Preventive Law: Interdisciplinary Lessons from Medical–Legal Partnership


The following is an edited and footnoted transcript of the keynote address of the 2013 Review of Law and Social Change Annual Alumni Reception. The lecture was delivered at New York University School of Law on April 17, 2013. Ms. Curran was invited to deliver the address in recognition of her pioneering role in the medical–legal partnership movement and her demonstrated commitment to the values of the Review of Law and Social Change. By describing real-life stories of individual clients and successful advocacy efforts, Ms. Curran illustrated medical–legal partnership’s unique ability to improve community health on the front lines of the delivery of healthcare and where policy decisions impacting health are made. Applying the lessons learned from her career to the broader public interest law community, Ms. Curran encouraged the audience to embrace opportunities for interdisciplinary partnership and to seek out opportunities to practice preventive law.

Fifty million Americans need legal care in order to be healthy. To address this largely unmet need, the medical–legal partnership (MLP) movement arose to bridge the gap that had existed between those in the legal and medical professions who serve the most vulnerable members of our communities. We in the MLP movement believe that the legal and medical professions must work together to overcome what are known in the medical world as social determinants of health—those social, economic, and environmental factors that influence health and cannot be resolved through access to quality medical care alone. MLP brings together the medical and legal professions to address the needs of vulnerable patients and communities by identifying, solving, and preventing health-harming legal needs. In the legal world we often call this providing access to justice.

While medical–legal partnership refers to the movement as a whole, the on-the-ground work is mostly done by individual MLPs working at the local level. Each MLP has its own unique form, depending on the medical and legal organizations involved, but there are several core commonalities across different partnerships. First, an MLP will have a legal presence on-site in one or more medical settings. Attorneys and paralegals meet face-to-face with both patient-clients and healthcare staff at the hospital, clinic or community health center. Second, the legal and healthcare partners will work together to identify priorities. What types of patients will be seen by the legal staff? What types of health-harming legal needs will be the focus of the partnership? Third, there will be a high level of communication between the legal and healthcare staff, both regarding individual patient-client cases and as a means to identify and address opportunities for systemic improvements. . .

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