LuAnn Hileman grew up in the small town of Oliver Springs, Tennessee, and was taught from a young age the importance of giving back to her community. Now LuAnn is in her final year at Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law, and last spring she spent some time doing pro bono work at her hometown’s local legal aid office: Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands’ Oak Ridge Office. Through her work over the spring semester she realized the great need for advocates for the intellectually disabled population in Oak Ridge. That’s what inspired her to apply to work at the office for the summer as an Equal Justice Works Summer Corps Member. While her Summer Corps Membership is over, LuAnn’s hard work has certainly left a lasting impact on the community of the Oak Ridge area.
Working with people with intellectual disabilities is a cause dear to LuAnn’s heart. “My nephew has an intellectual disability, and he is an inspiration to me and serves as a constant reminder to advocate for my clients as if they are family.” As state budget issues frequently deny this population medical care benefits, legal representation is crucial to their survival.
As the lead on three cases this summer, LuAnn was able to settle all of them. Her clients were at risk of completely losing their health care, which could have led to serious health issues or even death. She says: “There is something to be said about doing enough work to have the other side settle the case without having to go to a hearing. Being able to tell clients that they are going to get the services they desperately need is indescribable.”
LuAnn experienced a pivotal moment this summer when working with a client who struggles with multiple health issues, including cerebral palsy. LuAnn needed to prove that the level of residential services requested for him were truly medically necessary for his health, safety and well-being. She says, “I met with the client and his program manager, physicians, direct support staff, etc. – many times. I compiled all the information to prove his case. It was enough. The state settled the case before the hearing.”
LuAnn went above and beyond her duties to improve the client’s life. “I was told that my client did not wear his leg braces because they hurt his stomach. When I asked him why he didn’t wear his leg braces, he showed me (as he cannot speak) that they were broken. I instantly called his program manager and informed her that his braces were broken, but he would wear them if they were fixed. It was in that moment, for the first time, that I felt I actually made a difference in someone’s life through my career choice. I was truly advocating for my client’s best interests.”
Seeing the need firsthand deeply compelled LuAnn to practice public service law. She says, “I don’t believe that law students or attorneys truly understand the overwhelming need in the public interest law sector. The service that legal aid offices provide to the underprivileged and underrepresented is the crux of the Equal Justice Works initiative. If law students and attorneys truly understood the need, I think more would give their time.”
At Equal Justice Works, we agree that everyone deserves equal access to justice—and LuAnn sets a good example for law students to research options in public interest law. We are so proud that LuAnn took some time to explore the need for lawyers in her community, and found a way to truly help. You can help too.