The broad range of legal issues and diverse practice settings make health and biomedical law compelling, and require practitioners to employ a wide array of legal skills. The health and biomedical field concerns the role the law plays in a variety of circumstances, including: promoting the quality of health care; organizing the delivery and financing of health care; assuring adequate control of the cost of health care; promoting access to necessary health care; protecting the rights of individuals who receive care and provide care; conducting research to improve the products, services, and methods for delivering health care; and representing the interests of organizations, institutions, and agencies that provide products and services used in the health care system.
Health and biomedical lawyers must be conversant on all of these subjects, but typically develop some areas of expertise within these broad parameters. Areas of specialization can include: the organization and finance of the health care system; private health insurance; public insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid; the regulation of health care professionals and health care institutions such as hospitals, managed care organizations, insurance companies, pharmaceutical and device manufacturers; the regulation of research activities in all life sciences fields including stem cell research and nanotechnology; and the local, state, federal and international governmental entities and private accrediting bodies that regulate all of this activity. In addition, the field encompasses the criminal and other constraints on compensation arrangements for health care organizations and physicians; the tax status of health care institutions; and transactional arrangements among health care entities and professionals. The field also comprises issues such as: ethical and legal issues arising in patient care and research situations; how medical personnel and insurers make decisions of medical necessity; the role of grievance and appeals when services are denied; and the role of liability for provision of health care services. Lawyers practicing in the health and biomedical law field have unique opportunities to work in the area where public policy and private ordering of transactional arrangements converge.
Given the breadth of substantive law areas covered by the field, it is not surprising that practitioners must develop a deep and extensive variety of practice skills. Strong, basic writing and analytical skills provide the foundation for successful health and biomedical law practice. Writing takes a variety of forms, depending on the practice context, and can involve: drafting of statutes and regulations; preparing comment letters on proposed regulatory initiatives; preparing detailed analytical advice memoranda; drafting effective appeal letters; drafting contracts and other transactional documents; and drafting pleadings and memoranda of law in litigation proceedings. Skills in advising and counseling on transactions and legal compliance are also essential. The overall practice of health and biomedical law demands the ability to negotiate successfully with private and public entities and to conduct investigations of disputed processes and procedures. Certain areas, such as health care fraud and antitrust practice, may call upon litigation skills in the criminal and civil realms, including prosecutorial skills.
The health and biomedical lawyer may find himself or herself working in a number of practice settings: private practice, ranging from small offices to large, multinational law firms; government agencies, including all levels of state and federal prosecutors' offices; private regulatory bodies; legislative and other policy offices; public interest groups; industry, trade or professional organizations; legal services and other public interest organizations; and in-house settings within insurance, pharmaceutical, medical device, life sciences, hospitals, academic medical centers.
Non-Course Related Opportunities
Externships in any of the practice settings described previously would help build a student's skills and experience in the field that would be attractive to employers.
Particularly for students interested in litigation oriented practice areas in the health law field, participation on the National Health Law Moot Court Team would be valuable experience. The National Health Law Moot Court Competition is based at Southern Illinois University Law School, which hosts a national competition every year in Carbondale, Illinois. The team or teams are selected during the prior spring semester of each academic year, the problem becomes available in August, and briefs are due in early October. The oral advocacy competition takes place in early November.
Participation as a staff writer or editor of this student-edited journal would add valuable research, writing, and administrative experience to a student's portfolio.
Students enrolled in the Health Law Clinic will represent chronically ill and disabled individuals and their family members in a range of litigation and administrative matters such as adult guardianship cases in Probate and Family Court, appeals of disability benefit denials before the Social security administration, and other health benefit and policy issues.