Tips on How to Tell Your Client “No”

HeLP - Juliana Mesa

By: Juliana Mesa, Fall 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

Prior to coming to law school, I worked at a nonprofit where I worked with clients ranging from some of the largest corporations in Atlanta, to small nonprofits which specialized on narrow issues in our community. All of my clients were very good at what they did, but all came to us because they were looking for experts in a different area they needed help with. For some of our corporate partners, this often came in questions on how to make a bigger impact in our community and how to get their employees more engaged through volunteer opportunities.

Just as in many other client-facing careers, clients come to us at the HeLP clinic because of our expertise and ability to help in a specific area, and often come with a specific goal in mind. For example, in the HeLP Clinic we might have clients that know they want help in receiving SSA disability benefits or want to get out of their lease with their landlord.

In both settings, I have had to encounter situations in which I have had to tell a client “no.” This is often an uncomfortable situation because, although we want to make our clients happy and give them the answers they want, as the experts in the field we have a duty to give them honest and correct advice, even if it is not exactly what the client envisioned.

A seemingly small example, but one which surprisingly brought up how difficult it can be to tell a client “no,” was when corporate clients wanted to put together a volunteer event for their employees by creating hundreds of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the hungry across Atlanta.

At face value, this sounds like a great idea. This is a project where volunteers can work together in a fun environment, which often serves as a team builder, while at the same time feeding people who don’t have access to food.

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Home is Where the Start Is: Observations from a Client Home Visit

HeLP - Michael Costello

By: Michael Costello, Fall 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

The most significant part of an attorney’s work on a case is to investigate the facts.  The facts will influence the claim to be asserted, allow you to calculate the likelihood of success, and help determine the most persuasive legal theories to advance to advocate for the client.  Importantly, facts may sometimes change over time, or become slightly different when looked at objectively.

Recently, while working on a childhood disability Supplemental Security Income case, my partner and I conducted a visit to a client’s home, which revealed a change to the facts in a case that already has been pending in the HeLP Legal Services Clinic for two years.  A comfortable interview environment for both the parent and child revealed new information that was beneficial to the case.  Also, the opportunity to visually observe how life is for the child in their everyday environment provided new facts that will allow for more persuasive advocacy.  The new facts learned during the home visit will enable us to formulate new arguments to use that will help this client get her child’s benefits reinstated.

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Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration: Working Alongside Medical Students

By: Rebecca Dickinson, Fall 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

The first time I looked through a client’s medical records I came across the word “otorrhea.” Curious, I googled the term and clicked on the first link. I immediately regretted my decision when four large pictures of ear discharge popped up on my computer screen. I quickly exited out of the browser and resumed looking through the records trying to forget the images I had just viewed. Later, I realized I could have just asked one of the medical students sitting in the workroom across the hall.

One of the most beneficial aspects of the HeLP Clinic is the collaborative partnership we have with Morehouse School of Medicine. Having clients with a wide variety of medical conditions can make combing through medical records complicated and time consuming. Luckily, medical students working in the clinic alongside the law students makes this process much easier. Instead of constantly looking up terms, we have people who can answer any questions we have, explain complex medical terminology, and help relate medical conditions to legal aspects of our cases. By collaborating with the medical students, we are able to provide the best legal advice and service to our clients and their children. We waste less time trying to teach ourselves the medical side of the case, and more time learning from the medical students. We are then able to focus more on helping our clients’ children receive Supplemental Security Income benefits, effective Individualized Education Plans, and better housing situations. I feel more confident in my legal analysis on certain cases after consulting with a medical student to ensure every aspect of a client’s situation is included in the argument.

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Client-Centered Practice: An Attorney’s Role in an IEP Meeting

By: Morgan Schroeder, Fall 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

An IEP is an individualized education plan, and thousands of students across the United States currently have one in place with their schools. This individual plan is used to create educational goals for students who struggle in school or have a disability that affects their ability to learn. Creating this plan requires the time and attention of many school officials, the parent and student, potentially doctors and specialists, and of course, attorneys. All children in the United States have a right to a free public education, and many laws also protect students against discrimination in education based on disability. This means schools often have an attorney present to both protect the school’s interests and make sure these rights are being implemented. However, a parent can also benefit from being represented by an attorney. Parents want to make sure that their children are learning and improving, but an IEP includes many provisions that a parent may not completely understand. The parent may be afraid to ask questions, or provide input into the goals because they are not an expert in education. Maybe they don’t want to question what the school is saying because they believe the school is doing what is best for their child. Or perhaps they don’t know the full extent of their child’s rights or what other options are available. This is where an attorney can be very valuable to a parent, and can help protect their child’s right to receive a quality education.

