I came straight to law school from undergrad. Although I’ve had part time jobs, I’ve spent most of my life in school. I was drawn to law school because in comparison to the other graduate programs I was considering, law appeared to me to be a profession of “doers.” By this I mean, a profession that does more than participate in academic research and writing; a profession that actively interacts with people from all walks of life and has the skills necessary to bring about real change in communities. I do not mean to downplay academic scholarship, which is essential to meaningful debate, particularly in the legal field, and is often a catalyst to change. But to me, as someone who has spent most of her life in a class room and spent a lot of time writing and researching, I wanted to do more—interact with people, find out what people need and want, and help bring those needs and wants to fruition.
Over the last two years in law school, I did not exactly find what I came looking for. In fact, sitting in one of my doctrinal courses as a first year law student, I thought to myself, “What am I doing here? I am not doing anything I came here to do.” I subsequently came to enjoy my doctrinal courses, and in retrospect, I now see their necessity to provide me with a foundation to the skills I need to practice law—in other words, the foundation for the skills I need to do. I’ve also had experience working as a clerk and research assistant. In these roles, I’ve had opportunities to help people with their legal problems and write about significant legal issues, but always in a subordinate role—the attorney or professor I worked for always took the lead.
As I came to my last semester of law school, I felt there was a huge gap in my law school education. I kept thinking this cannot be everything there is to law school. Some of my fellow students told me about their experiences at the Health Advocacy Clinic. They thought I should participate in the Health Advocacy Clinic. I did. And I found the piece of law school I was missing.
From the very instant I walked into the Health Advocacy Clinic, I was doing. I met my first client on my first day. The next week, I was meeting with another client—by myself. I take the lead in my cases. Professor Boraca supervises me, providing me with helpful suggestions and encouragement. And I readily admit, I constantly seek her advice. It has been exciting, scary, and ultimately very rewarding to finally be doing. I meet with clients, listen to the problems they are facing, find out why they have come to the Health Advocacy Clinic—what they want me to help them with—and then I get to work with helping my clients. So far all of my clients are applying for Social Security Disability benefits. I’ve ordered medical records, called a Social Security adjudicator, and helped clients complete Social Security reports on their work history and functioning abilities.
The best part of my clinic experience thus far has been to see the very real difference the clinic is making. The clinic is brining positive change to the Aurora community, and I get to be a part of it. For example, one student attorney secured Social Security benefits for her client, which will bring him some financial stability. The client will no longer be homeless soon. Another student attorney helped obtain a power scooter for her disabled client, which will help him get around much easier. These were no easy accomplishments and the students put in many, many hours. But these examples affirm why I came to law school. To do. These students used their legal skills to help their clients in a way that not only changes the lives of their individual clients, but collectively serve the guests at Hesed House, thereby changing the Aurora community for the better.
Most recently, I got to help at Power of Attorney Day, where I assisted three clients with completing health care powers of attorney. Although I felt confident when I initially arrived at Hesed House, I immediately was attacked by nerves when my first client sat down. I fumbled a little and started second guessing myself in my head—what if the client doesn’t understand what I am saying? What if I don’t explain the forms correctly? How do I ask these very personal questions about a client’s health care wishes in an empathetic way when I’ve only just met the client? I took a deep breath and slowed down. After finishing with my first client, my confidence increased.
One client did not understand a portion of the document. I listened closely to the answer he was giving me. It did not match the selection he was making. While he was saying “I only want my sister to make decisions for me if I am in a coma or something,” he told me he wanted to select the option where his sister could start making decisions immediately. When I read the options as they appear on the form a loud again and then explained what the options meant, he asked me, “What do you think I should do?” I responded, “I can’t make that decision for you. This is about your wishes.” I took a moment, thought to myself, and then regrouped. “Let’s take some more time with this section,” I said. I began again this time by saying, “From what you are telling me, you only want your sister to be able to make decisions if you physically cannot. Like if you were in a comma? Does that sound right?” We proceeded from there. I re-explained the options again, this time giving him some examples of what the options would mean in real life. I could see the understanding come across his face. He then confidently told me which option he wanted. It was in this moment I felt like “a lawyer.” I was able to use the skills I learned in law school and help a client make health care plans. Although this may seem like a small feat, this preparation gives clients control over their health care wishes and brings an element of stability to their lives, however small. Power of Attorney Day enabled me to do—to work with clients and bring some stability to their lives.
Each day I am at the Health Advocacy Clinic, I leave much happier than I arrived. My experiences at the clinic have affirmed my decision to go to law school. I find myself excitedly looking forward to practicing law after graduation. Working with my fellow student attorneys and Professor Boraca, I am happy to find what I came to law school for—a profession of “doers,” who work together with people from all walks of life, including staff at Hesed House and health care providers at Aunt Martha’s, to provide legal services to clients. Through everyone’s collective impact, positive change has been brought to the Aurora community.