Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic Addresses Wide Array of Legal Issues to Improve

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The University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law’s Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic, under the direction of Professor Sara Gold, partners with HIV medical clinics on the UMB campus to provide a wide array of legal services to mostly low-income clients living with HIV. The clinic’s mission is to address legal issues that impact clients’ overall physical and mental health and wellness. Professor Gold notes that “It takes more than just good medicine to achieve positive health outcomes and we know that the conditions in which people live, poverty, family instability, lack of access to health insurance and health care, housing instability, stigma, etc. – i.e. social determinants of health – contribute to physical and mental health.”

In pursuing this mission, Professor Gold and her clinic students work throughout the year to find success for their clients. Clinic work includes educating legal and medical professionals on new and existing laws affecting their clients as well as direct client representation in custody and benefits hearings. Below are just a few examples of the work that Prof. Gold and her clinic students are doing.

Access to Counsel in Evictions

In response to newly passed Maryland legislation providing that all eligible tenants (those from households at less than 50% of Maryland’s median income) shall have access to legal representation “for a judicial or administrative proceeding to evict or terminate [their] tenancy or housing subsidy” by October 1, 2025, the Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC) hosted the Access to Counsel in Evictions symposium on September 30, 2022 at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. Professor Gold, along with Prof. Lee Westgate, Clinical Instructor at the campus School of Social Work, and Keri Nash, Esq., Director of Racial Equity Initiatives at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, presented at the plenary session on cultural competency. The session was entitled “Access to Counsel: Cultural Competency and the Essential Role of Racial Equity in Eviction Defense.” Through the frameworks of racial equity & justice and trauma informed care, the presenters discussed how lived experiences and intersecting identities (of both client and lawyer) influence the attorney-client relationship and access to justice; the importance of understanding the history of race and housing policies in America; and the importance of understanding eviction as a traumatic experience.

In addition to education and advocacy on the benefits of new requirements for such access to counsel, Clinic students and staff attorneys also work directly with clients to prevent eviction. During the fall semester, second-year students Kennedy Hagens and George Alarcon, under the supervision of the Clinic’s Eviction Prevention Project staff attorney Matt Smith, successfully represented a single mother of two young children in Baltimore County District Court preventing her eviction by her landlord.

LGBTQ+ patient health and well-being

Also during the fall semester, third year students Michelle Rackish and Ben Link presented at the University of Maryland School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics Grand Rounds. Speaking to an audience of 70+ pediatric providers and staff who joined both in-person and on Zoom, Michelle and Ben discussed the national landscape of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and how these bills negatively affect LGBTQ+ patient health and well-being. Highlighting that most, if not all,  of these bills are not evidence-based and propagate dangerous health disinformation, Michelle and Ben emphasized the importance of providers staying up to date on scientific and clinical research, noting that the prevailing standards of care support providing gender affirming health care to transgender patients, and encouraged providers to create safe, supportive environments for their LGBTQ+ patients.

Broad Client Representation

In October 2022, 3L Roopa Mistry and 2L Isabella Datillo successfully represented a grandmother in Baltimore County Circuit Court seeking to gain custody of her 6-year-old grandson, which provided both the client and the child with much-needed stability for their mental and physical health. In November, another team of clinic students, 3L Ari Riley and 2L Lydia Lockwood, represented a client in a hearing before an administrative law judge appealing the cessation of his Social Security Disability benefits which, if terminated, would not only significantly reduce his income to meet his basic needs but also terminate the Medicare benefits he has based on his SSDI benefits, and which he depends on to receive needed medical and mental health care. A final decision has not yet been made in this case.

Age 18 Transition Project

Earlier in 2022, Megan Gold and Jordan Leonard, both 2022 health law certificate recipients, developed the “Age 18 Transition Project.” Stemming from her work in the Medical-Legal Partnership clinic her 2L year where she represented a grandmother who was the primary caretaker for her 17-year old granddaughter with mental and physical disabilities, Megan saw the unmet legal needs of families with children with disabilities who were transitioning from minors to adults at age 18. Another clinic student, Jordan Leonard, ‘who was representing a young adult with a significant overpayment as a result of a Social Security reassessment triggered by her turning 18, had the same concerns. The two teamed up as Clinic II students in the Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic in their third year of law school to develop the “Age 18 Transition Project.” Their goal is to educate medical providers and staff working with adolescents and young adults ages 17-22 with disabilities, and their families, to screen for legal needs of transitioning youth, provide resources to share with families, and provide direct representation to individual clients. They partnered with pediatric medical and dental providers at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to identify needs. Based on input from the interdisciplinary group as well as various community organizations, Jordan and Megan created a flyer highlighting the educational, vocational, housing, and life skill needs of youth and young adults with disabilities for medical providers to share with families. They also made presentations at several preceptor and pediatric provider meetings at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland Medical School to educate medical clinicians and staff about legal needs of, and resources for, this patient population. In addition to educating providers about how to screen for legal needs with their patients, Megan and Jordan also successfully represented a client referred by a Johns Hopkins pediatrician in a legal guardianship petition in Harford County Circuit Court. Based on their representation, the client, who was the mother of an 18-year-old with significant physical and cognitive disabilities, became the legal guardian of her daughter ensuring that she could continue to provide for her daughter’s medical, economic, physical and emotional stability.

Left to Right: Jordan Leonard and Megan Gold

From meeting clients’ more immediate health care and social needs, including securing much-needed shelter, stability, and other benefits, to training the next generation of attorneys, social workers, medical students, and other professionals, Medical-Legal Partnership faculty and students continue their ground-breaking work to address the legal issues that impede their clients’ overall physical and mental health.