Pro Bono Feature

Medical–Legal Partnerships in the Spotlight

There are many opportunities to make a difference in our communities. Doing pro bono work is a way members of the legal profession can use our specialized skills to help vulnerable populations keep their homes, receive proper medication, and ensure their families are safe. Over the past couple of years medical–legal partnership (MLP) has significantly increased access to free legal services to low–income patients by integrating a lawyer as a member of the healthcare team to help solve legal problems that burden health. MLPs are now located at over 300 children's hospitals, public hospitals and health centers across the country. The movement continues to foster the creation of MLPs at new sites or MLPs that help a specific patient's population such as patients that have cancer. The significant expansion of MLP would not be possible without the dedication and commitment from pro bono partners and the legal aid community that supports their incredible work. By working together with doctors and legal aid attorneys, the pro bono volunteers have significantly improved the lives of many individuals and families through MLP.

MLP pro bono partners include solo volunteer attorneys and small law firms as well as law firms and corporate law departments in both rural and urban communities. MLP pro bono partners provide direct legal services to patients, support for systemic advocacy projects, MLP site coordination and networking, and research and technical assistance projects unique to MLP sites and the MLP community. An MLP pro bono project allows for programs to be designed in a way that provides the most help to patients and a rewarding pro bono experience for attorneys. An important component of any MLP pro bono project is to decide on an area(s) of law where pro bono attorneys may have existing expertise or an area that they can develop expertise quickly. Or perhaps it is an area of law that a pro bono attorney has a personal experience with outside of their professional lives, such as a child with special education needs – an experience that could be the driving force behind the creation of their firm's MLP pro bono project. In order to recognize MLP pro bono partners for their commitment to MLP as well as the meaningful work to help patients, the Annual Outstanding Pro Bono Advocacy in Medical–Legal Partnership was created in 2011. Below are two award recipients whose programs have worked with their MLP partners to alleviate the social determinants through direct legal services as well as facilitating the growth if new MLPs.

Faegre Baker Daniels & Wishard Health Services
Indiana Health Advocacy Coalition & EMBRACE

Faegre Baker Daniels, a national law firm, has been an essential part of the Wishard Health Services (Wishard) MLP since the Wishard MLP's inception in 2008. Since that time, Faegre Baker Daniels has been a lead sponsor of the Indiana Health Advocacy Coalition (IHAC) and its vision to help healthcare providers launch MLPs throughout the state. IHAC is a 501(c)(3) organization with board members from the legal, medical, social work and academic communities. Faegre Baker Daniels attorneys work with MLPs in various capacities including helping form and lead the Indiana Health Advocacy Coalition, which advises the state's MLP sites and supports Indiana's MLP network of healthcare and legal service providers through the organization of quarterly training sessions and other educational opportunities.

In 2010, Faegre Baker Daniels launched the partnership between the Faegre Baker Daniels Women's Forum and the Wishard EMBRACE Program. EMBRACE ("Encouraging Meaning and Balance in a Renewing and Comforting Environment") provides wraparound services for women undergoing cancer treatment at Wishard. Faegre Baker Daniels pro bono attorneys help the EMBRACE patients with guardianships for their children, wills and several other issues that may arise when planning for their families.

Walmart Legal Department & Arkansas Children's Hospital
Arkansas Medical–Legal Partnership for Children & Medical–Legal Partnership Corporate Pro Bono Initiative

In 2010, the Walmart Legal Department began to develop its first coordinated pro bono initiative by sparking an MLP at Arkansas Children's Hospital (ACH). Walmart's timing was excellent, as ACH had also sought to develop an MLP. Along the way, the Walmart team consistently raised awareness of the need for legal services for vulnerable children. Working with local legal aid partners, ACH, and other MLP community and national partners Walmart has trained over 150 legal staff to understand the dynamics of poverty and health, and how simple legal interventions can bring transformative changes to families in need. Walmart not only seeks to expand the types of cases that they take at ACH, but to also help establish new MLPs throughout the country. Walmart has integrated non–attorney staff as well as outside counsel in their project and with their MLP partners provide a solid network for patients.

The Walmart MLP Leadership Initiative, led by the Walmart Legal Department, has embraced MLP as an effective pro bono strategy to provide comprehensive support to vulnerable families with legal needs. Having established the first MLP corporate partnership in Arkansas with Arkansas Children's Hospital and Legal Aid of Arkansas in 2011, Walmart is cultivating a leadership circle of MLPs that serve vulnerable children. Walmart will facilitate a gradual expansion, beginning with the establishment in 2012 of the first corporate–led MLP initiative at Texas Children's Hospital.

MLP and pro bono is a perfect match. The possibilities are endless when the legal aid community and private bar work together with physicians as a team. With open communication, setting reasonable expectations and project planning, MLP is a rewarding experience that every partner benefits from being a part of. And, most importantly, more patients will receive critical legal services they require to build healthy lives.

To learn about the ABA MLP Pro Bono SupportProject, please visit www.medlegalprobono.org