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Helping lawyers just be lawyers

The First Step Legal (FSL) team recognised that some of our most vulnerable clients who needed case management support, didn’t fit the eligibility parameters of existing programs of our Health Justice partners. This meant that the client simply was not able to receive the support they needed, or our lawyers would try to be all things to all people.

And what FSL needed, was for someone to support our clients while they navigated the resolution of their legal matter.

With the support of the Collier Charitable Trust and other funders including Igniting Change, I was appointed as a Social Worker in the FSL team in October 2021.

When I started, my role was to build a bridge between legal and non-legal services. This has now evolved to include intensive care coordination, information and referral support, developing long term plans, and incidental counselling.

What I find most rewarding about my role, is being able to identify gaps in the system, or in services, and work out how we can better support clients, how we can advocate for them, and how we can elevate their voice.

That is the core of Social Work for me – social justice and empowerment, working alongside clients and looking at the broader systems for social justice.

And that is what drew me to First Step Legal. The team are so passionate about getting the best outcomes for our clients, and equally as passionate about what we learn from working with them that can inform policy change. Otherwise, we are just putting a band-aid on individual clients, rather than addressing underlying issues.

Working as part of a Health Justice Partnership, we focus on all aspects of a client’s life – we want to understand what else is going on that contributes to the offending or the legal matters.

My legal literacy has grown exponentially! And our lawyers can now focus on being lawyers, rather than also trying to be an advocate, support worker, and source of information and referral.

It also means that our clients have another therapeutic person to support them through the legal process, through court hearings, and to translate legal terminology. I engage with clients early, to build a good rapport, as we know this leads to better outcomes.

We recently had a client that FSL was supporting for fines and criminal charges. She had complex mental health issues, a significant eating disorder and misuse of alcohol. Initially, she was attending her appointments regularly, but then became overwhelmed and her mental health deteriorated, and she stopped turning up.

At first, she was difficult to get in contact with, but we persevered and over time learnt that she had other fines and debts she needed support with and got a better understanding of additional services she could benefit from to help manage her mental health. For example, we referred her to a financial counsellor so she could learn to manage her money.

The magistrate was able to see the impact of the client’s mental health conditions and saw evidence of appropriate support mechanisms in place. We had a good legal outcome and the legal process for the client was well supported.

I am so grateful to work for an organisation where I can make a direct impact on the lives of our clients.

Hannah Barker
First Step Legal
Social Worker


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