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Exploring complex and intertwined end-of-life issues

The client was elderly, widowed, and without children. She’d always been independent, taking care of her daily needs and making her own financial decisions. So, when her declining health meant the time had come for her to assign power of attorney (POA) for property to another person, she found the transition difficult.

Loyola 2L Matthew Bayens helped the client create her POA as part of a laboratory course exploring the issues accompanying health care decision-making at the end of life. An offering of Loyola’s Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy, the spring 2019 lab was a collaborative effort between Loyola’s schools of law and social work. The combination of legal and social work approaches gave students a broader context for what clients at the end of life face—and helped Bayens serve his clients more considerately and compassionately.

The course “was a game changer for me,” Bayens says. “In our first year of law school, students mostly work though the basics of a variety of areas of law, looking at everything as a legal issue. Working within the context of an interprofessional course is a whole different equation. It’s really broadened my perspective.”

Co-taught by Kate Mitchell, clinical professor of law; Nadia Sawicki, Georgia Reithal Professor of Law; and Marcia Spira, professor of social work, the Health Justice Lab: End of Life included an interdisciplinary panel of faculty and outside experts who led class discussion and client simulations. In partnership with Chicago’s Center for Disability and Elder Law—a nonprofit, pro bono firm serving low-income elderly and disabled persons—the class culminated in live client experiences under the supervision of the Center’s attorneys. 

Taking aim at health inequalities

The Health Justice Lab: End of Life was funded in part by a mini-grant from the Health EQ Collaborative, a project of Loyola’s Health Sciences Division Administration.

Pairing law students with social work counterparts

Each law student was paired with a masters of social work student. Bayens says his MSW partner, Elisheva Grob, brought him valuable new insights.

“As a lawyer, you’re typically just looking at the client,” he explains. “Elisheva always looked at the client’s family, friends, and social situation, too. She’s received training in grief and loss and how to interact in a healthy way with people experiencing strong emotions. Working with her helped me have a wider understanding of everything going on in the situation.”

With the client who requested a POA for property, for instance, “I started by approaching things from a strictly legal view: going through the list of powers she’d be giving up and asking whether she understood what she was signing,” Bayens adds. “With her education and clinical experience in social work, Elisheva understood better in the moment than I did that it was hard for our client to give up some of the last vestiges of her independence. slowed us down and made sure we were conscious and respectful of the way this decision was affecting our client emotionally.”

The enriched perspective that comes from combining law and social work benefits students from both disciplines. Another of Bayens’ and Grob’s clients kept asking for provisions addressed by a simple will, even though the two students were drafting POAs for property and health care plus a living will. “I explained that while we couldn’t help with a simple will that day, we could connect him with resources to assist him with drafting one later, but he kept coming back to the topic,” Bayens says.

“Eli recognized that we needed to meet him where he was that day, so she took a step back and explained what a simple will is and the process for creating it. That required not only good counseling skills, but also the legal knowledge she’d picked up over the course of the semester.”

It’s really important to have professionals from different fields learning and practicing together. Once our students go out into the world, they will know how to collaborate effectively.
— Professor Kate Mitchell

A format that builds better lawyers

Mitchell, who came up with the idea for the interdisciplinary lab, directs Loyola’s Health Justice Project, and has a longstanding interest in interprofessional education. “When I started working in medical-legal partnerships, it was a transformative experience that greatly enhanced the kind of lawyer I was,” she says. “So, from the moment I came to Loyola, I’ve been looking for opportunities to offer interprofessional courses to our students.”

Next year, she and colleagues from the schools of social work, nursing, public health, medicine, and health sciences hope to offer an interdisciplinary lab addressing the complexities of mental health treatment and care. Another course on environmental justice is in the early stages of planning.

“It’s really important to have professionals from different fields learning and practicing together,” Mitchell says. “Once our students go out into the world, they will know how to collaborate effectively.”

Bayens was far from the only student to give top reviews to Health Justice Lab: End of Life’s interprofessional format and the soft lawyering skills it helps build. “Our law students tell us that the perspectives of social work professors and students have been really valuable, and that their partners helped them become more attuned to the social aspects of the client interview,” Mitchell says.  “It’s helped our students have a client-centered, holistic outlook.”

Next time the course is offered, Mitchell and her colleagues hope to add medical and nursing faculty and students to the mix.

Bayens says he’d like to continue with public interest work, perhaps as part of a career in labor and employment law. “This class has provided me with useful tools and skills I can bring to those areas,” he says.

“It’s the most valuable class I’ve had in terms of my formation as an individual,” he adds. “Understanding that everyone making these decisions is coming from a different walk of life requires a great deal of sensitivity and humility. I want to help people work through issues in a way that respects people’s backgrounds and honors where they’re coming from. I don’t think I would have been able to achieve that with just my legal education.”


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The Health Justice Project is a key component of Loyola's nationally recognized Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy. Through specialized degree and certificate programs, leading clinical and externship opportunities, scholarly publications, and renowned faculty scholars, the Beazley Institute educates the health law leaders of tomorrow. Learn More