Can lawyers play a role in ensuring accessible health care for all Americans?
According to researchers, scholars and students who attended Yale Law School’s Medical-Legal Partnership Symposium last Friday, the answer is an emphatic “yes.”
The conference, the first at the national level to focus on legal services in a clinical setting, was organized by Yale’s Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy and attracted nearly 200 people working in law, medicine and public health. According to Abbe Gluck ’96 LAW ’00, the faculty director of the Solomon Center, the conference aimed to build on medical-legal ties across many law schools and set an agenda for further research into developing the interdisciplinary field.
“While there have been national gatherings about [medical-legal partnerships] for years, this conference shows the legal academy finally catching up with this important intervention,” Gluck said.
According to Gluck, social factors such as housing and education can have a considerable impact on the public’s health, as well as access to health care. With lawyers working alongside doctors to address these factors, Gluck said medical-legal partnerships give patients access to services they might not feel comfortable seeking if they were not in the safe environment of the medical setting.
Gluck said the Law School has the most diverse medical-legal partnership program in the country, adding that Law School students can participate in five projects to provide legal services targeting specific underserved groups of immigrants, children, veterans, palliative care patients in the cancer center and reentering prisoners.
Miriam Becker-Cohen LAW ’18, the co-director of the medical-legal partnership program at Yale who gave closing remarks at the symposium, said her experience helping patients with their housing, immigration, employment and family law needs has been one of the most important and rewarding aspects of her time at Yale.
“Patients seem to really appreciate the integration of legal services with medical and social services,” Becker-Cohen said. “I think reaching people in their communities and creating a one-stop shop for underserved populations is a fantastic service provision model.”
Becker-Cohen directs a medical-legal program at HAVEN, a Saturday free clinic operated by Yale medical students for underserved and undocumented patients.
Although the medical-legal partnership program has had continuous success, Tamar Ezer, the executive director of the Solomon Center, said the symposium is an opportunity to reflect on and enhance the practice. According to Ezer, attendees at the symposium discussed how to best meet the needs of specific marginalized patient groups such as transgender youth and people with HIV.
Ezer added that the conference went beyond discussing day-to-day legal support to envision a broader influence on health policy — a topic she said is especially pertinent with the likely demise of the Affordable Care Act.
Becker-Cohen said she appreciated the opportunity the conference provided her and her colleagues to step outside their busy work and think about larger questions, such as how to use individual client work to inform systemic advocacy. She said working through the Law School’s medical-legal partnership has shown her the value of one-on-one legal services and inspired her to pursue a career as a legal services lawyer.
The Solomon Center opened in 2015 with a donation from Howard Solomon LAW ’52.