Philadelphia Legal Assistance

Director of Community Relations


Project Goal: The overarching goal of the fellow is to increase the human and financial capacity of the Medical Legal Community Partnership (MLCP) to provide high volume, quality legal services to patients of the community health centers through a volunteer based model.


Agency Information


Agency Mission
Philadelphia Legal Assistance is dedicated to providing high quality, creative legal services, advice and referrals for eligible low income people. We are committed to educating and empowering our clients  and working collectively with other advocates to achieve these goals.

Address  718 Arch Street, 300N
Philadelphia, PA 19106-1535

Total number of Agency Staff Members  42

Agency Budget  $4,427,478

Job Description

The fellow’s duties and responsibilities:         

  1. Assisting in outreach to the large immigrant population (large group is French speaking) that receives treatment at Health Center 3 and Health Center 4;
  2. Building relationships with local non-profit organizations for potential collaboration to more fully and better serve clients;
  3. Preparing for the expansion of the MLCP to an additional Health Center site and subsequently facilitating the integration of pro bono volunteers into the existing healthcare structure
  4. Ensuring program sustainability by writing grant proposals and exploring alternative funding streams, such as HRSA grants to Health Centers and insurance reimbursement strategies
  5. Designing volunteer opportunities and systems for recruiting private attorney volunteers;
  6. Reaching out to the surrounding private law firm community in Philadelphia and recruit attorneys to volunteer their time at the MLCP.
  7. Assisting on system advocacy efforts by working collaboratively with health center staff to identify health patterns that warrant policy change and to help find solutions to improve the patients’ and the community’s health;
  8. Designing “Know Your Rights” Clinics for clients to understand the legal system and be able to successfully navigate the legal system; and
  9. Documenting the MLCP’s effectiveness and return on investment for the Department of Public Health to support the case for long-term sustainability of the MLCP.


Skills/qualifications a fellow should have to succeed in the position:    

College graduate

Demonstrated commitment to community service through work experience or volunteerism

Strong customer service skills

A resourceful problem-solver who can collaborate as a member of an interdisciplinary team

Excellent written and oral communication skills

Academic background in public health, health policy, legal studies, or social services preferred but not necessary.

Attention to detail and ability to follow specific protocols are a must.

Motivated and comfortable working independently.


Community Need

Specific community need that the Philly Fellow will address:

In line with the Healthy Futures focus area of the AmeriCorps VISTA program, the Medical Legal Community Partnership (MLCP) of Philadelphia Legal Assistance (PLA) aims to strengthen the community’s overall health by improving access to health care and benefits for low income under-insured and uninsured individuals who are patients of Health Center #3 and Health Center #4 in West Philadelphia.  Collectively these health centers serve residents of 7 zip codes in West Philadelphia and Southwest Philadelphia; areas with some of the highest rates of: poverty (27.6% – 37%); adult uninsurance (15.1%-22.7%); self-reported poor or fair health (26.9%-35.2%); secondhand smoke exposure (9.9%-17.7%); adult obesity (32.9%-44.1%); and low birth weights (12%-14.3%). The need for this service is quite clear. Those who live below or near the poverty line disproportionately experience legal and health problems.  These individuals may lack access to comprehensive, well-coordinated medical care, and may be unaware of their legal rights or options they have to improve access to justice, health and stability.  Consequently, they remain un- or underinsured; become vulnerable to the health effects of homelessness or substandard housing; and sometimes, to interpersonal violence.  Too frequently, the elderly or parents of young children face the choice between heating their homes or feeding themselves and/or their families.  These and the myriad of other legal needs of the poor directly affect not only health, but also the efficacy of medical and social services, as even the best of care is undermined by unmet legal needs.  A year of research prior to implementation of the MLCP demonstrated a clear nexus between legal and medical problems and led to PLA’s decision to implement the MLCP at the health center at which the actual research had taken place, Health Center #3.  The research conducted by a Stoneleigh Foundation Emerging Leader Fellow included a market analysis, feasibility study, and a robust socio-legal needs (SLN) assessment (n=710) at Health Center #3. The SLN assessment revealed profound and diverse SLN among the patient population, who reported a median of five distinct SLNs that increased to six SLNs for caretakers of older adults and adults with disabilities. The three most common SLNs were: access to healthcare coverage (76%), purchasing medication (70%), and paying for utilities (52%). Among caregivers of children, 43% felt their home was unsafe or insecure due to second-hand smoke, lead paint, or eviction threats, all of which are subject to legal solutions. Forty-five percent of patients reported sometimes being unable to pay their rent or mortgage, leading to fears of eviction or foreclosure and 22% had been denied or cut-off from income supports or supplemental nutrition programs.  Legal solutions are available to address each of the concerns raised by patients, provided that legal resources are also available.


