Careers in health law are diverse and often surprising

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Positive prognosis

The area of ​​law that focuses specifically on healthcare is diverse, challenging and ever-changing, and presents opportunities for growth at a time when some areas of law are experiencing stagnation in employment. But many law students are unaware of these possibilities, which range from malpractice litigation to end-of-life planning; from medical record compliance to helping people navigate the complexities of the mental health system. And these opportunities are only expected to continue to expand.

Barbara Noah says she has taken a winding path in her career as a law professor, specializing in the rapidly evolving world of healthcare law.

“When I graduated in law, I was thinking more about the style of practice and the kinds of things I would like to do,” said Noah, professor of health law in the Faculty of Law at Western University. New England (WNEU), at a recent roundtable discussion on careers in health law.

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1990, she was not interested in litigation and instead worked for a Washington, DC-based law firm with a strong focus on regulatory compliance.

“Our role was to advise clients, which were mostly pharmaceutical and medical device companies, on how to comply with regulations issued by the Food and Drug Administration,” she explained. “It wasn’t about getting new drugs approved; these were already approved products and we make sure that customers follow the proper safety rules. “

She found the field so interesting that she eventually began a long career, first at the University of Florida and since 2005 at WNEU, teaching the many facets of healthcare law.

To name a few, healthcare lawyers interpret the complex healthcare regulations and laws that govern the administration of healthcare services, advising hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, insurers and other providers on matters ranging from licensing, reimbursement and risk management to malpractice litigation and general business management.

A panelist to the WNEU event, Judith Feinberg Albright, who works for Devine, Millimet & Branch in Manchester, NH, began her career as a paramedic before enrolling in law school with a particular interest in to health law. She developed a secondary interest in litigation through mock trial experiences during these years, and now defends healthcare providers against malpractice claims in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

“I see a lot of people in health law with non-traditional backgrounds, people with previous careers in health – like you see engineers and architects in intellectual property law,” he said. she noted. “It’s a pretty diverse group of people. “

Some jobs are more unique than others. Deb Grossman, another panelist, is legal counsel with the Physician Health Services, a branch of the Massachusetts Medical Society that helps physicians cope with personal and behavioral health issues and get back to work.

“Doctors don’t like lawyers very much; they see them as a threat of some kind, ”Grossman said. “But I want to show solidarity. I have held different roles which were not always favorable, but now I am in a very accommodating position.

After working for a large law firm earlier in her career, she explained, she set out in search of a lifestyle change and accepted a job with the state responsible for l ‘authorization to practice health professionals, before taking up their current position.

“I became a much better lawyer,” she said, telling the students gathered at the roundtable that, yes, she was making less money working for the state, “but what I got gained experience and autonomy as a lawyer, I think that was really invaluable. “

This is just one example, Noah told BusinessWest afterwards, of how an evolving health field is cultivating plenty of opportunities for attorneys that students might not hear about regularly during their years of work. law studies – that’s why the panel was formed.

“What is included in the whole health law is broader than people initially think; they’re thinking about medical malpractice or something to do with health insurance, but it’s a much larger area than people generally understand, ”she said. “And a number of these aspects of health care law are changing right now, and they could be areas of increasing demand for career purposes.”

A different world

One of these evolving areas of the law is healthcare compliance – for example, how hospitals comply with the privacy rules of the Medicare Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

“Although HIPAA has been around for a while, every hospital, regardless of size, has a compliance office that ensures that medical confidentiality requirements are met,” Noah said. “And now with the move to electronic health records, it’s created a whole new set of questions for HIPAA in information sharing, and I hear data security is a big issue impacting compliance. . “

The second area of ​​growth concerns the overlap between the law of the elderly and the law of health, mainly due to the aging of the baby boomer population. Not only are older Americans making plans for their estates, Noah said, but they are becoming increasingly aware of their own mortality and are factoring in issues such as advance care directives, powers of attorney. health care and end-of-life preferences, such as no-resuscitation orders and decisions about nutrition and respiratory support.

recent roundtable at WNEU School of Law

From left to right, Barbara Noah, Judith Fineberg Albright, Deb Grossman and Dylan Mawdsley discuss their very different careers in health law at a recent panel discussion at the WNEU School of Law.

“There are all kinds of questions, and more attention is focused on them,” Noah said. “But there’s always a real reluctance to do a lot of advance care planning until the wrong diagnosis is made. This is an issue that will require more well-trained lawyers in the future to reach this large and aging baby boomer population.

The third big change that could affect healthcare law is, of course, the ever-evolving Affordable Care Act, which was threatened by the recent federal tax law that repealed its individual mandate.

“We are tracking how the Affordable Care Act is being changed, amended and manipulated, and how this affects the health care delivery system. It’s a moving target, ”Noah explained. “Without the individual mandate, if healthy people don’t buy anymore, the pool is sicker, and that drives up prices.”

According to Nick Sumski, LSAT teacher for Kaplan Test Prep, healthcare law is a must-have legal area because everyone has to touch the healthcare system at some point in their life.

“Healthcare law is a growing field with an incredible amount of opportunity, especially in the years to come,” he noted on Kaplan’s website last month. “No one knows how this is all going to work in the future, and there will be a great demand for lawyers to help figure it out.”

Dylan Mawdsley, another panelist at the WNEU event, is Deputy General Counsel for the state’s Department of Mental Health, advising DMH staff in their decision-making and compliance with the law, and representing the agency before inheritance and family courts.

He first went to college majoring in political science, but then moved on to law school, starting his career in estate planning – just as the Great Recession hit, which was a big deal. bad times for this area of ​​the law. The work he does now, often serving as a link between physicians, patients and the justice system, is rewarding and has a great deal of autonomy.

“I really feel like the work we do is a good job,” he said, “helping people get treatment and services that they wouldn’t have been able to access otherwise”.

Meaningful work

When Grossman was in law school, she recalls, she learned a lot about corporate law and litigation, but not much else, and certainly not what she does today.

“This job slot is very, very satisfying, it’s important work and the schedule allows me to raise my children,” she said. “Law students should know that there is a whole world of jobs out there that aren’t the typical types of jobs in law firms and corporations. “

Sumski said students shouldn’t feel like they have to choose a major right away.

“Keep an open mind in these first year classes; you might be surprised at which area of ​​law ultimately interests you, ”he noted. “If you are interested in health law, however, you should take some introductory courses on the subject and see if there is a particular aspect of the field that interests you. Health care law is an incredibly large field that touches on many different aspects of the law. There are a lot of opportunities in the area. The lawyer job market is improving, but it’s not great, so it makes sense to go into an area that is in demand.

This request, Noah said, is driven in part by the fact that the health care law is so interconnected, with so many moving parts.

“Any student embarking on health law will need a thorough knowledge of the particular area they are focusing on,” she noted, “but also a broad and contextual understanding of how the whole works. of the health care financing and delivery system in this country – and it is a very messy, complex and inefficient system.

And an ever-evolving program, offering plenty of opportunities for law students and those looking to change careers, willing to think outside the box.

Joseph Bednar can be contacted at [email protected]

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