New law clinic helps people with cancer

A new clinic, Legal Advocacy for People with Cancer, has been added to the curriculum at Wayne State University Law School.

The law clinic, which grew out of a medical-legal partnership started through a law student fellowship in 2011, is the first of its kind in Michigan and one of the first in the nation. It will begin as a six-credit course in January.

The program operates as a partnership between Wayne Law and the Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit and provides free legal assistance to low-income cancer patients while training law students to be effective advocates for people with compelling needs. Legal services include helping people attain public benefits, keep their jobs and homes while their cancer treatment is ongoing, and plan their estates and long-term health care needs.

The clinic began with Kathryn Smolinski, who in 2011 was a third-year Wayne Law student working with the law school's Disability Law Clinic. She won a two-year Equal Justice Works Fellowship to develop the partnership and the program that today is the Legal Advocacy for People with Cancer Clinic. The fellowship was sponsored by Pifzer Inc. and the law firms of Kaye Scholer LLP and Jackson Lewis LLP.

Smolinski of Monroe completed her law degree and worked with David Moss, director of clinical education at Wayne Law, to create a successful program from the fellowship. Several alumni helped, as well.

During the fellowship's second year, Smolinksi and Moss, working with Wayne Law Dean Jocelyn Benson, sought new funding to keep the program going and turn it into a full-fledged clinic. Funding came from private donors, Karmanos and Wayne State University.

During its two-year tenure, the program had served more than 100 cancer patients and their families.

Smolinski, who worked for 20 years as an oncology social worker before attending law school, is now director of the new clinic she helped to create.

"Working with cancer patients and their families is truly my passion," she said. "I know through professional experience that health care is a fragmented system. I am convinced that legal assistance can be instrumental in easing the cancer disease burden and improving quality of life if provided in a timely, sensitive and competent way."

In the future, Smolinski hopes to see the clinic offer interdisciplinary educational opportunities in partnership with WSU's schools of medicine, nursing, social work and pharmacy -- all aimed at improving health for Detroit-area cancer patients in need as well as educating students.

Published: Fri, Oct 18, 2013