Of all the interesting combinations offered by the Faculty of Law, the joint degree with social work is particularly intriguing. Despite the real differences between the two disciplines, students taking the joint program explain that the two distinct worldviews are actually complementary.
“I went to court with a woman who had suffered serious violence from her partner. An attorney had been appointed for her by the state, and since she was nervous about the process and its outcome she asked him to explain what would happen. He was very impatient with her and told her that she would just have to go into court and see what happens. I could tell that he was unable to understand the ramifications of the trial for her life, and it was clear that she needed encouragement and support.” This incident was related by Hodaya Moshel, a fourth-year student who is studying a combined degree in social work and law, when I asked her what connection she sees between the two departments.
At first glance, law and social work might seem to be far removed from each other, demanding a different education and training. Despite this, a unique program offered by the Faculty of Law combines the two fields, offering a fascinating perspective for both lawyers and social workers. “Many of the students in the program will tell you that the two fields complement each other. Each of these subjects seems very incomplete when it stands on its own,” says Noa Baruch, a second-year student in the program. “In my opinion, law touches on every area of life. Wherever you look, in every field and subject, in every job and institution, you can find law. It is always a very important tool. Social work is also a field that is present in all strata of life.”
Lena Romanovsky is another second-year student in the program. “The connection is obvious once you focus in and start to pay attention. But it’s easy to ignore it. In every social work class, there comes a moment when I think to myself ‘that’s why you need to study law, too.’ The stories students tell about the different places where they undergo training show how much they need the broader and different understanding that is provided by the world of law.”
The combined degree in social work and law is considered one of the most demanding and prestigious programs offered by the Faculty of Law. Students in the program are required to gain 209 credit points over four years. They must also undertake practical work as required by the Social Work Department and meet the various obligations for a law degree. While the students enjoy a diverse, interesting, and enriching experience, they also face considerable pressure. “The main way we cope with the pressure is through mutual help,” Lena explains. “We try to pool our strengths and cooperate. We’d be happy if there were a special program to provide more scholarships for students who combine social work and law. That would prove that people recognize the importance of legal training in social work, on the one hand, and of providing legal experts with a social perspective, on the other.” Noa adds: “You have to prioritize. Many of us find it difficult to cope with our very crowded timetable.”
Tell us about an average week in the life of a student in the combined social work and law program
“We have five long days of classes each week. We are studying two degrees simultaneously,” Lena emphasizes. The students in the program come to university every day in order to complete around 60 credit points each year. “It’s very hectic. Even in the fourth year I’m still studying five days a week. It’s a tough program,” Hodaya confesses.
Why did you choose this combination?
Noa: “In the army I was an officer responsible for working with injured soldiers, and it was obvious to me that I’d go on to study social work after I completed my service. When I began to find out more about the profession and the subject, I felt that something was missing. It seemed to me that law could be a very effective and important tool to combine with social work. So basically I came to law studies based on the idea of being a social worker who had an additional tool.” By contrast, Lena’s first area of interest was law. “In the army I worked as an officer responsible for soldiers’ conditions of service. I didn’t like the social workers I met in the course of my work and was convinced that I wouldn’t study that field. But I wanted to study something that would be a tool for social action, and I felt that law met the definition. Later I felt that law wasn’t enough itself, and I looked for a field to combine it with. I considered lots of programs, but none of them felt right. Eventually I discovered the combination with social work. At this point I was still sure that there was no way that I was going to be a social worker, but the combination seemed to fit. As I progressed in my studies my attitude changed, and now I see myself as belonging much more to the field of social work than law.”
Hodaya came to the combined course for similar reasons. “I wanted to study something that would provide a social perspective, and I knew that law by itself wouldn’t meet this focus. During my national service I worked as an instructor with a 12th-grade class in a youth village. One of the students was being abused by her father and the social worker told me that there was nothing she could do about it, because the girl wasn’t a minor any more. The social worker couldn’t manage to explain to the girl what she could do to protect herself. At that moment I felt that social workers don’t have tools they could pass on to their clients to help empower them, and that’s why I decided to combine this field with law.”
What advantage does the program offer?
“I think it’s fair to say that anyone who completed this program gets a very special perspective that will stay with them for life. The combination of these two fields creates a very broad and enriching kind of training,” says Noa. Hodaya elaborates on her point: “I don’t just think about how to treat a client or how to provide them with legal assistance, but how to combine the two. In the future, I hope that I’ll be able to find a field or job that combines law and social work, with all that implies.”
Noa says that a few days earlier, she and Lena submitted their forms for the practical training component in social work, which they will begin next year. “I think they try to find areas in social work that have a connection to law, but as I see it the two fields are connected in every area.” Hodaya began her practical training last year and says that she has managed to find the connection. “I was placed in the Adult Probation Service. I had a 20-year-old client who had committed an offense just after he turned 18. As I worked with him over the course of the year, I realized that this was his first offense. In legal terms it was a gray area, because he hadn’t committed a serious offense. But the conviction had ruined his life. He wasn’t in any kind of framework. He had been working as a security guard, and after his conviction he was forced to leave his job. I didn’t think that the conviction was fair, so I contacted the legal clinics at the Faculty, and they helped me to file an application with the court. The application was accepted and his conviction was deleted. I think in this case I was really able to touch the seam line between the two fields.” Hodaya adds that there are other practical training placements in social work that combine very successfully with law. One example is the field of public housing.
It seems that these two fields have more in common than they have apart, and the combination of law and social work is becoming increasing popular. One can only hope that the field will continue to develop and to attract students.