Reducing the Justice Gap and Improving Health through Medical–Legal Partnerships

Journal of Legal Medicine
November 2, 2020

 
Danya E. Keene, PhD; Sascha Murillo; Emily A. Benfer, JD; Alice Rosenthal, JD; Ada M. Fenick, MD
 

A recent study by the Legal Services Corporation reported that 71% of low-income U.S. households experienced at least one civil legal problem in 2017 and that 86% of these needs went unresolved. In this article, we examine the potential for medical–legal partnerships (MLPs) to address this “justice gap.” We draw on qualitative interviews, conducted with 20 parents and guardians in one pediatric MLP, to identify barriers to legal access and examine how the MLP model may uniquely address these barriers. Our data suggest that MLPs can (1) identify legal needs and create awareness of legal rights among individuals who would not have sought legal services; (2) create an access point for legal services; (3) improve access to legal advice and brief intervention; (4) support ongoing relationships between patients and lawyers that allow for the timely identification of subsequent legal needs; (5) foster trust and confidence in the legal system; and (6) address affordability concerns. These findings suggest that by improving access to justice, MLPs can address critical social and legal determinants of health and, ultimately, advance health equity.

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