The AIDS Legal Project is a clinical course offered each semester at Duke Law School that provides students the opportunity to learn practical skills that will give them a head start in legal practice. Equally important, students perform an urgently needed service to the community and to individual HIV-infected clients. Most students remember their semester in the AIDS Legal Project as an eye-opening, transforming experience, a semester in which they learn important lessons about not only legal doctrine, but also law practice, ethics, and the dynamics of the lawyer-client relationship.
Students enrolled in the AIDS Legal Project course can expect to interview and counsel clients in person and by phone; prepare documents, including wills, powers of attorney, advance directives, guardianship pleadings; deal with medical records and experts while handling disability cases. Many students will have the opportunity to represent a client at a hearing concerning guardianship or disability. Students can expect to be exposed to a wide range of the most common legal issues for people with HIV/AIDS, such as guardianship planning for families with children; end-of-life planning; public benefits (including Social Security Disability, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicaid); insurance issues; discrimination; and confidentiality of HIV status. Students face issues involving both state and federal law.
The AIDS Legal Project course is a one-semester, four-credit course open to students with at least three completed semesters of law school. Its client service requirement is one hundred hours of direct client service. Students can expect roughly two hours of class time per week covering skills and substantive law, two hours of office time per week staffing the AIDS Legal Project’s Law School offices, one hour per week of one-on-one supervision meetings, and an indeterminate amount of time each week spent on client matters, which would depend upon the particular demands of assigned cases.
Grades for the course are based upon class participation and client representation and are awarded on the Law School’s scale for smaller seminar classes. There is no exam or paper requirement, although some cases require substantial research and written work. It is difficult to predict how cases will proceed, so students are not guaranteed an opportunity for a hearing. Students will be certified to practice before the North Carolina courts, and some will appear before Administrative Law Judges of the Social Security Administration.
AIDS Legal Assistance Project, 400.01
This course is an in-house legal clinic in which students provide supervised legal representation for persons with HIV/AIDS.
AIDS Policy Clinic, 402.01
This clinic is a section of the AIDS Legal Assistance Project in which students will focus on policy work rather than direct client representation.
One of the unique advantages of participating in the AIDS Legal Project is the opportunity to develop a close mentoring relationship with the two Duke faculty lawyers who supervise their work, Carolyn McAllaster and Allison Rice. In weekly one-on-one meetings, students receive guidance and work closely with their supervising attorneys to develop strategies for achieving clients’ goals. Between weekly meetings, Professors McAllaster and Rice are accessible to consult, review documents and assist in any way needed. Students learn important law practice skills with a reassuring safety net. Many students highly value this mentoring relationship.
The AIDS Legal Project also provides a unique opportunity for students to work collaboratively with their classmates. Each semester, ten students are enrolled in the course. In both the classroom setting and informally in the AIDS Legal Project’s offices (conveniently located in the Law School building), students exchange ideas, strategize about cases, share experiences, and provide each other with moral support. Students value the opportunity to get to know their classmates as professionals and as people.
Justice and Community
By the end of the semester, most students find themselves focused on the important reasons that led them to pursue a legal education in the first place – to do justice and to serve the community. Students serve on the front lines: as student lawyers, they have their own caseload and, with the backing of the supervising attorneys, they are responsible for all aspects of client representation. Students come to know their clients on a very personal level, gaining an appreciation for the unique challenges faced by people with HIV/AIDS, and as a result are often deeply inspired by their clients’ struggles and successes. Their work in the AIDS Legal Project enhances their skills, confidence and commitment to serve, whether in a public interest career, or in a pro bono complement to private practice.