It Takes All Kinds: The Interdisciplinary Magic of the HeLP Clinic

By Christina Scott, HeLP Fall 2017 Student Intern

At the beginning of my second semester in the HeLP Legal Services Clinic, I spent an hour with a fourth-year medical student learning how to read an electronic medical chart. In law school. Similarly last semester, when one of my clients reported bullying in her daughter’s school, the social work student working in the clinic gave me advice that I was able to pass on to the parent. I certainly didn’t think, when I took my LSAT three years ago, that I would be familiarizing myself with hematocrit levels and IEP plans, but that’s how the clinic works. At all levels, the clinic relies on experts and students in a variety of fields coming together to serve the health-harming legal needs of our clients.

All of the clients who come through our doors have sick children. Some are sicker than others, and many are critically or chronically ill. The very factors that make our families qualified for our clinic’s services are the factors that make these illnesses sometimes more unmanageable for our parents than for others. Poor housing conditions can make a child’s asthma or allergies worse; an unsupportive educational setting can set back a child, who already misses days or weeks for being sick, years in the classroom. Children who lack legal guardians or access to welfare benefits also lack the stability of a safe and healthy future. So when a client comes through our doors with a legal problem, we have to be ready to take on much more than just the legal issue.

The clinic relies on experts, like professor Sylvia Caley, co-director of the HeLP clinic, who are versed in both the law and medicine. Other professors have wide international and professional reach that gives them a unique view into the variety of topics we face every week. Further, legal and medical professionals regularly attend our clinic classes to lend a hand and answer real life questions about the interplay of health and the law. The doctors, lawyers, judges and advocates who attend our classes are as dedicated to a successful outcome of the cases as we are. They truly hope to see law students grow in their skills, but more importantly, these experts help us spot issues in real cases that affect real people. The guidance of these multi-talented experts help students make sure that they identify all crucial cross-disciplinary problems and critical opportunities to help our clients.

The best part of clinic, I think, is the multi-disciplinary student body. Walking into the clinic and having a medical student available and willing to help is both invaluable and exciting. Clinic law students do not have to rely on Google for important diagnosis and definitions, and med students are frequently amazed at the intense level of research and legal analysis we are required to undertake to solve a problem. Med students, like law students, are full of fresh and exciting ideas and, as one of my teachers told me, we will never know as much as we know right now. When multi-disciplinary students sit down to come to terms with a client’s multi-layered concerns, it is more likely that a positive outcome will be the result. Last semester, a medical student reviewed my case and told me I was wrong about a critical finding. Without that input, my legal analysis could have put my client in jeopardy of a negative result at her hearing. Rather than facing that problem with my ego out front, I used it to remind myself to look for experts all around me and ask hard questions.

The HeLP clinic is a unique and exciting place tucked away in the bottom of the College of Law. There, folks of many talents from a variety of disciplines hailing from all across the city come together to serve those community members who need the most help. It has truly been the highlight of my time in law school.