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Sunday, November 28, 2004

Inspiring lawyers.

Driving home from New Jersey yesterday, Mrs Philocrites and I heard a wonderful, inspiring story on NPR. (You can listen to it on-line.) The pediatric ward at Boston Medical Center brought a team of lawyers onto their staff when they realized that many of the health problems that afflict low-income children are caused or exacerbated by social problems that low-income parents can't address without legal help.

The young, idealistic lawyers spend their days in the pediatric ward, essentially on-call to identify ways to apply legal solutions to some of the patients' problems. One case — which involved almost 1,000 hours of legal work over many months — ended up suing the landlord of a grossly unhealthy apartment, followed by legal intervention on behalf of the family when the apartment was condemned and the family was evicted, and then by further legal intervention when the two parents (who both work long hours as janitors) turned out to make a few hundred dollars too much to qualify for a homeless shelter. In the end, the pediatric lawyers had to fight creatively and persistently for the family's access to all sorts of services that the law says are their right — but which almost no poor families can access on their own. The girl whose serious health problems launched the whole cycle of legal intervention is now healthy, and her family lives in a much better apartment. The doctors succeeded because lawyers intervened as well.

I thought it was one of the most inspiring news stories I've heard in a very long time. What especially struck me was the creative thinking of one of the pediatricians, who first recognized that an unlikely partnership with lawyers could help solve specific health problems by addressing a broader range of social problems. Other city hospitals are now trying to establish similar programs, and although the lawyers' salaries are low, the chance to make a real difference in the lives of people in need clearly appeals to many new lawyers.

Programs like this need several things: Funding, obviously, from government programs and charitable foundations; creative thinking from several different sorts of professionals (doctors, lawyers, and medical administrators, in this case); and government services for poor people (like the Section 8 housing the family qualified for in the end, the homeless shelter that accommodated them when they were evicted from their apartment, and the emergency medical care that the hospital provided the young girl at the very beginning of the story).

There may be ways that you or people you know could bring together diverse talents and expertise to make a real difference in people's lives. My church's Jericho Road Project is another inspiring example of such creative thinking, bringing upscale Concord's professionals into partnerships with nonprofit groups and small businesses in Lowell, a nearby economically struggling city. I'd love to hear other stories of similar partnerships.

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 28 November 2004 at 10:34 PM

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