About the Project
To improve the health and well-being of vulnerable populations in partnership with the medical community through the work of volunteer attorneys.
In 1993 Dr. Barry Zuckerman, Chief of Pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, was moved by the plight of his patients to form a project now called the Medical-Legal Partnership for Children. Dr. Zuckerman had come to understand that lawyers could do more than a pediatrician to address the social factors affecting child health and stability . He appreciated that lawyers could help to ensure access to food stamps, fight illegal evictions, and protect families from abuse for children suffering from malnutrition, homelessness and exposure to violence.
As the program’s success attracted national attention, programs like it began sprouting up all across the country. In Boston and elsewhere there have been significant innovations, creativity and strengthening of relationships between legal services and pro bono programs, hospitals, law firms, health centers, and foundations.
The ABA developed a national support center to further extend the reach of this exciting legal services delivery model. In particular, the need for significant engagement by the private bar in supporting the medical-legal partnership model is seen as critical to the growth of these projects across the country.
In developing this initiative special consideration was given to considering medical-legal partnerships in as broad a sense as possible both in terms of targeted populations (e.g. children, people with AIDS, people with cancer and many others) and the medical partner (hospitals, community health centers, nursing homes and more).
What Are Medical-Legal Partnerships?
Medical providers and lawyers are the ideal team to help low-income families who face legal problems related to their basic needs such as housing and income. Medical-legal partners address (MLP) the social determinants of health that create hardships for vulnerable populations through the integration of free legal services in the healthcare setting. MLPs currently serve patients at nearly 200 hospitals and health centers across the country providing direct legal services to patients; training and education to healthcare providers; and a platform for systemic advocacy.
MLPs draw on the expertise of community partners to create a holistic approach to patients care. Partners from the health and legal communities include civil legal aid agencies, law schools, pro bono law firms , hospitals, health centers, medical schools, and residency programs. MLPs train healthcare staff to screen and triage potential legal issues that have a negative impact on health, such as substandard housing conditions that lead to chronic asthma, and intervene before a legal emergency arises. After a potential legal problem has been identified, the healthcare provider refers the patient to the MLP lawyer at the hospital or health clinic just as a patient would be referred to a cardiologist for a heart problem. The lawyer can be either a MLP staff attorney or a pro bono attorney. Depending on the MLP and the patient’s legal needs, services can range from advice and brief service at a monthly legal clinic to full representation on one or more legal issues including housing, access to utilities, immigration, education, public benefits, education, guardianship, wills and family law.
- American Bar Association Resolution in Support of Medical-Legal Partnerships
- American Medical Association Resolution in Support of Medical-Legal Partnerships
ABA Medical-Legal Partnerships Pro Bono Support Project
In 2007, ABA passed a resolution in support of medical-legal partnership. The resolution encourages members of the legal profession to work with the healthcare community and social service organizations to identify and resolve legal issues that have a detrimental effect on health and well-being. After the adoption of the resolution, the ABA created the ABA MLP Project to further its commitment to MLP.
The primary goal of the ABA MLP Project is to increase the capacity of healthcare institutions to address health-harming legal issues by increasing the availability of volunteer attorneys. Additionally, the ABA MLP Project works with national medical and legal organizations to promote the MLP model through policy and initiatives. Working in tandem with the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership, resulted in the adoption of policy in support of the MLP model by the American Medical Association (AMA).
The ABA MLP Project was a joint project of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, the Health Law Section, the AIDS Coordinating Committee and the ABA Center on Children and the Law, funded by ABA Enterprise Fund resources to coordinate an ABA-based national MLP pro bono support initiative.
Read the letter from ABA Past President H. Thomas Wells Jr. introducing the Medical-Legal Partnerships Pro Bono Support Project.