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, medical malpractice, patient protection, and tax planning, among others. Attorneys who practice health law usually focus on transactional work, regulatory compliance, or litigation. Their potential clients are numerous; depending on their specialty, health law attorneys may represent essentially any individual or organization involved in the provision of healthcare—including physicians, dentists, nurses, hospitals, nursing homes, HMOs, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and the government—or anyone who has had a problem related to the healthcare they have received.
Health law attorneys handle a multitude of issues. Most narrow their practice in some way, but 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. Often, 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 Kennaday, Leavitt and Daponde. "You learn about medical procedures, surgeries, et cetera. You have to know that end of [the healthcare industry] to do the transactional and legal side of it." Health law attorneys like that their practice is so multifaceted and that their work is always changing. It is important that people who choose to practice health law feel comfortable working in such a dynamic field.
Frequently, a law student's academic training, work experience, or family background sparks an interest in health law. 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, to name a few). Legal writing classes are also highly recommended, since health law attorneys are regularly required to draft legal documents. A science background can be helpful because it sometimes allows attorneys to understand medical issues more quickly, but it is not required. Business experience is also an asset in this field, since healthcare providers are businesses which need to ensure their continued financial well-being when making legal decisions.
Health law employers look for candidates who have a demonstrated interest in the healthcare field. Therefore, 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 valuable practical experience. Students who are knowledgeable about healthcare will stand out to employers, so 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.
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, to name a few). Legal writing classes are also highly recommended, since health law attorneys are regularly required to draft legal documents. A science background can be helpful because it sometimes allows attorneys to understand medical issues more quickly, but it is not required. Business experience is also an asset in this field, since healthcare providers are businesses that need to ensure their continued financial well-being when making legal decisions.
Breadth and Depth
- Administrative Law
- Bioethics and the Law
- Federal Income Taxation
- Health Law Policy
- Insurance Law
- Public Health Law
- Sexual Orientation and the Law
Externships & Clinics
McGeorge's Field Placement Program allows you to earn law school credit while performing supervised legal work as an extern at nearly 100 approved government agencies, courts or non-profit entities. Visit the Field Placement office on TWEN to learn about our Externship Programs or to schedule an appointment.
Clinics offer faculty-supervised, law office settings in a variety of legal practice areas. Go to the McGeorge Legal Clinics' web pages for the current list of clinics.
- Ability to multitask
- Ability to think quickly
- Analytical skills
- Interpersonal skills
- Team work
Health law employers look for candidates who have a demonstrated interest in the healthcare field. Therefore, becoming involved with a health-related organization during law school 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 valuable practical experience. Students who are knowledgeable about healthcare will stand out to employers, so 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.
Some co-curricular activities that might benefit students interested in health law:
- McGeorge Elder and Health Law Clinic
- McGeorge Health Law Association
- Serve as a law clerk or summer associate at a firm that practices health law.
- Complete an externship for a federal or state agency that does health-related work.
- Demonstrate your interest in health law by volunteering with a healthcare organization.
- Keep up with developments in the healthcare field by reading newspapers (both general interest and legal), bar journals, and bar association newsletters. FindLaw has compiled a list of health law journals which you can find at http://stu.findlaw.com/journals/health.html.
Practice Settings & Clients
Health law is most commonly practiced in major metropolitan areas — especially state capitals — and Washington, D.C. Health law attorneys work for law firms of all sizes: government at all levels, professional trade organizations such as the American Hospital Association or American Dental Association, non-profit organizations that deal with health-related rights, such as reproductive rights or rights for the mentally ill, and as in-house counsel for hospitals, insurance providers, managed care companies, pharmaceutical companies, and medical equipment companies. In-house positions are usually reserved for attorneys who have acquired several years of health law experience elsewhere.
Large or mid-size firms sometimes have a health law practice group to represent organizations that are involved in the healthcare industry. Small firms or solo practitioners rarely represent organizations; they are much more likely to represent individual clients. Many government entities employ attorneys who practice health law. These include the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, California Department of Public Health, California Department of Healthcare Services, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the Office of the Attorney General, to name a few. Professional trade organizations, such as the American Hospital Association and American Dental Association, and other non-profit entities that deal with health-related issues, often have in-house counsel.
Because of the myriad of people and organizations affected by healthcare in the United States, many different groups require the assistance of health law attorneys. Most attorneys who practice health law represent only one or two of the various types of clients listed below.
- Acute care centers
- Ambulatory surgical centers
- Dental practices
- Health insurance companies
- Health maintenance organizations (HMOs)
- Non-profit entities that deal with health-related issues
- Nursing homes
- Pharmaceutical companies and other companies involved in the medical industry
- Psychiatric centers
- American Bar Association Health Law Section
- American Bar Association, Business Law Section, Health Law Committee
- American Health Lawyers Association
- California Society for Health Law Attorneys
- Healthcare Financial Management Association
- United States Department of Health and Human Services
- California Department of Public Health
- California Department of Healthcare Services
- Healthlawyers.org has a job bank where employers can post job listings for openings in health law.
- American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics
- American Society for Pharmacy Law
- The Century Foundation Health Policy Watch Page
- Health Affairs
- Kaiser Health News
- DLA Piper Healthcare Enforcement and Compliance Matters blog
- DLA Piper Healthcare Law Matters blog
- The Sacramento Business Journal is another good resource for people who are interested in health law because it often profiles healthcare companies.
Regina Cabral Jones
Associate Attorney, DLA Piper in Sacramento
It could be said that Regina Cabral Jones owes her career as a health law attorney to her first job after college. That job happened to be with Sutter Health, a non-profit provider of healthcare services in Northern California. As a legal secretary to an assistant general counsel ...more >
Nancy Pheng Street
Staff Counsel, California Department of Managed Health Care in Sacramento
When Nancy Pheng Street decided to go to law school, she had no idea that her legal career would one day require her to be intimately familiar with the medical industry.more >
Counsel, Sutter Health in Sacramento
When she entered law school, Sim Kaur planned to practice corporate law. It seemed like the most logical field to pursue for someone with a Bachelor's degree in Economics, a Master of Business Administration (MBA), and work experience ...more >