by Liani Balasuriya

Every year dozens of law students spend their summers helping rural communities through fellowships with the Rural Summer Legal Corps (RSLC). Last summer, Hana Muslic was one of them, joining the staff at Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services. Hana’s personal experience as a Bosnian refugee who received public assistance made her a more effective legal advocate for her clients in rural Minnesota.

Hana moved to Lincoln, Nebraska when she was a year old. Her family received food stamps while her dad worked four different jobs. Catholic Social Services sponsored her family and helped them get a car and affordable housing.

Because the Bosnian war originated from religion and ethnic tension, Hana’s parents raised her to listen to all points of view. From an early age, she developed a sense of service and valued the opportunities given to her.

She applied for scholarships and attended the University of Nebraska. There, she met students from small towns and farms, who grew up with different political views, religious practices and foods than she did. Through friendships and experiences with students from other parts of Nebraska, Hana gained an awareness and respect for the issues rural communities face — much like those she and her family experienced when they first sought refuge in the United States.

After graduating, Hana became a journalist, working in Lincoln, Nebraska, then Kansas City, Missouri, and finally Belleville, Illinois. She covered rural issues, writing about how floods affected soybean farmers, the challenges residents of trailer parks faced, and public safety issues like crime. She observed firsthand how certain communities are “access deserts” without enough food, healthcare and other basic resources.

Hana decided to attend law school to build a skillset that she thought would allow her to help the greatest number of people. And as a recipient of public assistance, Hana is uniquely positioned to help other people access those services. (As a law student, Hana uses Medicaid to obtain health insurance.)

She was thrilled to receive an opportunity to work at Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services in Mankato, Minnesota during her 1L summer through RSLC.

RSLC is a privately funded initiative that connects law students with legal services providers to better address the civil legal needs of rural communities. In partnership with Equal Justice Works, LSC selects law students to spend their summers working at LSC-funded legal aid organizations across the United States and its territories.

Hana found that past experiences and skills as a former journalist made her a better lawyer. For example, one of her clients, a veteran, lived an hour outside Mankato. He received public assistance and was facing an eviction. She was able to gain his trust, negotiate effectively on his behalf and secure his housing benefits.

From Hana’s lived experience, she’s seen the importance of public benefits and understands the risks of losing them. A clerical error could mean a family like hers goes without food. As a lawyer, Hana gets to use her voice to help others use theirs. She continues to pursue opportunities working at a legal aid society or a nonprofit, where she can file civil actions on behalf of plaintiffs who can’t afford an attorney. She hopes to return to Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services for her 2L summer if they are able to secure funding.

Hana’s experience highlights the continued need for programs like the Rural Summer Legal Corps to better address the civil legal needs of rural communities.

Liani Balasuriya works at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She is a member of the Legal Services Corporation’s Emerging Leaders Council.

LSC’s Rural Summer Legal Corps: Hana’s Story was originally published in Justice Rising on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.