Acton Institute Powerblog

Solving for inefficiencies: Why a law firm is hiring social workers

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Growing up on the east side of Michigan, I still remember the jingle for the law offices of Sam Bernstein. How could I not? The commercials were everywhere and so were the faces of him and, later on, his children who joined the law firm.

Turn on the TV or radio and you will quickly encounter a similar sort of commercial for a law firm in your area. Search the web and you will find dozens of local firms. The competition is fierce: law firms must find ways to set themselves apart, whether through creative marketing, or more importantly, through the services they provide.

But while law firms are more typically known for high costs and the long processes of working through a lawsuit, one firm in Grand Rapids, Mich., is seizing the opportunity to distinguish themselves, offering a leaner and more competitive solution.

As Shandra Martinez explains, Plachta, Murphy & Associates discovered that there are often familial or community-member issues that can be solved outside the courtroom and outside the state, saving time, money, and relationships.

Martinez shares the story of a family that has taken advantage of this new approach. At first, the family was at odds over the treatment their mother should be receiving. Yet instead of going to court, they realized the disagreements could be solved more efficiently by having a moderator learn their story and facilitate discussion within the family. This is what PM&A provides.

The firm now has two full-time social workers on staff to work with clients to help settle disputes in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. With the help of the firm’s social worker, the family was able to work through their dispute over a half dozen meetings at Russ’ restaurant. Before the firm added these social workers, the family would have had two options: either not address the issue formally or spend a lot of time and money by going through the legal system, which may not be needed in this scenario.

This is market innovation and subsidiarity at its finest. PM&A saw that the need for lower-level, formal problem-solving, which was not yet being met by either the public or private spheres, and they acted. Because of a competitive economy and their desire to set themselves apart and meet the needs of their clients, they were able to develop a new way to address the problem.

It is easy to see from this example that even within an entrenched legal system, a free-market economy is still able to help solve for a range of inefficiencies. The needs and demands of the consumers are easily seen and a relatively simple solution can be offered within the market.

Image: Joergelman

Anna Kelly Anna Kelly, a graduate of Aquinas College, is a part of the Acton Institute's Programs & Education team where she works on program outreach and alumni initiatives.

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