“This has been the most fulfilling experience I’ve had so far in law school.”
That’s what Benjamin Hill (J.D. ’22) said about his fall semester in the Health Law Partnership (HeLP) Legal Services Clinic at Georgia State Law.
Hill along with Nicole DeLoach (J.D. ’22) and Christian Goerner (J.D. ’22) concluded their semester by securing Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits during a court hearing in front of an administrative law judge with the Social Security Administration.
Their case involved a child who suffered from a condition called Ebstein’s Anomaly. She had open heart surgery twice and experienced some developmental delays, which impacted her learning and various other aspects of her life.
DeLoach, Goerner, and Hill worked together raking through medical documents, educational records and interviewing family members and others. Beyond having to track people down to gather all the information, one of the toughest aspects of the case was drafting the brief.
“This case was very nuanced,” DeLoach said. “It was sometimes hard for us to come down on how we wanted to frame the argument and what was the strongest way to get these points across. We had to be mindful of how the information could be perceived and make sure we were being thorough and thoughtful.”
The hearing was done via phone, which was an added challenge not being able to read body language or facial expressions of the others on the call. When the administrative law judge told the student team she was leaning towards granting the benefits at the end of the call, they were nearly too shocked to grasp their big win.
“It didn’t hit me until later,” Hill said. “I was just so tired from the work we had put in and I didn’t really expect her to say something right away. We were all kind of stunned but once it sunk in, it felt really great.”
Their supervising attorney, Brooke Silverthorn (J.D. ’03), said there was one part of the case she was particularly proud of her students in handling.
“Preparing these families for testimony can lead to difficult conversations because on the one hand, parents want to believe that their child is doing well and they don’t want to necessarily talk about their limitations and deficits,” Silverthorn said. “At the same time, we need to know what those limitations are, and we need to be very clear about those to prevail in this type of case. It’s a really sensitive conversation to have with a parent and the students navigated that very well.”
Written by Mara Thompson