Legal Aid Society

A Day In The Life

Helping Rebuild Clients’ Lives in the Criminal Defense Practice

Lisa Chan felt like she could do more. As a drug counselor for a decade, she noticed her social worker contemporaries using a clinical lens to help their clients rebuild their lives and realized social work could be a path by which she could help more individuals.

They encouraged and guided her to find a program. While working full time and starting a family, she entered her new life as a social worker, where she quickly fell in love with her new profession.

“I always have a spot in my heart for people dealing with substance abuse, and a lot of my cases have that component. I’m able to help them overcome their abuse struggles and the legal struggles together,” she says.

She frequently thinks of one client who constantly battled his alcohol abuse issues. He was charged with a DWI, and the presiding judge pushed for an inpatient rehab program. The court, however, could not find a program in his native language. Lisa “ran all over the city” to fix this problem, and eventually found a therapist who not only spoke the same language, but was a social worker who could help him with a treatment plan.

The thing I love about The Legal Aid Society is that they allow us to do what we need to do to help the client.

Showing up to court every day and going above and beyond did not go unnoticed by the judge, and he accepted his course of outpatient treatment.

According to Lisa, one of her biggest challenges is that judges usually want to send people away rather than focus on the positive aspects of their lives.

“The legal system wants to dictate what I should be doing for a client,” says Lisa. “Even if a client is struggling with addiction and we assess that they could benefit from outpatient care because of their relationship with their family, and they’re working and have other stable parts of their lives, the legal system wants them put in an inpatient program because it’s the equivalent to jail.”

She must then tell the client that despite building a compelling case, the judge has ruled against their best wishes. “It can be heartbreaking”, she says.

Through the highs and the lows, Lisa knows her colleagues and supervisors have her back.

“In school, you’re taught the theories and dynamics, but being able to apply them to your work is a completely different situation. The thing I love about The Legal Aid Society is that they allow us to do what we need to do to help the client. They give us free range to use our skills to help the client.”

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