A strong attorney-client relationship is essential to creating a successful and useful IEP. The parent needs to trust their attorney, and understand how the attorney can help them in this setting. With this trust, the parent will be more willing to divulge information about their child, discussing their child’s strengths and weaknesses inside and outside the classroom. The attorney’s role will depend on the client’s needs. If the parent addresses their concerns to their attorney, the attorney can speak up at the IEP meeting on their behalf, asking questions and making suggestions. The attorney can draft provisions that incorporate the parent’s questions and concerns to ensure they are reflected within the IEP. The attorney can review what the school has written and make sure everything that was agreed to is included. And the attorney can make sure that the school follows through with what was agreed to.

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The Need for Health Law Services in Rural Communities

By: Emma Fennelly, Fall 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

Rural communities have special needs when it comes to accessibility. These needs manifest in many different ways: rural communities often suffer from food insecurity due to food deserts; they have fewer options when choosing school systems for their children; they have fewer opportunities for employment; they often lack affordable or subsidized housing; they lack modes of public transportation; they often have little to no access to healthcare; and they often have little to no access to legal services. Due to these deficiencies, many individuals and families in rural communities simply go without, exacerbating their educational, financial, and health issues and contributing to the cyclical nature of poverty.

Health law can seem somewhat ambiguous. As I have learned through my time in the HeLP Clinic, which partners with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to serve families with children with severe health concerns, health law is an all-encompassing field which aims to help individuals address their health concerns that impact every area of their lives. Many clients, particularly those with less affluent backgrounds, are unaware of their legal rights regarding health and, in turn, do not receive the services they should to support their health needs. From housing deficiencies and inadequate education to denial of public benefits, health law attorneys seek to empower their clients with the knowledge of their legal rights to benefits and services, improving their overall quality of life. Rural communities, however, often lack any access to health law attorneys due to their locality. This fact is especially problematic as rural communities have such specialized needs stemming from their lack of accessibility.

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When you don’t know, ask!

By: David Hymel, Fall 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

Know your limits. Law students, like everyone else, have many limits. One limit is time, another is patience, and another—which we often do not care to admit—is knowledge. When we run into knowledge limitations, our instincts tell us to make something up that sounds a lot like knowledge, but is in fact smoke in the wind. In the HeLP Clinic, law students handle cases involving complex medical conditions, symptoms, and terminology. Personally, when I run into a medical term I do not understand, I usually convince myself that I can put on a cape and become a medical expert. I hop on google, read WebMD, and conclude that “Ah yes, that is a classic Hematological Malignancy.” Smoke in the wind. Meanwhile, there are walking, talking encyclopedias of medical knowledge in the room next door from the Morehouse School of Medicine. Here’s what I‘ve learned: when you don’t know, ask. It works!

I’ll give you an example. The HeLP Clinic takes in a lot of cases involving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To qualify for SSI, the Social Security Administration (SSA) states that the applicant must be disabled. In order to be disabled, a person must have a legitimate physical or mental disability that causes serious limitations in his or her life.

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Technical Interviewing

By: Michael Duffey, Fall 2018 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

We all grew up knowing what interviews are. We’ve all seen them on the morning news, after big football games, with celebrities, in the courtroom, and in countless other contexts of regular life. Even more, we all know the formula for a good interview. You start with introductions and small talk, you ask an easy question or two, and then you ask about what you were really interested in from the start. Interviews are so familiar to us that we all know how to do it ourselves if we need to, right?

In this post, I’d like to discuss one of the most significant hurdles to interviewing, what I’ll call the technical aspect of interviewing. The interviews we are all, as a society, most familiar with are ones conducted by skilled and practiced interviewers. These interviews go so smoothly that they feel almost like a natural conversation. Consequently, it’s not surprising that we all begin to view interviews mostly like everyday dialogue with just a few more questions. However, these smooth interviews are deceptive; they are merely the product of an interviewer who is highly proficient in the technical aspect of interviewing.

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