How the new capacity created by this fellow will help strengthen the community and alleviate the problem:   

The work of the fellow will help to expand the capacity the MLCP which in turn will strengthen the surrounding community by helping the patients of Health Center #3 and Health Center #4 become healthier, less economically stressed and more knowledgeable regarding their legal rights and access to justice. The goal of the MLCP is to provide integrated legal care and thus improve overall patient health, make healthcare teams more effective and efficient, improve the well-being of the community, and decrease the costs of healthcare. According to the National Center for Medical Legal Partnerships, a MLP aims to have legal advocates treat the social determinants of health (SDOH): personal safety, healthy physical environments, and resources to meet daily needs.  The legal advocates of the MLCP address the SDOH in five different contexts: Income (medical assistance, food stamps, Social Security Insurance and Social Security Disability Insurance) (61%), Housing and Utilities (19%), Personal Stability (custody/visitation, wills and divorce) (13%), Education and Employment (4%), and Legal Status (3%).  In 2015 alone, MLCP legal advocates were able to obtain over $525,000 in benefits for clients. In one case, the MLCP advocates were able to appeal a medical assistance denial, resulting in retroactive coverage of a patient’s hospitalization and reconciliation of her $75,000 hospital bill.  Not only was she relieved of a lifetime of medical debt but further, the MLCP advocates successfully enrolled her and her daughter in Medicaid and food stamps. The final outcome that the MLCP strives to achieve is that its clients leave the MLCP with improved overall health, both mental and physical.  By incorporating a fellow into the MLCP, the community surrounding West Philadelphia will be better able to receive an all-encompassing medical-legal experience.


Level of community involvement in the fellow’s project:

The MLCP is founded on the belief that the success of a medical-legal-partnership requires community involvement from its inception and throughout its existence, thus the inclusion of “Community” in the project’s name.  The fellow will be engaging with various stakeholders, private attorneys, law students, non-profit organizations, social service providers, community groups and patients all of whom are necessary to the success and sustainability of the project.


The organization’s experience operating anti-poverty programming of this nature:

Philadelphia Legal Assistance (PLA), a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, has been the federally-funded civil legal aid provider for Philadelphia’s low income community, providing high-quality, high-volume, direct legal assistance to eligible individuals to ensure access to justice and basic human needs since 1996. PLA is committed to empowering clients through education and to working collaboratively with other advocates, with an eye toward innovation in achieving its goals.  PLA serves clients through integration of education with advice, referral, pro se assistance, and representation at administrative hearings and at all levels of state and federal courts to alleviate the effects of poverty on basic human needs, including: family safety, health, income maintenance and housing. Throughout PLA’s 20 year history, we have initiated many innovative and collaborative projects, such as the MLCP, to meet the critical legal needs of Philadelphia’s low-income communities in an efficient and effective manner. For the past two years, the MLCP has been responsive to the health-harming legal needs of those who seek health and social services at the PDPH’s Health Center #3 and Health Center #4.  PLA’s successful implementation and operation of the MLCP is demonstrative of PLA’s capacity to implement goals, provide programmatic oversight and leadership for a project.


Fellowship Logistics


Fellow orientation plan:

Orientation for the fellow will be conducted by the MLCP Supervising Attorney and PLA’s Compliance Officer. The orientation involves an explanation of the concept behind the Medical‐Legal Partnership model and the history of the MLCP.  It also involves a tour and staff introductions at Health Center #3 and Health Center #4.  On the first day or as soon as possible thereafter, the fellow will shadow the Supervising Attorney and observe how she conducts client meetings and client interviews and how she uses the case management system, Legal Server, to gain an intimate understanding of the project’s operations.  In the first week, the fellow will receive a formal MLCP Compliance Training that covers assessment of client eligibility, federal funding requirements and program policies.  At the end of the first week, the fellow and the Supervising Attorney will review project goals, activities and milestones and schedule a regular meeting time for project updates and check-in.  All MLCP volunteers receive substantive legal training, which the fellow is welcome to attend. However, the core of orientation and training for the fellow will involve helping the fellow get oriented as to the MLCP’s current partners and helping the fellow build relationships with the MLCP’s current stakeholders, including law firms and community organizations, through introductions provided by the Supervising Attorney.  Training is a high priority at PLA and the fellow’s supervisor will identify any relevant training opportunities for the fellow as the project unfolds.


Name and title of the fellow’s immediate supervisor:  Anita Santos-Singh; Executive Director


Plans for supervision of the fellow:

.   Cynthia Haskin, the MLCP’s Supervising Attorney, will be responsible for orienting, training and supervising the fellow.  The structure of the MLCP which has a few offices in close proximity at the Health Centers facilitates accessible supervision.  Much supervision also takes place through e‐mail and the web-based case management system that tracks information on outreach events.  Cynthia can access and review any notes maintained on the case management system and provide supervision at any time.  In addition, the MLCP uses on‐line chat software to keep an open line of communication among the two health center offices and PLA’s central office.  If the fellow has a question, he or she can type a question into the chat box and receive an answer from whomever is available to answer the question. This is more immediate than sending an e‐mail. The chat system provides information about who is at their desk, so that the fellow does not have to place phone calls that are not picked up or e‐mail people who are not able to e‐mail back a response quickly. In addition, to the various ways informal supervision is provided, regularly scheduled check-in meetings between the fellow and the Supervisor will be where more formal supervision takes place.


Will fellow be working at the same address listed above? 



Will the fellow have their own…             

Office?  Fellow will have their own         
  Fellow will have their own
 Fellow will have their own


The approximate percentage of time the fellow will work…

Independently  60  

As a team member in a group setting  30

As a team leader in a group setting   10


Will the fellow be expected to travel as part of the position?  No

If so, how often and where?  


Will the fellow need the following to carry out the position…

A driver’s license?  No

Their own car?   No