Medical-Legal Advocacy Clinic

LW.11248 / LW.11103
Professor Paula Galowitz
Professor Debra J. Wolf
Open to 3L and 2L students
Maximum of 8 students 
Not offered 2014-15
6 credits*
No prerequisites or co-requisites.

Course Description

This clinic employs a multidisciplinary and holistic approach to provide legal advocacy in a medical setting for clients referred by medical professionals. Many legal-related issues can affect the health of low-income families and many of the problems that affect the health of the children and families have legal remedies. This clinic is a medical-legal collaboration to improve health outcomes for patients/clients by providing on-site legal advocacy assistance and training to medical providers.

The clinic’s fieldwork is in collaboration with LegalHealth. LegalHealth partners with medical professionals to provide free legal services in medical facilities for low-income people with serious health issues and trains health care professionals on the legal issues affecting their patients. LegalHealth, established in 2001, is a division of the New York Legal Assistance Group, a nonprofit organization that offers free legal assistance throughout the metropolitan area to those otherwise unable to afford attorneys. Through partnerships with hospital and community organizations, LegalHealth offers a range of legal services to New Yorkers with chronic and serious illnesses. It provides free legal services onsite in thirteen hospitals in New York City, including Bellevue, Beth Israel, Kings County Hospital, Montefiore, Mount Sinai and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt. It assists over 3,000 clients and trains over 1,500 healthcare professionals yearly.

Patients are referred to LegalHealth by their physicians and social workers to obtain legal assistance on non-medical issues. LegalHealth helps patients resolve problems that could adversely affect their health or access to healthcare. For example, attorneys have helped asthma patients living in roach-infested apartments negotiate better housing. Physicians are also taught by LegalHealth attorneys to listen for non-medical information patients bring them and to better screen for potential legal problems. They are also trained about the benefits of medical-legal collaboration for their patients and for the two professions.

LegalHealth is one of the most established of the medical-legal partnerships that have been created nationally. More information about LegalHealth can be found on the LegalHealth website. More information about medical-legal collaborations can be found in Retkin, Branfield, Lawton, Zuckerman and DeFrancesco, Lawyers and Doctors Working Together—A Formidable Team, 20 The Health Lawyer 33 (October 2007).


The fieldwork has a three-fold approach: 1) direct client representation; 2) education of the healthcare professional about identifying legal issues and incorporating advocacy into their treatment plans (perhaps also including community education); and 3) identifying and exploring a systemic health care issue and presenting strategies to address the issue.

The direct representation part of the fieldwork will be working with LegalHealth in their legal clinics at a hospital site. Students will be the attorneys on the cases, providing full representation to the clients including appearing in courts and administrative agencies. The cases will be referred by physicians, social workers and other healthcare providers to obtain legal assistance. We will interview the clients at the hospital or in a clinic that will primarily take place on Friday mornings. When the Medical-Legal Advocacy Clinic was offered in the fall of 2009, the clinic’s fieldwork was based in Manhattan at Beth Israel Hospital and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital; when the clinic was offered in the fall of 2011, the fieldwork was at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. The advocacy will be in a variety of areas, including housing, public assistance, education, Medicaid and other government benefits.

The Seminar

The seminar will meet weekly for three hours. Some of the seminar classes may take place at the offices of LegalHealth. A few of the seminar sessions may be with social pediatric residents in the Residency Program in Social Pediatrics at Montefiore Medical Center. The social pediatric residents are in the second or third year of a three-year residency program that is designed for primary care pediatricians who intend to practice in clinical practice, community health and advocacy. Some of the topics for the joint seminar with the social pediatric residents are collaboration and interdisciplinary work.

Other topics covered in the seminar include: holistic advocacy; interviewing and counseling; cultural competencies; negotiation; theory of the case; formal and informal advocacy; ethical issues, including confidentiality; substantive law training on immigration, housing, government benefits, special education and health law; and project presentations.

Particular Scheduling Issues for this Clinic

The nature of this clinic necessitates that the law students in this clinic block out certain hours each week to be available for the seminar and fieldwork. In addition to the three hours for the seminar on Tuesday, students would need to be available on Friday mornings for the legal clinic, when clients will be seen for legal appointments. Although students would not invariably be at the legal clinic every Friday, the students would need to block out that time from their class schedule so that they can be available at this time when needed.

Application Procedure

Students interested in applying for the clinic should submit the standard application, resume, and a transcript online through CAMS. Michelle Williams, the clinic administrator, will contact you to schedule an interview with Paula Galowitz. If you have any questions about the application process, please contact Michelle Williams at (212) 998-6439 or by email.

Student Contacts

Students who wish to know more about the Medical-Legal Advocacy Clinic may speak with the following students who were in the clinic in the Fall 2011 semester.

Christina Chen
Valerie Christensen
Evan Goodman    
Jessica Heimler     
Kathryn Kliff   
Monika Pietrzak    
Liz Platt    
Eliza Schafler     

Students should also feel free to contact the professors who will teach the clinic. Professor Paula Galowitz can be reached at (212) 998-6441 or by email. Professor Debra Wolf can be reached at (212) 613-5082 or by email.

* 6 credits include 3 clinical credits and 3 academic seminar credits.