University of Sussex

File(s) not publicly available

Deciding to use the law in social work practice

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 11:41 authored by Suzy Braye, Michael Preston-Shoot, Veronica Wigley
• Summary: This article reviews evidence on how social workers incorporate legal rules in their decision-making. It draws on a small empirical study in which practitioners shared with each other, in peer interviews, examples of their own casework, followed by individual interviews with a researcher. Taken together, the conversations cast light on the extent to which legal knowledge is foregrounded in practitioners’ accounts of their work. • Findings: The findings show that references to law are more likely to be implicit than explicit, particularly in adult social care, and that absence of legal references is a striking feature of the social workers’ narratives. The article draws on related literature to interrogate the potential reasons for the relatively low profile of ‘law talk’ and identifies four factors – lack of legal knowledge and confidence, reliance on organizational and procedural approaches, assumptions about the role of law in different service contexts, and individual orientations to practice – as significant factors in determining whether and how legal rules are relied upon. Thus it presents a more nuanced analysis of the relationship between law and practice than has hitherto been available. • Applications: The findings are significant in casting light on the complex range of factors that present barriers to the robust and consistent implementation of legal rules in social work. They have implications – in particular for the role of organizational management in the audit, development and supervision of practice – that are particularly topical in the context of the work in England of the Social Work Reform Board.


Publication status

  • Published


Journal of Social Work









Page range


Department affiliated with

  • Social Work and Social Care Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

Legacy Posted Date


Usage metrics

    University of Sussex (Publications)


    No categories selected