Law Notes

hand with pen writing on document

The NASW General Counsel Law Notes series provides information to social workers about legal topics of concern to the social work profession.

Law Notes are developed with the support and financial assistance of the NASW Legal Defense Fund.


Available from NASW Press


Social Workers as Expert Witnesses
Social workers are frequently called to testify as experts in courts of law on a variety of subjects. Courts rely on information offered in evidence as the basis for decisions rendered, and oral testimony by witnesses is often the major source of evidence provided at a trial. This law note discusses the role of social workers as expert witnesses and reviews case law confirming their role as experts in a variety of legal settings.

Social Workers and Alternative Dispute Resolution
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is a method of resolving disputes without litigation. The purpose of ADR is to allow parties to a dispute to settle their differences by discussion and agreement, permitting them to actively participate in and have control over the process and the solution. This law note describes three methods of voluntary ADR—negotiation, arbitration, and mediation—and discusses the uses for these methods in the social work profession.

Social Workers and Child Abuse Reporting
Social workers often find themselves torn between their commitment to their clients and their responsibility to society when faced with the possible need to report child abuse to authorities. Social workers are not only required to report any suspected cases of child abuse and neglect, they can face varying levels of civil and criminal liability if they fail to do so. This Law Note discusses the legal issues social workers confront when dealing with situations of child abuse and neglect and provides practitioners with an authoritative overview of the crucial issues presented by child abuse and neglect cases.

Social Workers and Subpoenas
Social workers are becoming involved in their clients' lawsuits with ever greater frequency. Clients may be involved in legal proceedings such as child custody disputes; workers' compensation hearings; civil damage suits; or criminal matters, such as domestic violence. This law note provides practitioners with a thorough grounding in these and other legal matters that may involve them in litigation and result in subpoenas for their records. Also included in this invaluable resource are Section 1.07 of the NASW Code of Ethics (Privacy and Confidentiality), a complete list of relevant state subpoena statutes, and the United States Code Annotated Federal Rules of Civil Procedures for the U.S. District Courts.

The Juvenile Justice System
Social workers have advocated for the application of different standards to the conduct of children and continue to play an integral role in bringing reform to the legal system, with respect to how juveniles are treated. This law note reviews broad legal issues faced by social workers who work in the juvenile justice system.

The Legal Rights of Students
The role of the school social worker has evolved into a link between the family, the school, and the community.  This law note reviews some of the legal issues that affect the practice of social workers within the schools and the jurisdictions that exercise control over public and private schools.

Client Confidentiality and Privileged Communications
Applying the concepts of confidentiality and privilege to social work requires an understanding of federal health privacy laws and regulations, as well as state law standards and ethical obligations. This law note discusses the two principles and outlines some of the exceptions applicable to them, in the context of clinical social work practice and rapid changes in information technology.

Legal Rights of Children
This Law Note highlights the various approaches taken by states concerning how the legal status and age of a child affect the right to sue, the right to make treatment decisions concerning the child's care, the right to contract, the right to educational services, and the right to be free from abuse and neglect.