20th Powell Fellow To Represent Clients Facing Health Barriers
University of Virginia School of Law student Nooreen Reza ’21 will help support Chicago-area communities facing health inequities as the 20th Powell Fellow in Legal Services.
The Powell Fellowship, named for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., awards $45,000 and additional benefits to recipients who enhance the delivery of legal services to the poor under the sponsorship of a host public interest organization. The award is made for one year with the expectation that it will be renewed for a second year. Powell Fellows are also eligible for the school’s Loan Forgiveness Program.
Working in Cook County, Illinois, with the Legal Council for Health Justice, Reza will provide legal representation, advocacy and advice to residents in legal matters through a medical-legal partnership with the Christian Community Health Center.
In collaboration with a community organizer, she will reach out to local stakeholders and patients to learn what the health and legal needs of these communities are and build a collaborative medical-legal partnership. She said a successful partnership is one in which every person is involved, including prospective clients and patients, and that promotes self-driven advocacy rather than dictating solutions.
Clients’ concerns might involve public benefits, housing, long-term disability and access to insurance.
“The classic example that is used for illustration is a child with asthma because they’re living in substandard housing, and then that’s a legal issue if their housing’s not up to code,” Reza explained.
She said using the law to address problems harming people’s health can help them gain greater access to economic opportunities and social mobility. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing health inequities, she said, but news reports on racial, gender and socioeconomic disparities are increasing public awareness.
At UVA Law, the Wise, Virginia, native has been a recipient of the Claire Corcoran Public Service Award, conference director of the Public Interest Law Association, a Program in Law and Public Service Fellow, senior development manager of the Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law, a participant in the Employment Law Clinic, and a research assistant for Professors Richard Schragger and Crystal Shin ’10.
In 2019, Reza worked at the Urban Justice Center Community Development Project in New York as a public service fellow.
Through the Pro Bono Program, Reza and Anthony Ramicone ’21 helped a client save $10,000 in court over a defaulted loan. She also co-authored a public report with Professor Rip Verkerke and Eliza Schultz ’21 that they hope will spur changes to state living wage laws.
Lawton Tufts, director of public service and alumni advising, said Reza is the consummate public service lawyer, who never makes the work about her.
“She entered law school with a wealth of experience and has never wavered from her dedication to serving low-income, marginalized clients,” he said. “Her focus is always on empowering her clients and making sure that her work is driven by the needs and wants of the community.”
Reza, a Law Alumnae Scholarship recipient, said the public service community at the Law School has created myriad work opportunities, and pro bono work has helped her learn practical skills to be an effective legal aid attorney.
“I learned about community lawyering practices here at the Law School through my classes and the Program in Law and Public Service, which has really influenced the way I think about my own career going forward and the type of approach to client-centered work, community-centered work that I want to embody,” she said.
Reza earned an M.Phil. from the University of Cambridge and a bachelor’s from Yale University.
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.