Wayne State to pilot holistic defense partnership for law and social work students

DETROIT – Wayne State University Law School and School of Social Work are launching a holistic defense partnership for J.D. and M.S.W. students beginning in fall 2021, with the goal of addressing clients’ legal and social support needs in tandem.

Holistic defense – also referred to as community orientated or comprehensive defense – is a term used to describe an innovative approach that employs an interdisciplinary team to consider both the individual and community needs when working with a person charged with a criminal offense. Unintended or collateral consequences of arrest and conviction can include loss of housing, removal of children, and even deportation. The holistic defense approach brings lawyers and social workers together to achieve positive legal and social outcomes for criminal defendants.

Law students will complete the Public Service Externship at approved placement sites that engage in holistic defense for clients. Students will also concurrently enroll in the Holistic Defense Seminar through the School of Social Work that will guide them on reflection and skill-building to complement the placement work. Law students interested in holistic defense should email lawexternships@wayne.edu for more information or visit the Law School website.

“Holistic defense is an underutilized opportunity to effect real change in the lives of people navigating the criminal justice system,” said Wayne Law Dean and Professor Richard A. Bierschbach. “Lawyers and social workers have the same goal – to achieve the best possible outcome for their client. By training lawyers and social workers together, we open the door for future professional collaboration that can make all the difference.”

In fall 2020, Social Work students embarked on the initial holistic defense pilot year, completing an immersive field placement experience and Social Work courses focused on the intersection of the criminal legal system and the behavioral health needs of their clients. Five students who recently completed the initial requirements in May 2021 worked with lawyers and fellow allied health professional teams to assess client needs, provide resources and information, and serve as an advocate for their client as they navigate complicated social systems.

“The holistic defense model encompasses much of what we do each day as social workers – working in tandem with our clients, colleagues and community partners to provide comprehensive care and empower change in our community. What is unique about this approach is the integration into the criminal legal system, which has resulted in shorter client sentences, a reduction in pre-trial detention and ultimately saved taxpayer dollars,” said Social Work Dean and Professor Sheryl Kubiak.

Social Work students will complete a Behavioral Health and The Criminal/Legal System course, a designated field placement and related Holistic Defense Seminar. Beginning fall 2021 Social Work students will also take a 3-credit Law School course that will introduce them to legal processes and procedures. Social Work students interested in learning more should visit the Social Work website or email Susan Lebold at ft2230@wayne.edu.

Community partners that will host J.D. and M.S.W. students include: 

  • Detroit Justice Center
  • Federal Community Defender
  • Neighborhood Defender Service Detroit
  • State Appellate Defender Office

Students from both schools can attend an information session on Wednesday, May 26 from noon to 1 p.m. on Zoom. Presenters will discuss requirements, courses, field placements and more. There will also be time for Q&A. To receive the Zoom link, please RSVP by visiting the Law School or School of Social Work online calendar.

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