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Health law is a multi-faceted field that extends well beyond medical liability and insurance litigation.
Legal advice is needed at all levels of healthcare, from government entities to healthcare facilities and private practices. Health lawyers can find work in a multitude of settings, and the scope of their work can change dramatically.
In this article, we unpack what healthcare law is, what these specialist lawyers do, how to become a healthcare lawyer, and the factors to consider when applying for a law program.
What is health law?
Health law applies to almost all sectors of our society. Many hands are involved in health care, including policy makers, government agencies, and people who run medical facilities.
Health lawyers work on cases and policies related to access to medical care, to the healthcare providers themselves, to insurance, to food and drug safety, and to the difficult ethical decisions made at the outset and later. the end of life.
Since the medical field overlaps with other fields such as civil rights, torts, ethics, constitutional law, tax law, and corporate law (to name a few ), the field is constantly evolving.
What do health lawyers do?
The work of health lawyers covers several areas of law, especially since health connects everyone in one way or another. Lawyers are involved in everything from the organizational and financial aspects of health care to services directly related to the health of their clients.
Salary and Responsibilities
Health care lawyers can work in many different environments. Private companies, government agencies, non-profit organizations, healthcare facilities, and private public interest companies all employ lawyers. Their salaries depend on who employs them and the scope of their work.
According to Payscale, the average base salary for a healthcare attorney was approximately $78,000 as of October 2022. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median annual salary of $127,990 for all attorneys, attorneys employed by the states and the federal government earning just over $100,000.
Health lawyers face a variety of responsibilities in their day-to-day work. They may advise clients on health care or personal injury rights, or represent their clients in court. The work of these attorneys may include preparing legal documents such as end-of-life contracts and guidelines or ensuring that providers comply with health care laws and regulations.
Health law work environments range from private practice and public interest firms to government agencies and non-profit organizations. Whether you work with a small team on carefully selected cases or are part of a legal team advising a hospital, you most likely have career options that match your passions and strengths.
Government. The executive and legislative branches of government at the federal, state, and local levels employ attorneys. Health law practitioners support government agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Trade Commission, among others. Legislators also need legal control over health care issues.
Non-profit. Health care-focused nonprofits operate at single or multiple levels. Some groups provide direct services, such as assisting clients with issues such as health insurance and benefits. They can also offer more specialized legal services to veterans, seniors, and people with special health needs. Some nonprofit organizations act as legislative advocates. Others, like the American Association of Retired Persons, engage in impact litigation.
Private companies of public interest. Private companies of public interest generally pursue businesses that correspond to their political, economic or social visions. Since these companies are generally smaller than their counterparts and operate in particular settings, they are more selective about the cases they choose. Most often, they serve on the plaintiff’s side of a case.
Health establishments. Hospitals, health systems, health insurers and professional associations need lawyers to support court decisions. Healthcare institutions often hire in-house lawyers. These positions are usually in the private sector as public benefit or non-profit organizations.
Private practices. Lawyers specializing in health law can practice in private practice. Depending on the size of the firm, these attorneys may engage in a variety of matters depending on their clients. Some lawyers in private practice can advise health care professionals in setting up their practice. Others engage in litigation, antitrust and compliance matters.
Types of practice
Dispute. Healthcare attorneys often represent individual plaintiffs and defendants on issues such as medical malpractice and coverage denials. On the other hand, institutions need broader support, including those around privacy, vendor issues, and corporate issues. These attorneys may also engage in impact litigation to change laws or define the rights of specific demographics.
Regulation. Government-employed attorneys typically work in regulatory practice, rather than other work environments like nonprofit organizations or private public interest law forms. These attorneys may be responsible for drafting, commenting on, or reviewing agency regulations. They can also prosecute or defend regulatory violations.
Legal advice. Consulting work is available in almost all work environments. Depending on the agency or firm a lawyer works for, they can provide legal advice on a variety of issues. For example, health lawyers working in hospitals may advise on issues of informed consent or medical liability. Lawyers who work for government agencies may engage in regulatory matters. Legislators provide public health advice.
Direct customer service. Lawyers can work in the public interest, providing direct client service to those who lack the financial capacity to pay for legal aid. Client services include a variety of needs, such as litigation representation, legal advice on issues such as coverage denials, and government benefits like Medicaid. Ultimately, lawyers can provide advice and support to help clients represent themselves more effectively or find alternative solutions.
Political and legislative advocacy. Legislators often need the support of legal counsel. A health care attorney’s job can include a variety of tasks, including extensive research into laws and regulations and face-to-face meetings with legislators and regulatory personnel. In addition, these lawyers can play a role in the development of new laws or the revision of existing laws.
Transactional. A lawyer may be needed for business relationships, whether non-profit or for-profit. Institutional healthcare transaction lawyers can help draft and negotiate contracts or advise on compliance issues. Lawyers assisting individuals can prepare estate planning documents such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and other documents required for government benefits.
Choosing a Health Law Program
To be clear, practicing health law doesn’t mean you have to focus on health law while in law school. Pursuing a health law concentration or choosing a law school that offers health law programs or courses can help you gain industry knowledge and become more marketable.
Check to see if your future school offers a concentration in health law or a pathway to a certificate. For example, Boston University School of Law offers a systematic approach to the study of health law. His health law courses focus on litigation, public health, human rights, life sciences and corporate law. Other schools, like Georgia State College of Law, offer certificate paths that require both core and elective courses.
Other factors should also contribute to your choice of law school. Consider location, accreditation status, school and class size, demographics, student organization offerings, and academic support programs. You can compile lists of must-have and nice-to-have academic qualities to help you filter through the nearly 200 American Bar Association-accredited law programs.
Admission Requirements for Health Law Programs
No prerequisite courses or degrees are required for admission to law school. However, if you are interested in health law, pursuing a health-related undergraduate degree, such as public health or health sciences, can help you better understand the connections between law and Healthcare.
In addition to earning an undergraduate degree, law school typically requires the following:
- Law School Admissions Test (LSAT®) Scores
- Letter of recommendation
- Law School Personal Statement(s)
- Application fees