A First-Hand Look at the Interdisciplinary Approach of the HeLP Legal Services Clinic

By: Adam Harper, Spring 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

The HeLP Legal Services Clinic provides and emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach to legal representation. At the outset of my involvement, I possessed minimal knowledge of the direction that the course would guide me. I knew that I would have the privilege of assisting underserved families who do not otherwise have access to legal services. However, I did not know exactly what that entailed.

Receiving a transfer case from previous interns, in addition to new receipt of extensive medical records, created a substantial hurdle for me to overcome. As my first introduction to medical records, initially this was very overwhelming. To my elation, the documents were accompanied by a team of medical students from the esteemed Atlanta area medical schools who were eager to offer their expertise. Fortunate for me, a willing medical student had already summarized everything that he thought I should know about the case. A detailed summary opened my eyes to the important information within the records. While not totally beyond my capabilities, this opened my eyes to the efficiency of this collaborative approach. This experience enlightened me to engage in the pursuit of a much more collaborative approach to my casework. This approach has alleviated much of the difficulty in reconciliation between law and medicine by: 1) the convenience of in-house medical expertise; 2) different perspectives and backgrounds contributing to a central agenda; and 3) educating both parties on better and more reasonable outcomes.

Most importantly, the convenience of having medical students located in the office cannot be overstated. The medical students have been eager and readily available to help with the clinic’s cases. Their efforts have been extremely effective particularly because of their own desire to learn about the outcomes available to many of their patients extending beyond medicine. Due to the clinic’s collaboration with the medical schools, I have now had the privilege of working with several “waves” of medical students and enjoyed the opportunity to witness each individual’s approach to their experience and contribution to the clinic. While, on one hand, it would be beneficial to have the same individuals contributing to the casework throughout the semester, I have been able to benefit from similar relationships with new groups of medical students that possess the same dedication towards the work we are able to complete.

Additionally, collaboration has been exceptionally effective given each participating individual’s background and respective specialization in both medicine and law. This diversity allows for a multifaceted approach with respect to the same medical issue. This discussion lends each individual to view the issues in a different context in order to discuss it with a professional in another discipline. Not only does this collaboration share a common agenda but challenges the other involved parties to choose different perspectives in evaluation of the matter.

Finally, and more specifically, this process has enhanced the education of both law and medical students. Further, it is my viewpoint that the efforts have also impacted the continuing learning of our distinguished professors and supervising attorneys. I have observed that this challenges medical students to observe some of the issues that their future daily practice will involve with an eye towards the legal consequences and outcomes. While we have yet to collaboratively see a case to its logical conclusion, it is apparent that the joint work we are doing is having an immediate effect on the work product produced. I have experienced and seen law students welcome the help of others without hesitation. Generally, so much rides on individual work product, but through trust and the desire to most effectively represent our clients, collaboration has rapidly improved our efforts.

This clinical experience places emphasis on the lawyer-physician relationship and helps foster that same mindset moving forward. I think that more medical professionals could benefit from the broadening of perspective gained from a similar collaboration. In specific, there is a substantial burden on Registered Nurses to heavily document the majority of happenings in medical institutions. This documentation is critical to review when legal issues are presented, and this is one of those reasons why nurses are so tediously commissioned to participate in “charting.” To entertain more professionals into this collaborative process would continue to facilitate and develop both the medical and legal professions.