Prof. Bearat: Bringing Students Together to Provide Thoughtful Help to Survivors
Professor Hayat Bearat
A collaboration with Albany Medical College in April is, hopefully, the first for the Family Violence Litigation Clinic within the Justice Center at Albany Law School, Director and Professor Hayat Bearat, and Albany Law students.
The goal is to fill the gaps in care for survivors of domestic violence starting by educating practitioners who assist them.
Danielle Salazar ’23, Chloe Ross ’23, and Taylor Bacon ’23 and Professor Bearat co-presented, “Intimate Partner Violence: The Role of the Physician” to the Albany Medical College student, faculty and leadership community. The presentation was an opportunity that allowed medical and law students to share key things to look for when working with survivors, how to ask the right questions, file paperwork with certain language, and, in turn, help survivors find justice and dignity.
“There was a momentum and eagerness from our students. This is a really great time to just jump in and start these conversations. This helps everyone out down the road when they become legal professionals, medical professionals, or mental health specialists. It really helps bring a holistic approach to providing care for survivors of domestic violence,” Bearat said.
When a patient is admitted to a medical facility for care in domestic or family violence cases, questions by nurses and doctors about symptoms, injuries, or context are all documented and play an important part in prosecuting abusers.
“Medical records and testimony are such helpful pieces of evidence. Judges look to experts who are asserting that domestic violence happened and injuries align with our client’s story. When we have the medical professionals to back up their story, it is very helpful,” Bearat said.
This collaborative work also helps lawyers advocate for services and long-term care for clients, especially in mental health.
“Some survivors face health consequences and complications for months or years, and so, if doctors can assess that and ask questions properly, there could be the right treatment. It can legitimately save someone's life,” Bearat said. “Access to mental health services, especially throughout the pandemic, has become increasingly difficult, but if we are asking the right questions, we can get ahead of it.”
Teaching students to become trauma-informed practitioners is at the core of Bearat’s teaching.
“It’s our job to know the law and to provide advice and counsel, as it relates to the law, but how you deliver that information is so important for that attorney-client relationship,” she said.
“While we are not therapists or social workers, we can learn what language to use so our statements and actions are not re-traumatizing and triggering survivors. Sometimes, it’s as simple as providing [survivors] with resources or making them aware they are available.”
Bearat joined Albany Law in fall 2021 after working as a Senior Staff Attorney and Coordinating Attorney in the Domestic Violence Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group in New York City.
“Clinical teaching is combining all the things that I like— helping survivors, hands-on direct legal service, and teaching. I love working with the students at Albany Law because they are so eager to learn and grow. They're making a difference in survivors’ lives. They're taking on the role as student attorneys while in law school, which is invaluable,” she said. “This clinic provides a real look at practice, students are going to court, engaging in negotiations, drafting legal documents and client counseling. They are really getting to experience all aspects of being a practitioner.”