This fall marks the 10th anniversary of a pivotal moment in the medical-legal partnership movement. In 2007, just one year after the launch of the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership, the American Bar Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics became the first legal and health professional associations, respectively, to pass resolutions encouraging their memberships to partner with the other sector in order to address the legal and social issues affecting patient health and well-being. These resolutions marked early endorsements of MLP that helped catalyze its growth.
The ABA resolution led to the creation of the Medical-Legal Partnership Pro Bono Project, housed at the ABA’s Center of Pro Bono and Public Service, which deepened pro bono engagement in MLP activities nationwide. It also brought critical attention to MLP within the legal sector more broadly, and contributed to the fact that today, 60 percent of all federally-funded civil legal aid agencies participate in medical-legal partnerships, and ABA leaders have helped to accelerate its growth.
In many respects, MLP was born in a pediatric setting, and the AAP resolution helped bring legal services to more clinics serving children. Today, 41 children’s hospitals—nearly 1 in 5—have medical-legal partnerships for their patients. The AAP’s involvement continues today as pediatric leaders catalyze MLP programs in a range of settings including clinics like Mt. Sinai, which works to meet the complex needs of immigrant children In the decade since these resolutions, medical-legal partnerships have shifted from an innovation funded almost entirely by philanthropy and legal funding streams, to one that is starting to receive more robust healthcare support. Nearly one third of all health care organizations with MLPs now include funding in their operational budget for the program. And innovative pilots for Medicaid patients are opening the door to new funding opportunities.
Most significantly, the way federal agencies and national health organizations are thinking about the role of legal services in addressing health equity is changing. HRSA recognizes legal services as an enabling service for health center patients. The Department of Veterans Affairs encourages its VA Medical Centers to host legal services on-site for patients. SAMHSA singled out medical-legal partnership in its call for proposals for state block grants that support community mental health and substance use disorder prevention/treatment. And the Association of American Medical Colleges is in the middle of a three-year study evaluating the impact of MLP on health equity.
As we look forward to the next ten years, we are deeply grateful to the ABA, the AAP, and all of our early partners who saw the potential of medical-legal partnership to transform communities.