Via the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau
Donna Harati ‘15 had the unique opportunity to represent a client in both her divorce and Social Security disability benefits cases. The two cases were closely interrelated – the domestic violence that Jane* had suffered throughout her marriage led to mental illness and a suicide attempt which left Jane physically disabled.
When Jane first became a client of the Bureau, she was ashamed of her suicide attempt. She was reluctant to discuss her depression and PTSD and often minimized her symptoms to her medical providers. Donna worked closely with Jane to prepare her for the difficult, but necessary, discussion of her physical and mental disabilities at the Social Security hearing. Through the encouragement of Donna and clinical instructor Maureen (“Mo”) Devine, Jane began regular visits to a therapist and a psychiatrist. Jane learned to share openly with these professionals, recognizing the importance for both her case and her health.
Jane said, “When I first went to HLAB, I was depressed. I met Donna, and she made me feel like we were friends or family, so I started changing and feeling more comfortable.”
In December 2013, Donna not only won monthly disability benefits for her client going forward but also benefits dating back to the onset of Jane’s disability in 2012. Jane finalized her divorce and was awarded full legal and physical custody of her two children.
“Representing Jane with respect to both her divorce and her SSDI benefits deepened Donna’s understanding of Jane’s life,” said Mo, “That understanding enhanced the representation experience for both student and client. Donna also had the satisfaction of knowing her work made a difference in Jane’s life now and into the future.”
Jane believes that this year represents a fresh start for her and is now excited to share her story. She visited the Advanced Clinical Practice class to take part in a discussion of client experiences through the Bureau. Annie Lee ’14 was inspired by the class discussion with Jane.
“When Jane told us that she is about to graduate from college and get her degree, we were all thrilled and applauded her accomplishment” said Annie. “It was wonderful to hear from Jane about how life improved after her HLAB representation. I found it humbling that what my colleagues and I do can alter a person’s life trajectory.”
“Working with Jane was a privilege. I am constantly in awe of our clients and all that they overcome,” said Donna.
*name changed to protect confidentiality