Despite a sluggish legal job market in recent years, some fields are seeing more growth than others. Health law is one of those legal fields that continues to grow.
Health law runs the gamut from interpreting new legislation for employers and providers, to representing clients who were denied Social Security benefits, to analyzing rapidly evolving topics in public health policy and bioethics.
So whether you’re interested in working for large hospital systems, pharmaceutical companies, or in private practice, you can find your niche as a health care lawyer in this growing field.
Q&A: How do I get into health law?
We caught up with Nick Sumski, Kaplan LSAT teacher extraordinaire and a graduate of Suffolk University Law School. We asked Nick about how he’s pursuing a career as a health lawyer.
Q: Why did you choose health law? Did you know this is what you wanted to do when you entered law school?
A: I really wasn’t sure where I wanted to take my legal education throughout most of my first year of law school. I just wanted to make sure I had a job once I got out of law school. I didn’t figure [health law] out until I studied abroad in Sweden in the summer after my first year of law school, where I took a comparative health law class with Swedish and American students. We took a critical look at both the American and Swedish health care systems. Discussing the two vastly different approaches and the benefits and challenges in each system was an eye-opening experience that spurred my interest in this field.
Health law is such a big growth field with an incredible amount of opportunity, especially in the coming years. No one knows how it’s all going to work moving forward, and there is going to be a big demand for lawyers to help figure it out.
Health law is an interesting and compelling area of law, and it’s a useful area of law, too. Everyone has to touch the health care system at some point in their lives.
Q: How are you preparing for your future career in health law? What courses are you taking?
A: I took a few classes in health law, health technology and privacy law, and health law advocacy at Suffolk. The technology class was really interesting. Part of the problem with health care now is that it’s very poorly managed with giant systems that are very resistant to technological change.
With cloud computing, [health care management] should be much easier and more transparent for patients, but it’s not. Learning about laws and regulations like HIPAA and the HITECH Acts’ attempts to modernize the health care management system with twenty-first century technological realities was enlightening.
In health law, we learned a lot about the role of informed consent. Most any agreement you enter into in everyday life requires informed consent. But for a health care lawyer, informed consent is a much more difficult concept because there are all these terminologies and medical jargon that the average person isn’t going to understand. Did the patient who consented to a complex medical procedure, and thus also consented to all the inherent risks of complications from that procedure, truly understand what he agreed to?
Law school doesn’t always cover ethics and morality explicitly, but these more abstract topics necessarily arise for health care lawyers. This fusion of black letter law and morality makes health law a particularly thought-provoking field of study.
Q: How did your summer internship complement your legal education? Did the role met your expectations?
A: My internship was in the compliance department, which is a subset of the legal department. The internship far exceeded my expectations and helped affirm my interest in this particular area of law. There are thousands of laws that currently govern health care and technology. During my summer internship, I conducted research on some of these relevant state and federal laws. Several of my projects directly applied information I learned in my health law coursework at Suffolk. Learning how to apply my academic knowledge to “real world” problems in an in-house counsel setting was a valuable and rewarding experience. While working in compliance, I also gained some exposure to employment law matters, such as issues relating to the Americans with Disabilities Act and analyzing non-compete provisions.
Perhaps most importantly, I acquired practical health care lawyering skills while working in compliance, like communicating with a team of lawyers and also learning how to manage a high-volume workload.
Working with athenahealth was an excellent learning experience for me. I like the idea of being on the cutting edge of health care and technology; it’s exciting because there is so much promise to improve the way we do things.
Q: Any advice for current pre-laws interested in going to law school to become health care lawyers?
A: Don’t worry about your specialization in law school because everyone graduates with the same degree, a J.D. Your diploma doesn’t specify an expertise. Though most 1Ls across the country take virtually the same fundamental classes in their first year of law school, you’ll have the opportunity in your second and third year of law school to branch out and take classes in particular fields of law.
Don’t feel like you have to pick any kind of specialization before you go to law school. Keep an open mind in those first year classes; you might be surprised by the area of law that ultimately interests you.
If you are interested in health law, however, you should take some introductory classes in the subject matter and see if a particular aspect of the field interests you. Health law is an incredibly broad field that touches on many different aspects of law. There’s a lot of opportunity in the area. The job market for lawyers is getting better, but it’s not great, so it makes sense to go into an area that is in demand.