HeLP Legal Services Clinic Celebrates 10 Years with Reception at College of Law
Alumni, faculty and friends celebrated the 10th anniversary of the HeLP Legal Services Clinic Thursday, Sept. 14, with a reception at Georgia State Law. In its 10 years, more than 270 students from multiple professions have worked together in the clinic to address the social determinants of health for low-income families, recovering more than $1.2 million in benefits for clients.
Elinor Hitt (J.D. ’07) was a student in the first HeLP Clinic class in 2007. “I had done externships, but that was the first time I was actually someone’s lawyer. It was daunting, but it was a great experience to realize even on a small scale that I can do this,” she said.
The clinic not only boosted her confidence in her lawyering skills, working on a case for a child who had an illness was a meaningful experience, she said. “I felt like, I’m giving this mom and this child support … I’m doing something to help these people, I’m making a difference in someone’s life.”
Hitt, a partner at Warner Bates, said her firm looks for that kind of experience when hiring recent graduates.
“It was a great experience for me and the mission [of HeLP] is wonderful, and that’s why I’m here, 10 years later. Professor Bliss and Professor Caley made such a huge impression on me when I was a student, and one of the reasons I came tonight was to make sure they knew I wanted to help in any way I can.”
Danny Vincent (J.D. ’12), a litigator at Bondurant Mixson & Elmore participated in the clinic in her third year.
“I got the experience of a mini trial through the clinic, and that is something you can’t get in a class. There are third and fourth year associates in major law firms who don’t have that experience, so to have that opportunity as a student was pretty nice,” Vincent said.
Participating in the clinic also gave her an opportunity to practice litigation before committing to a job, which reaffirmed that was the career path she wanted to follow. Being able to talk about the clinic experience at job interviews was also helpful, Vincent said.
The clinic started in 2007 as a collaboration among Georgia State University College of Law, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Atlanta Legal Aid Society, as well as other community partners, which include Morehouse School of Medicine and Emory University School of Medicine.
The HeLP clinic exposes students—who are likely to go on to be corporate lawyers, whether transactional or litigation—to legal aid work and the value that a good lawyer can bring to a case, Vincent said. It encouraged her to continue to do pro bono and volunteer work.
“The opportunity to give back to the community through services like what the clinic provides is such an important part of the professional responsibility of being a lawyer,” Vincent said. “Law is so intimidating, even to people who are affluent and educated. So for people who are poor and already over-burdened and may not have the best education—to be their advocate and level the playing the field essentially, because often the people they are going up against are out-resourced… that’s part of our responsibility.”
The event featured a video with comments from Steve Gottlieb, executive director of Atlanta Legal Aid Society; Dr. Robert Pettignano, HeLP medical director; Co-Directors Sylvia Caley (J.D. ’89) and Lisa Radtke Bliss; Charity Scott, founding director; Leslie Wolf, director of the Center for Law, Health & Society; and Steven J. Kaminshine, former dean and professor of law. Former clinic students Andy Navratil (J.D. ’18), Min Ji Kim (J.D. ’18) and Blinn Combs (J.D. ’17) discussed their experiences in the clinic on the video.
“Despite their relative inexperience, the student interns in the HeLP Clinic work on fast-paced, high-stakes cases, the results of which can have life-changing impacts on the clients and families they represent,” said James Mitchell, clinical supervising attorney.
For example, Combs represented an 8-year-old boy at a hearing for disability benefits before a federal administrative judge. The child suffered from a number of neurological and developmental disorders, including neurofibromatosis type 1, which causes a host of physical deficits and abnormalities. With less than a month to prepare, Combs dedicated countless hours to the case.
Working in a firm atmosphere with real-time feedback was invaluable, he said. “You can watch your work improve from the beginning of the term to the end,” Combs said. Read more>>
In his case, the judge reinstated the child’s eligibility for disability benefits.
“This ensured the child would continue to receive Medicaid coverage for treatment related to his disabilities, as well as payments in the tens of thousands of dollars over the next several years to pay for his care. This was all achieved free of charge for the child and his family—a rare thing, indeed, in today’s legal world,” Mitchell said.