Idea” in the email title). A new topic will be profiled each month.

Published October 2013

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