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Being a Witness

Avoiding Malpractice: Tips for Social Workers to Manage Risk

Being a Witness and Providing Sworn Testimony

Every day, social workers are called on to testify on behalf of clients related to divorce trials, custody hearings, child placements, and other matters. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, it’s never easy and being called to provide sworn testimony can be extremely intimidating, even for the most experienced witnesses.

You do not have to go it alone. The NASW-Endorsed professional liability program, through the NASW-Endorsed Program Helpline, claims administrator and attorneys, regularly assists NASW member policyholders in preparing to testify as witnesses.

The NASW-Endorsed program now pays for all subpoena legal defense costs by providing you with a lawyer in your local area. This subpoena defense coverage protects you for any subpoena whatsoever, including but not limited to subpoena for medical records or subpoena to appear as a witness in court.

As always, the NASW-Endorsed Helpline is available at no cost to insureds for reference and advice while your designated local attorney is working with you on your subpoena defense. This coverage is only provided to NASW members who are insured in the NASW-Endorsed professional liability program.

And for all NASW members, here is a helpful checklist that you can reference anytime you’re asked to testify on behalf of a client, or yourself:

10 Tips to Remember When Testifying in Court:

  1. Be honest in your answers.
  2. Ensure you have the appropriate consent in writing from your client to provide testimony about the subject matter.
  3. Only answer what was asked of you.
  4. Be consistent in your answers.
  5. Appropriate responses include the following when they are applicable:
    • Yes and no answers.
      “I do not recall.”
      “That is outside the area of my expertise.”
      “I have no opinion.”
  6. Do not be afraid of silence or time between questions.
  7. Object to providing any information when you believe the information is confidential and not subject to the release you have obtained.
  8. Present yourself professionally and confidently.
  9. Have faith in yourself and the work you performed.
  10. Be respectful of the judge, attorneys and others.

Testifying on behalf of clients (or yourself) is a critical responsibility never to be taken lightly, and that is best addressed with guidance and preparation. Please report any situation requiring you to give sworn testimony to your professional liability program provider helpline so that you can receive assistance.

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 September 2013

Resources and References