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Social worker expands services for law firm

November 19, 2014
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Vicki Poleni
Vicki Poleni. Courtesy Plachta, Murphy & Associates

A social worker is helping a full-service law firm better serve clients that have needs that extend beyond the legal realm.

Plachta, Murphy & Associates, which operates offices in Grand Rapids and Holland, welcomed Vicki Poleni, a family and business services advocate, to the firm about six months ago and so far the response from clients has been positive.

Poleni is there to help clients in all of the firm’s practice areas, but Brian Plachta, the firm’s managing partner, said Poleni has particularly benefitted the firm’s business and elder care practices, which are areas where clients often have needs overlapping their legal issues.

Previously, the firm would recommend an outside psychologist or social worker to help clients when overlapping needs cropped up.

Recently, however, Plachta read about other law firms across the country that have experimented with adding a social worker to their legal teams and found it to be a value-add service for clients.

“Vicki approached us about six months ago, and we said let’s try it out,” Plachta said. “It’s been an innovative area, but what we are finding is our clients really appreciate it. We can have both the attorney and the social worker in the same room and addressing the needs of the client from a holistic standpoint.”

Social work services

With Poleni on board, Plachta, Murphy & Associates has created an interdisciplinary professional team that can more fully address the complex needs of its clients.

Poleni offers a range of services to the firm’s clients: family conflict guidance and resolution; dementia education, support and advocacy; medical review and coordination; home safety evaluation; insurance coordination; probate resolution and counseling; divorce, family counseling and support; veteran’s PTSD counseling; business owner conflict management; and employee conflict management.

With more than 23 years of experience in behavioral health care, hospice, advanced-care planning and medical system management, Poleni is able to assist clients with several elder care issues, from navigating the bureaucracy of the medical industry to helping families choose the right nursing home or assisted living facility for their parent.

“She knows all the different facilities in Grand Rapids,” Plachta said. “She can help clients define their goals and then make recommendations for them to go visit different places.”

Plachta gave a couple of examples of how Poleni’s expertise has been used to assist the firm’s clients.

Family resolution

In one instance, a family was deciding whether to move their mother into a nursing home. Not all of her kids agreed on how to handle the situation, and there was a lot of strife as they tried to go through the legal process.

“The oldest child is the power of attorney and patient advocate, but the family is fighting,” Plachta said. “There are concerns about how mom’s finances are being handled — there’s not been full disclosure. We’ve got a lot of family conflict.”

Plachta said the family agreed to a meeting with Poleni to try and help resolve some of the issues they were having.

Poleni suggested the family begin meeting monthly with an agenda of the issues at hand and with her serving as an objective third party to help facilitate the conversations.

“The goal there was to promote family harmony, so mom could feel like her kids were all working together for her, as opposed to everybody fighting amongst themselves,” Plachta said.

Business resolution

Plachta said that sometimes business co-owners find themselves in disagreement and struggling to communicate effectively with one another.

He added that, as with families, Poleni can also work with management teams and employees to identify key issues and facilitate a productive discussion.

“Vicki can help them work through what is not working and solve it from a communication and personality standpoint,” Plachta said.

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