Health law is a dynamic area of practice that encompasses the many issues that affect the healthcare industry. These issues include health insurance, hospital management, labor and employment, legislative affairs, medical ethics and malpractice, patient protection, and tax planning, among others. Attorneys who practice health law usually focus on transactional work, regulatory compliance, or litigation. Depending on their specialty, health law attorneys may represent nearly any individual or organization involved in the provision of healthcare, or anyone who has had a problem related to the healthcare they have received.
Health law attorneys handle a multitude of issues. Even the most specialized practices in this field require familiarity with a variety of subjects due to its complex and ever-changing nature. Health law attorneys may advise their clients on how to proceed in the face of ethical dilemmas, review staff bylaws, counsel clients on how to avoid errors, handle credentialing issues, work out problems involving hospital staff, represent clients in business deals, or provide advice on disciplinary matters. Alternatively, they might explain to their clients how to comply with applicable regulations; provide representation in a medical malpractice, fraud, breach of contract, labor, or real estate case; or appear before regulatory bodies like the Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, and state agencies. "You can do basically anything in health law that you want to do," explains Sim Kaur '07, who serves as in-house counsel for Sutter Health.
Attorneys who practice health law can expect to meet with clients, draft and review contracts, analyze laws and regulations, conduct research, and write legal documents on a daily basis. They may also prepare for litigation or an administrative hearing. A major component of healthcare law is monitoring legislation that may affect the industry — the statutes and regulations that govern healthcare providers are constantly evolving. Thus, some attorneys devote their careers to developing legislative strategies, drafting legislation, meeting with legislators, participating in committee hearings, and educating clients' employees and the public about the law on behalf of hospitals and other healthcare organizations.
"You have to learn a lot about the medical industry," reflects Nancy Pheng Street '05, an attorney at the California Department of Managed Health Care. Health law professionals must understand medical procedures and practices in order to handle the transactional and legal aspects. It is important that people who choose to practice health law feel comfortable working in such a dynamic field.
Students who would like to practice health law should take classes in a broad range of subjects, since health law incorporates a variety of traditional practice areas (torts, contracts, employment law, and taxation, for example). Legal writing classes are also highly recommended, since health law attorneys are regularly required to draft legal documents. A background in science can be helpful because it may allow attorneys to understand medical issues more easily, but it is not required. Business experience is also an asset in this field since healthcare providers are ultimately businesses, which need to ensure their continued financial well-being when making legal decisions.
Becoming involved with a health-related organization can give job applicants a head start in the employment process. An internship at a government agency that is involved in healthcare matters or a position with a firm that has a health law practice group can serve the same purpose, in addition to providing students with practical experience. It is also advisable to keep up with developments in the industry by reading health-related journals and websites, as well as general interest newspapers. Membership in the American Bar Association Section of Health Law provides students with health law updates and articles.