Hands-on Experience from the HeLP Legal Services Clinic

By Raina Azarkhail, HeLP Fall 2017 Student Intern

The HeLP Legal Services Clinic is by far one of the best opportunities afforded to me at the Georgia State University College of Law.  It has enabled me to grow as an individual and an aspiring lawyer, which is something that cannot be experienced in a regular classroom setting.

For example, a situation likely to occur when I am a practicing attorney is the transfer of cases from one attorney to another.  Luckily, I have had this opportunity already in the HeLP Clinic.  The first few weeks of the beginning of the semester we are encouraged to look through the files pertaining to our clients’ cases (my group had three cases).  These files are usually a couple inches thick, so it is best to get a head start on them.  The memorandums written by the previous teams are very helpful in trying to ascertain the nature of the case, the relevant law, and where they left off.  My team and I had three Supplemental Security Income cases, which rely heavily on medical information, so doing some outside research in order to familiarize ourselves with the medical terminology and gaining some background knowledge of the illnesses was imperative.  Doing this also made reading the medical records in the files much easier. 

After my team and I felt comfortable with the nature of the cases, we then called the clients to introduce ourselves and obtain any recent information about the status of the children (who are usually the ones with the chronic illnesses).  We scheduled appointments with two of our clients to interview them in person and decide whether to go forward with the case.  Meeting the clients was the most exhilarating part of the experience.  It put into perspective the kind of work we would be dealing with as actual practicing attorneys and enabled us to practice the skills we learned in class, such as active listening and client counseling, on actual clients.

We noticed something thought provoking on memorandums from two of the previous teams for one of our clients. Their perspectives of the client differed from one another, so naturally my group and I had conflicting ideas of what to expect during our initial meeting with her.  The first group reported the client was standoffish, shy, and appeared dishonest.  The second group, in contrast, said the client was very pleasant to work with and forthcoming with information.  Happily, our impression of the client mostly aligned with that of the second group.  This taught us an important lesson, however, which is to always keep an open mind and to form judgments independently from others.

This is just one example out of countless others that have been experienced in the HeLP Clinic this semester.  The HeLP Clinic, its staff, and the copious amounts of opportunities afforded to its students are what make the Georgia State University College of Law stand out amongst all other law schools.  It has been such a fulfilling opportunity and has further solidified my desire to become a lawyer and help others.