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June 01, 2014

Austin Bly

Minnesota AIDS Project, Minneapolis, MN

I had an amazing summer working for the Minnesota AIDS Project (MAP) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Legal Department at MAP is small, but the work broadly covers legal issues relating to clients’ HIV statuses. These legal issues include Social Security benefits, immigration, disability and estate planning, debt and bankruptcy, and other issues relating to clients’ individual rights. I worked primarily on debt management, estate planning, and employment discrimination issues. I was able to meet with clients directly to address their issues. This often involved ghostwriting advocacy letters under the supervision of the Legal Manager.  

In addition to these regular projects, I also worked MAP’s legal intake line. This role led to some very unique and rewarding projects. A few examples include helping a sexual assault victim come forward to the police; assessing a client’s criminal liability for having unprotected sex; requesting removal of a client as a party from a case where the client had been the victim of identity theft; and assisting an incarcerated client assert his data-privacy rights within a jail. 

It was an invaluable experience to learn about what it means to be an advocate outside of the courtroom, especially for those who often see the legal system as impenetrable. And it was an overwhelming experience to have a client break down in tears because I took 20 minutes to write a letter on his behalf when most people won’t even touch MAP’s clients because of miseducation and stigma relating to their disability. 

Without financial assistance from PILP I simply would not have been able to work at MAP this summer. MAP’s legal services are almost completely financed through the Ryan White program, a program that heavily depends on the work of volunteer law students and volunteer attorneys. Over the summer it became quite apparent that one of PILP’s strengths is the program’s ability to reach out to different communities throughout the country.