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Fight for Justice: Meet Shawnee

Staff Attorney Shawnee works in our Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) program, serving the LGBTQIA+ population at Kind Clinic in Austin. MLP attorneys are “on-site” at health clinics, helping patients navigate issues that harm their health and have legal remedies. These attorneys work directly with the clinic staff to holistically improve health outcomes and remove barriers to healthcare for their patients. 


Portrait of Shawnee
On working with Kind Clinic patients

The majority of my cases are name changes and gender marker corrections, so a lot of my patients are trans. I try to keep things friendly and light. Casual and informative. And make sure that clients feel comfortable asking questions or bringing up certain topics.

Having a client reach out to thank me is always so rewarding. Providing a person with a name and gender marker correction is such a validating experience. I don’t think people are aware of how many items your name or gender marker appears on driver’s license, passport, social security card, birth certificate, bank statement, college transcripts, credit cards, etc. unless the name or gender marker you’re looking at doesn’t feel right.

I’ve heard stories of trans clients choosing to skip travel in general because of how traumatizing it is to have your travel documents not match your identity. I’ve had a referral where a client was stopped at a border crossing because their gender presentation didn’t match the marker on their driver’s license. This is a scary experience that can cause even more legal uncertainty, so having a legal document recognize your real name and gender offers security, on top of being personally validating.


On Medical-Legal Partnerships

TLSC attorneys office at clinic locations, so when patients have a legal issue, the clinic staff refer it to us.

A common example might be mold in an apartment. Your breathing will be affected, so the doctor may ask about the cause. You might say “Oh, there's mold in my apartment, and the landlord won’t fix it.” That would be something that we, as attorneys, could help remedy.

Clinic staff are vital to doing our work. On the attorney side, we provide trainings or are available for quick consults via teams or in person. And on the provider side, they’re the first person to make contact with patients and are the people giving us the referrals. Not only are client interactions important, but in the MLP field, so are partner interactions with the clinic.


On how clients can reach an MLP attorney

We have a contract with a local clinic, and my specific position is with Texas Health Action or Kind Clinic, which [serves] an LGBTQIA+ population. All my clients are patients at the clinic. I have access to their internal communications and their patient records. The patient advocates, or care managers, refer them to me as long as it's a civil legal matter.


On learning on the job

A big challenge from when I first started was trying to figure out how I fit in within this framework. How do I ensure that clients’ needs are met while also educating staff on our services or various legal issues? Once I figured out that balance of just being available as needed and sending out notifications about our services and various information programs we have, then I started gaining the confidence to actually initiate those conversations and lead those topic discussions.

Being flexible has been one of the most important things I’ve learned. Because of how many different hats you wear in the program, there are days where I’m only doing client work and other days where I’m only doing program management.


On what drew her to nonprofit work

I wanted to be a lawyer since 7th grade, and I really wanted to be a prosecutor. I know. Big shift. It was all about putting away the bad guy. I think Law and Order really spoke to me.

I grew up somewhere between poor and lower middle class, but I never really noticed it. The longer I went on in college, [it made me realize] we didn’t go to the best high school. That became even more stark in law school. Wealth disparity was always in the back of my mind. Sitting in class, every single large case that I read was so favorable to somebody already in power, and I didn’t like that. I know systemic changes take a long time, so I’m just trying to help one person get their deal done. And I can see that end line every time that I close out a case.


If you are a patient at People’s Community Clinic, Kind Clinic, Cedar Park VA Clinic, or CommUnityCare Southeast Health and Wellness Center, talk to your doctor or patient representative about referrals to the TLSC MLP team.


Your donation helps staff members like Shawnee bring justice to all Texansnot just those who can afford it. Join Shawnee and Texas Legal Services Center by making a gift today.


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