Anna Thompson '23 finds purpose, gains confidence working with Health Justice Clinic
Thompson worked on several projects with the clinic, including a DOJ-ordered training for nail salon workers who refused to serve someone who was HIV-positive.
Well into her second year at Duke Law, Anna Thompson’s time in the Health Justice Clinic is proving to be a highlight of her law school experience. Under the guidance of Clinic Director Allison Rice and Supervising Attorney Hannah Demeritt, Thompson has worked on a number of client-facing projects, enabling her to hone her skills preparing legal documents and navigating complex health care systems while also learning to comfortably work with a client.
“The amount of confidence you receive from working in a clinic, as well as purpose, is unparalleled,” Thompson said. In a recent interview, she offered insights into her clinic experience, whether helping a client to recover Social Security benefits or representing an HIV-positive client who was refused service at a nail salon. She’s looking forward to her second internship with Perkins Coie in Seattle this summer. Last year, Thompson was a diversity fellow at the firm and she hopes to continue working there after graduation.
Please tell us more about the cases and projects you have been working on with the Health Justice Clinic.
The Health Justice Clinic allows students to participate in a wide variety of projects, which is exciting and makes you feel that you’re always learning. The clinic allows us to work on a lot of long-term projects that are years in the making. My teammate and I received a favorable disability decision for a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) case this month, which we were so happy about. We also work on short-term projects such as documents drafting — wills, powers of attorney, etc. — where we can see our work pay off in as quickly as a few weeks.
Other than these cases, I have also worked on a standby guardianship case for a very sick parent who needed someone else to get legal rights to take care of their young child. With the help of a partner, I also facilitated a Department of Justice training for nail salon employees after they refused to serve someone who was HIV-positive. This project was very fulfilling because, though it was a required term for the business' settlement, the owner and employees were receptive to learning more about this stigmatized disease and wanted to improve. It just showed how important education is to ending fear and stigmatization while also giving justice to the individual who was refused service due to ignorance.
How has your work deepened your understanding of or changed your views on the law, and specifically law related to health justice?
As we discuss in the clinic, our work is a balance between understanding how the disability system is set up to make it as difficult as possible for people to receive the government help and support they need versus learning how to best play the game to help the client who is in front of you today to receive a favorable outcome. There are tripwires at every turn, and I’m glad that our clients have students under the supervision of very experienced attorneys to help them navigate the process. However, the vast majority of people trying to receive disability benefits don’t have a clinic to help them, and people could be missing out on money just because they didn’t explain their medical and mental problems in the exact correct way. And, once they do receive benefits, it is set up to keep them in poverty. It is a balance to see the policy problems that we can address, as well as see the person in front of us who we know we can help.
How has your work with the clinic enhanced your Law School experience?
Working in the clinic has been my favorite experience at the Law School. I went to law school to learn real and tangible skills, and it was in this clinic that I gained experience working with clients. I’m proud that I started the clinic by writing down every word and reading off of a paper when calling a client, to now feeling comfortable picking up the phone and speaking to them about a question that popped up in my head.
How have your experiences prepared you for your career after you graduate?
Though I don’t plan on going into health justice work, I am so grateful for the knowledge I have learned. As the first lawyer in my family, I have already seen the benefits of understanding documents such as wills for my family. This is a legal area almost everyone will experience in their life, and I am proud to be able to help those around me and pass that knowledge forward.
Maria Bajgain is a communications specialist at Duke Law School. Reach her at email@example.com.