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New Member Spotlight: Deborah Nall, Staff Attorney at Legal Council for Health Justice

Please tell us about your professional background prior to joining LCHJ

Immediately prior to joining LCHJ, I was a Supervisory Attorney in the Public Benefits Practice Group at Legal Aid Chicago (LAC), where I also managed LAC’s HIV Project and its SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery (SOAR) projects. Prior to that, I spent almost twelve years practicing criminal defense law at the appellate level as an Assistant Appellate Defender at Illinois’ Office of the State Appellate Defender (OSAD). I began my legal career at a private law firm that specialized in complex commercial litigation, and then in a judicial clerkship with Justice Kathryn Zenoff at the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District.

As Staff Attorney for LCHJ, what are your job responsibilities? What motivated you to work with a Medical-Legal Partnership?

LCHJ’s work rests on three pillars: direct representation, outreach & education, and impact advocacy. I am always keeping an eye out for systemic problems that require impact advocacy.

But my focus is direct representation and education. Direct representation ranges from brief interactions in which I help clients identify the precise nature of their legal problem and provide advice and/or appropriate referrals, all the way to extended representation in administrative and/or court proceedings. Education ranges from formal presentations to informal conversations with clients and providers, most of which happen when I’m on-site at the CORE Center. The informal conversations that take place at CORE are possible only because I am part of a Medical-Legal Partnership, and are important because of the way in which all of us are able to learn from each other organically.

I am motivated to work with an MLP because it allows me to use my legal skills to address our society’s deep structural problems while providing holistic, 1:1 services to individual clients.

How do LCHJ & the CORE Center's MLP assist HIV-affected patients, and what is their community impact?

The CORE Center’s MLP and LCHJ assist HIV-affected patients in a few different ways. First, we work to educate staff about legal issues that may affect their patients. That assists patients because it helps the CORE staff recognize potential legal problems that may benefit from our services. Second, we are physically present in the clinic every week. Our presence alone is a resource that helps patients feel supported. Third, we empower patients by helping them understand their legal rights and responsibilities. Finally, we provide direct representation, advice, and referrals in an effort to meet health-harming social needs that have civil legal solutions.

Our work has the capacity to improve health outcomes, well-being, and patient adherence to recommended medical treatment; increase access for individuals and families to stable housing and other social supports; and remove barriers to health care for low-income families by addressing cost and insurance concerns. This benefits everyone.

What is your vision for the MLP to better address community needs?

One of the chief learnings from my experience in the criminal legal system is the importance of honoring the community’s needs. As I start working with the MLP, it is important to me not to be coming in with an agenda or set expectations. I also know that it will take time to build trust. Accordingly, my current vision is focused primarily on listening and learning so that we can fully understand what the community’s needs are and then work with the community to meet those needs as well as we can.

Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing?

So many different things! I love long walks, reading (both fiction and nonfiction), spending time with my family and friends, listening to music, and basically everything to do with food. I also enjoy learning about and trying to practice different aspects of somatic healing. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most of my energy was focused on practicing and teaching Forrest yoga. Now I practice less and teach not at all. My interest has shifted to the nervous system, specifically polyvagal theory, and neuroplasticity. These topics are endlessly fascinating and hopeful.

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