Corporate Client Partnerships

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP has partnered with Walmart to develop the first medical-legal partnership (MLP) by a corporate legal department. The retail giant has forged an MLP with Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Legal Aid of Arkansas by which attorneys from Legal Aid, Walmart or one of Walmart’s pro bono partners provide on-site assistance to families in order to solve legal problems that may exacerbate the illness or condition being treated.

Akin Gump pro bono partner Steven Schulman and Walmart associate general counsel Lori Chumbler discuss the partnership in a 2012 interview by Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

Editor: Please tell us about the history of Akin Gump and Walmart’s work together on pro bono matters.

Chumbler: Given that we already had a substantial relationship with Akin Gump as outside counsel, it was a natural partnership to explore when we started Walmart’s pro bono program. The firm participated in the initial planning stages, helping us think through framing the project, and once we chose the medical-legal partnership (MLP) model, they helped us establish internal policies and train our attorneys on the relevant areas of substantive law. The project has been in existence for about one year.

Schulman: This relationship has evolved over the years, bringing a fresh perspective to the firm by allowing us to become better acquainted with some of the pro bono issues that present themselves to our in-house colleagues, which may differ from those we encounter at the firm. The partnership started with brainstorming about our firm’s current pro bono practice and Walmart’s assessment of how best to leverage its culture and existing legal expertise. It became clear to Walmart that the MLP was the way to go, so we all forged ahead and learned as we went.

One key benefit of the MLP model is the ability to identify the legal issues of medical patients early on, which, in turn, makes cases easier to resolve. The doctors and nurses really appreciate our involvement because it both eases their procedural workload and, importantly, reduces their frustration with knowing their patients need legal assistance that they can’t provide. Doctors and staff at the Children’s Hospital of Arkansas take a real shine to these kids and want them to have happy and successful lives.

Editor: Please talk about the firm’s level of participation in and commitment to the project.

Schulman: The largest part of Akin Gump’s work with Walmart focused on structuring the program and on training. Last summer, one of our Pro Bono Scholars, Daniel Graver (UT Law ’13), worked with Walmart through the National Center for Medical-Legal Partnership to help set up a training program and other aspects of the Walmart MLP. (The Pro Bono Scholars Program is a two-year program in which law students work in the public interest the first summer, work at the firm as summer associates the second summer and hopefully return as associates once they graduate from law school.) In addition, one of our healthcare partners has been working with the Center as a pro bono client of the firm, helping establish it as a separate operating entity. So, our involvement has been multifaceted.

Given the excellent capabilities of Walmart’s and Legal Aid’s attorneys, it is neither feasible nor necessary for the firm to handle cases in Arkansas. We have been, however, inspired by what Walmart has done and have started to work with MLPs in New York (through an organization called LegalHelp, which is part of the New York Legal Assistance group) and at Dallas Children’s Hospital (through Legal Aid of Northwest Texas).

We are also working with Walmart to set up an MLP at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. Thus, we’ve taken what we’ve learned with Walmart and tried to set up our own MLP practice.

Akin Gump is proud to help our clients such as Walmart develop pro bono opportunities for their in-house lawyers. If your legal department would like our assistance with your pro bono program, please do not hesitate to ask us.