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After almost a decade, Slater and Gordon’s pioneering social work service has supported more than 2,300 Australians, coming from a variety of backgrounds and facing a diverse range of issues.

When National Manager of Social Work Services Olga Gountras arrived at Slater and Gordon in May 2009, she could never have dreamed the impact the free service – the first in a private Australian law firm – could or would have had.

Ms Gountras said the team – which also includes Alexis Stonebridge (NSW), Maggie Poole (Queensland) and Lorraine Troy (Victoria) – has received referrals from 18 different areas of the law firm with two thirds (67 per cent) coming from its motor vehicle accident and workers’ compensation practices.

Other key areas include public liability, medical negligence, asbestos and superannuation total and permanent disability claims.

“We really did have to start from scratch in the beginning,” Ms Gountras said. “For the first two years, the service was based solely in Victoria.

“However we quickly realised that the service was crucial to the law firm because for many, it wasn’t just legal support they needed, often their whole lives were in disarray and that’s where we come in.”

Ms Gountras said the service focuses on reducing the negative emotional and social factors that arise from an injury, illness or pre-existing psychosocial factors that can interfere with the legal process.

She said financial distress represented 34 per cent of referrals, 20 per cent are referred due to emotional distress, grief and mental health issues, 17 per cent have expressed suicidal ideation or intent and 14 per cent had issues accessing treatment or support services.

The service is now national with more than 300 people from across all states and the ACT benefiting from the service each year.

“We help more people and in more parts of the country every year and regardless of location, the types of issues experienced are common to all,” Ms Gountras said.

“We see the impact of pre-existing and continuing health and mental health issues, the expectations of recovery, social factors, including complex social situations and the experience of the claims process as a whole.

“After nearly 10 years, the social work service is embedded in the law firm because the organisation has seen the benefit of our support on both clients and the lawyers.”

“It leads to a more timely resolution of claims and enables improved legal and wellbeing outcomes for clients and their families.”

Ms Gountras is in contention for the Legal Support Professional of the Year award in this year’s Lawyer’s Weekly Australian Law Awards, which will be announced this Friday 31 August in Sydney.


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