Attorney Olivia Osburn was recently a recipient of the North Carolina State Bar Pro Bono Student Award for the legal services she provided to the community while attending Wake Forest University School of Law. Osburn served as the executive director of the Pro Bono Program, was a founding member of the Medical Legal Partnership Pro Bono Clinic and volunteered as a national eviction data analyst.
Osburn graduated summa cum laude from the University of Texas at Austin in 2019 with a degree in health and society where she studied the socio-demographic, cultural, political and ethical issues that underlie health behavior and policy. She graduated cum laude from Wake Forest University School of Law in 2022 where she focused on health care. Osburn is now an associate in Shumaker’s Health Care Service Line, where she primarily practices health law and medical malpractice matters.
In the following Q&A, Osburn chats with North Carolina Lawyers Weekly about pro bono work, health law, and the justice gap.
In the summer after my first year of law school, I became much more heavily involved in Pro Bono work, particularly in response to the eviction crisis the country was facing during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. I began working on a project to inform tenants and landlords about the emergency laws being passed with respect to rent, utilities, and other housing costs. Through that work, I met Professor Emily Benfer, who is an extremely accomplished legal advocate, focusing on addressing and dismantling health justice barriers. When she began her employment at Wake Forest University School of Law, she offered me and three other students the opportunity to brainstorm, create, and develop a Medical Legal Partnership. A medical legal partnership is a system which finds legal solutions to health problems. Legal advocates and lawyers work alongside health care providers to detect, address, and prevent health-harming social conditions for people and communities. For example, if a patient presents with symptoms of chronic respiratory distress, they are screened for housing quality issues. If their home has asbestos or mold in it, a member of the clinic can represent them to ensure their landlord performs abatement procedures. The Medical Legal Partnership began officially seeing patients in my third year of law school. Working with my clients and colleagues to see how the intersection between health and law can change a life was one of my most rewarding experience to date.
I believe that a legal education is a gift, and a privilege. Many of the injustices communities face today are due to lack of access to information. It’s not usually a complex legal case or procedural issue, but rather not knowing their rights or understanding the steps they need to take that might help address issues. Attorneys and legal professionals work hard to gain the knowledge they have, and I think we have a duty to share that knowledge with others and use it to better our neighborhoods, cities, states, country, and beyond. My hope is that the legal community understands how the information they may take for granted can have such an important impact. I hope we can prioritize using our education to help empower those around us.
I received my undergraduate degree at the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in Health and Society, with a focus on food and nutrition access. Through this degree, I studied how health patterns, health behavior, medical care, and healthy policy differ across countries in both culturally and historically to determine how these factors impact the economy, education, and overall health of communities. I developed a specific interest in food insecurity when I worked for the Hunger Free America Child Hunger Strategy campaign, and when I studied abroad in South Africa for an international dietetic field study. These experiences drove me to further pursue my passion for exploring the ever-growing implications of health care on our society through a legal lens.
While I’ve enjoyed personally serving the community through local pro bono experiences, I hope to develop a platform to inform others about the accessibility of pro bono opportunities. As I grow in my professional career, I would like to instill my passion for service into others and expand the network of law students, attorneys, and legal professionals who can serve in pro bono roles. Further, I strive to improve the transparency and relationship between clients seeking services and advocates who are there to help. As we continue to build trust with communities that have faced injustices or are disproportionately impacted, I believe we can learn from each other and work towards a more equitable environment.
If I wasn’t an attorney, or when I’m not practicing anymore, I would like to open my own bakery or small grocery that also operates as a food pantry.