Ellen Lawton stepping down as Director of the National Center after 14 years

Monday, February 3, 2020

*Update June 22, 2020: While this leadership transition is still happening, our timeline has shifted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on all of our organizations. We are currently interviewing a robust field of candidates, and expect to hire and announce our new Director by this fall. In the meantime, Ellen is staying on to manage the transition and to ensure the success of the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership’s current projects.

Original Announcement

It is with enormous gratitude for her leadership and contributions to the medical-legal partnership (MLP) movement that the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership (NCMLP) announces Ellen Lawton is stepping down as its Director, effective June 30, 2020. Having led NCMLP since its inception in 2006, Ellen has overseen the growth of the MLP field from two dozen programs nationwide to programs at nearly 450 hospitals and health centers today. Those health care organizations partner with hundreds of legal aid offices and law schools to jointly tackle some of the most complex and intractable social problems affecting patients’ health.

Ellen Lawton

Ellen’s work has been critical in advancing MLP from an innovation to an increasingly mainstream way of caring for patients. During her tenure, she established the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership as a HRSA-funded technical assistance center for health centers, and saw MLP initiatives developed at the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Bar Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Corporation for National and Community Service, Equal Justice Works, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Under her leadership, NCMLP has helped catalyze policy changes that pave the way for health care investment in critical legal services that benefit patients and communities. Ellen authored a substantial body of work detailing the theory, role, and impact of MLP, and worked with hundreds of health, legal, and public health professionals in her cherished role as a goodwill ambassador for the legal profession.

“It’s been a privilege to lead the creative and dedicated NCMLP team on our mission to change health care,” said Ellen. “As a cross-sector zealot and an inveterate problem-solver, it’s been a joyful journey for me to partner with so many passionate advocates and communities on this system-changing work, and to realize that medical-legal partnership has transformed our ideas about who belongs on the health care team. I couldn’t be prouder of what we have accomplished together. While I feel compelled now to explore a new chapter, I know the MLP movement’s momentum continues to accelerate in this era of value-based care, and I am excited to pass the baton for the next exciting phase of growth and leadership at the Center and in the field.”

Prior to her time at NCMLP, Ellen directed a medical-legal partnership at Boston Medical Center, and was an attorney with the Department of Children and Families in Massachusetts. She will be taking some time after her departure to focus on writing projects.

NCMLP will begin a search this spring for a new Director to shape the organization’s strategic direction and lead its operations. The next Director will build on NCMLP’s existing work—including its new Bob Woodruff Foundation grant to develop performance measures for VA-based MLPs, its role as the head of The SDOH Academy steering committee, and its ongoing health center-based technical assistance and research—to chart a new path for the coming decade. More information on the search and the job posting will follow shortly.

Kate Marple

Ellen’s departure is not the only one that NCMLP will experience in 2020. Kate Marple, NCMLP’s Director of Communications, is leaving later this year after ten years with the organization. During her tenure, Kate led and grew the annual Medical-Legal Partnership Summit from a small gathering of practitioners to a major convening for hundreds of leaders in health, law, and public health. She spearheaded efforts to help the health and legal worlds develop and message a common mission and language for describing their work. Through storytelling and reports, Kate also helped create a deeper understanding of the mechanics and impact of medical-legal partnership, particularly around the ways individual interventions often lead to widespread policy changes. NCMLP will be hiring a Communications Associate shortly to handle some of its communications portfolio.

As NCMLP celebrates Ellen and Kate’s contributions, it is also looking ahead—growing its footprint in the health center and Veteran sectors, and continuing to make progress in the policy and financing changes that will truly transform the health care and legal landscapes. Stay tuned as we navigate this important transition and pivot toward a new future together!