7 Tips for Starting a Successful Health Law Practice

Lawrence E. Singer, Kristin Finn, and Megan Bess
Because certain areas of health law are new to everyone, it is possible for you to become an expert fairly quickly.

Because certain areas of health law are new to everyone, it is possible for you to become an expert fairly quickly.

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The practice of health law distinguishes itself from other areas of law by several factors.

Health law is a practice area organized around an industry, not a body of law. Thus, competent health lawyers need to have a thorough understanding of the health care industry, because as the industry changes, the laws and policies that affect health law change. This requires that health law attorneys understand the business of health care. Without knowing how health care works—how services and products are delivered and paid for—lawyers cannot provide adequate advice. Health care attorneys are routinely involved in strategic and business counseling with their clients, necessitating a keen understanding of the industry dynamics and key players involved.

Health law is one of the last remaining fields of general practice

Typical health lawyers have a knowledge base that includes many topics, such as bioethics, corporate, insurance, administrative, Medicare/Medicaid, tax, privacy, health information, and food and drug law. In addition, a number of specialty areas within health law have arisen, including health law criminal law, antitrust, bankruptcy, life sciences, labor and employment, medical education, and many others. For attorneys entering the field, this diversity not only creates an exciting work environment, but it means that a multiplicity of skills is needed. There is no one “mold” for a successful health lawyer, but rather room for all interests and talents.

Health law is constantly changing

As the industry changes, so do the issues impacting the practice of health law. No health lawyer today is doing the same thing that he or she was doing one year ago, or even six months ago. The field is exceptionally dynamic, with clients constantly bringing new issues requiring legal advice to the fore. This environment of constant change can work to the advantage of attorneys who are new to the field—because certain areas of health law are new to everyone, it is possible for you to become an expert fairly quickly.

Health law practice is challenging

The stakes are big, sometimes literally life and death. Even in a corporate transaction, the impact of legal counseling can be significant. A new health care facility may be created, needed medical providers recruited to provide services for an underserved community, or an important pharmaceutical joint venture arrangement created. The fact that at the end of the day real people will be impacted by the work of health lawyers makes the practice of health law especially important and meaningful.

Health law is exceptionally entrepreneurial

As the head of any law firm would likely attest, the most entrepreneurial attorneys in the firm are the health lawyers. Health attorneys spend a significant amount of time keeping abreast of the field and sharing their knowledge with clients and colleagues through speeches, conferences, writings, and other means. Because the law and policy are continually changing, health lawyers become expert in identifying new areas of focus and reinventing their practice to respond to client needs.

Health lawyers are an exceptionally collegial bunch

While there are always exceptions, as a rule, attorneys who practice health law truly want to be in the field and understand that the health law bar (while numbering many thousands) is indeed a “small world.” An ethos of respect and civility, indeed kindness, pervades the health law bar. This is especially true in the welcome extended to new attorneys entering the field.

The practice of health law is just plain fun

Yes, there will always be some difficult days in the practice of law. But, generally speaking, as a health care attorney you have the privilege of working on very important matters with highly sophisticated, intelligent clients who present interesting dilemmas and who genuinely appreciate your ability to wend your way through a myriad of complicated laws and industry practices to develop an approach that satisfies their needs. For an individual practicing law, it does not get much better than this.

Reprinted with permission from Careers in Health Lawby Lawrence E Singer, Kristin Finn, and Megan Bess ©2014 by the American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any or portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.

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Lawrence E. Singer

Larry Singer is the director of the Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy at Loyola University Chicago School of Law.  

Megan Bess

Megan Bess is the associate director of the Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy at Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

Kristin Finn

Kristin Finn is the program coordinator of the Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy at Loyola University Chicago School of Law.