One thing that makes the NIU Health Advocacy Clinic, our medical-legal partnership (MLP) unique is the fact that we are located on site at a homeless shelter called Hesed House. To my knowledge, most MLPs include legal aid agencies or law schools partnering with hospitals or medical providers. The NIU Health Advocacy Clinic and our medical partner, Aunt Martha’s are both located within Hesed House. As a result, we have three entities working together: NIU Health Advocacy Clinic, Aunt Martha’s, and Hesed House.
This organizational structure provides our clinic with the opportunity to interact with homeless people on a daily basis. It is my belief that because of this in-person contact, working at the clinic has been one the most important parts of my law school experience.
The law school world is a bubble. From 1L year to 3L year, a law student is constantly interacting with people connected to the legal field. Whether it’s attorneys, professors, judges, clerks, court room personnel, or other law students, being at law school has a way of isolating a person from the larger world. After a while, you begin to assume that every noon time speaker or after hours network event comes stocked with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. You begin to think that everyone you know is fluent in “legalese” and ready to chat about the latest Supreme Court decision.
Working at our clinic breaks that academic haziness. Most of the homeless people have constant daily struggles. They struggle to eat, sleep, and keep a job. This type of suffering is very different from the struggles of GPAs and anxiety-filled interviews. Being able to walk along side the suffering of a homeless person has a profound impact on a law student. It grips the law student with a sense of the injustice and heartache that thousands of people experience everyday. Interacting daily with people who are suffering to sustain themselves on the most basic necessities brings humility and perspective. This ultimately builds experiential character that will last long past graduation.