Scott Thompson '07 Sums Up His Experience in the AIDS Clinic

July 11, 2007Duke Law News

Scott Thompson
AIDS Clinic
Final Journal Entry
April, 2007

Looking back over the semester, I can say without equivocation that the AIDS Clinic has been the most positive experience I’ve had at law school. Not only have I had the opportunity to learn a significant amount of substantive law in several diverse of areas, but I’ve done so while putting that law into practice and improving my skills as a lawyer. The substantive area that I found the most interesting was social security disability. I found it rewarding because it required the application of critical thinking skills and forced me to put together a persuasive story for why [my client] was disabled under SSI. But even more so it was incredible to see the enormous impact we as lawyers can have on people’s lives. Client X’s life has been substantially improved by our services—she will get thousands of dollars a year that ensure that she will stay healthy and safe—and it took about 30 hours of our time.

Aside from learning about the law and improving my critical thinking skills, people skills, and organizational skills, the clinic was also amazing because it helped put a human face on the AIDS epidemic that is having such a devastating impact on the globe and our local community. I am really thankful for little things like having the chance to shake hands with people who have AIDS. Without question I think that even though intellectually I know there is no reason to be worried about transmission, given the fear surrounding the disease it’s a normal flight reaction to not want to necessarily have physical conduct with people who carry such a disease. I was really glad that I was able to overcome that and shake hand after hand of HIV victims. And it’s amazing how repetition and exposure changes our reactions—by the end of the semester I wasn’t thinking twice about casual contact with clients.

I was also glad for this experience because it fills a huge lacuna at the law school. I think that many law students come to law school with the expectation of doing public interest work. However, the size of the debt load and the culture of the law school send many to firm jobs—valuable and as fulfilling as they may be. I myself have been shuffled, at least for the short term, towards a firm. This semester helped remind me that there is so much more to life than being debt free and how rewarding—both personally and intellectually—it is to serve people. And it also reminded me how many people there are that need to be served—I think as Duke students it is easy to be shielded from all the problems the world faces. The clinic showed me how many people in need are hiding under our noses and around the block.