Guest blogger Carrie Burton ’08
Associate Attorney, Midwest Disability, Chicago, IL
My goal is to have the School of Law’s mission as a mind frame for my work. Every day is a new opportunity to focus on social justice and to work for a more moral and equal society.
At my job, I represent people who have applied for federal social security benefits. My clients suffer from physical and mental health impairments. Often they have both at the same time. I work with them before their hearings and represent them at administrative hearings before a judge.
My clients are usually people who I wouldn’t normally have a lot of contact with in my daily life. A good number of them are homeless. Many of them are in and out of mental hospitals and a few are in prison. They are in great need of most things that provide stability; things like health care, financial resources and good health.
Any court experience is traumatic for my client. They are in front of a several strangers, discussing their most personal issues. And there are moments, usually in the waiting rooms of courts where I get nervous. That is when the moment of clarity hits me, it is going to be me and my not-well client versus one of the biggest bureaucracies in the country and I start to doubt our chances. Through thousands of pages of medical records and expert testimony and legal standards—I search, with the court, for the truth. When we win, it is such a relief. When we win it means my clients are not completely destitute and will have some health care. But sometimes the truth gets lost and we are unsuccessful. Sometimes the truth is that my client does not meet the legal standard. I don’t win every case. That is hardly the case. Sometimes at the end of the day all I can offer is a listening ear. My client knows that I have heard her story. I have told her that what she is going through is not right and not fair. So even on the days that I am not successful I am grateful that I am able to practice the law and ease the burdens of my clients, even if it is for just a minute.
Studying at St. Thomas confirmed the notions that being an attorney is an opportunity to serve my community. I love that being an attorney is interesting and engaging intellectually but more importantly it is an opportunity to stand with the disadvantaged, to be an advocate for the underserved. I hope to ensure the people I work with are treated with integrity. Working to treat all people with integrity and trying to unlock the doors of access is how I interpret the mission. And every day I live the mission imperfectly, but it is a privilege to attempt it day after day.