Mission and History


Medical-Legal Partnership | Boston equips healthcare, public health and social services teams with legal problem-solving strategies that promote health equity for vulnerable people.


With origins in the early vision of Harvard Law School and Harvard Medical School leaders, MLP | Boston was founded at New England’s largest safety net hospital, Boston City Hospital (later renamed Boston Medical Center, or BMC). Our mission was informed by the vision of our founding institution BMC, which remains the leading hospital provider of medical care and services to Boston's low-income families, and the affiliated Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Barry Zuckerman, then-Chief of Pediatrics at BMC, grew frustrated by watching his young patients fail to make clinical progress as a result of substandard housing, food insecurity, and other social determinants of health. Dr. Zuckerman hired a part-time attorney (supplied by Greater Boston Legal Services) directly into the Pediatrics Department to address his patients’ unmet needs for housing, food, and safety.

Over the next 12 years, this program (initially known as the Family Advocacy Program) evolved into a robust and collaborative team of lawyers, paralegals, and pediatricians; by 2005, the team was serving hundreds of patient-families annually both at BMC and at 3 BMC-affiliated community health centers. Following a 2001 New York Times article about the program, then-Executive Director Ellen Lawton and then-Medical Director Lauren Smith found themselves informally providing technical assistance to scores of health care institutions and legal aid programs around the country who were hungry to establish medical-legal partnerships (MLPs) in their communities.

In early 2006, the Kellogg and Robert Wood Johnson Foundations recognized the transformative potential of MLPs for health care delivery in vulnerable patient populations and the significant appetite for technical assistance conveyed by communities across the country. These foundations invested in the formalization of a national arm of the (then re-branded) Medical-Legal Partnership for Children (MLPC) and provided critical infrastructure to support the cultivation of the MLP model outside of Boston and beyond the field of pediatrics. With the support of generous funders in Massachusetts, MLPC’s local program continued to grow as well; by the end of 2008, the local program consisted of 10 legal staff members along with several consulting pediatricians and researchers.

In January 2009, MLPC recognized the dramatic and fast-paced evolution of the MLP landscape, the far reach of MLPs into vulnerable adult populations, and a need to better distinguish between the missions and activities of the local program, the national program, and the national network. Consequently, MLPC was bifurcated into 2 newly named programs: The National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership (NCMLP) and Medical-Legal Partnership | Boston (MLP | Boston). 


In the wake of a thoughtful stategic planning process led by Cambridge-based firm Root Cause, MLP | Boston laid the foundation for meaningful expansion of its services by extending service delivery to vulnerable adult populations (e.g. BMC Women's Health/Cancer Care), and piloting new hospital-based partnerships with Boston Children's Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. We also took on a more substantial technical assistance role by sponsoring an annual state-wide conference for other MLP programs operating in the Commonwealth. Ultimately, the program's deepening and widening footprint prompted consideration of how to best optimize the program's structure at this point in history.  

MLP | Boston Today

Effective July 2012, MLP | Boston has become a fiscally sponsored program of Third Sector New England, Inc.(www.tsne.org), an established non-profit that serves as a corporate umbrella for programs advancing the causes of equality and social justice. Like our founding partner BMC, TSNE shares MLP | Boston's core values and we are delighted to have the opportunity to collaborate more closely with that team.

With support from more than 20 private law firms and in-house pro bono partners, MLP | Boston provides services at Boston Medical Center (Family Medicine, Geriatrics, Pediatrics, Women's Health/Cancer Care), the Primary Care Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, Cambridge Health Alliance, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Good Samaritan Medical Center, Hallmark Health System, Mount Auburn Hospital and Saint Anne's Hospital.

MLP | Boston is the Founding Site of the national MLP Network, a network of over 80 medical-legal partnerships across the country, partnered with 280+ health care institutions. In addition to regular contributions to national conferences, publications, and other such technical assistance activities, MLP | Boston actively supports the growing community of MLPs that serve patients in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, New England, and beyond.