Since we published Health Law: Career Opportunities in a Fast-Changing Environment,Volume 3 of our 21ST CENTURY LEGAL CAREERS SERIES (available from Amazon.com https://amazon.com/Health-Law-Opportunities-Fast-Changing-Environment/dp/1946228044/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=health+law%3A+legal+careers&qid=1555944546&s=gateway&sr=8-2 and also from the National Association for Law Placement https://nalp.org/productdetail/?productID=219), health law has undergone a series of changes that, if anything, have complicated both healthcare and health insurance coverage as well as the expanding field of health law. To say that healthcare, per se has advanced would be a stretch. Health insurance is far too expensive for most Americans. Costs have continued to increase faster than the general inflation rate. Prescription drug costs are still higher than anywhere else in the developed world, and needless restrictions on negotiating lower prices (e.g., Medicare) keep them unacceptably inflated. The Affordable Care Act is fighting off determined assaults by the Trump administration to kill it and is losing that battle. Opioids are still a scourge and the deaths and despair they cause remain unabated as the administration and Congress do little to address the epidemic. Our defenses against infectious diseases remain porous, as evidenced by the anti-vaccination movement, a manifestation of the modern revival of nineteenth century Know-Nothingism. The privacy of personal health information is under siege by malware, viruses and bots. Meanwhile, health technology advances far beyond the ability of the law to understand or catch up.
What all this means is a chaotic situation in which health lawyers thrive.
Here is what we said about what makes health law so hot in Health Law: Career Opportunities in a Fast-Changing Environment. Each “hotness” criterion cited below is followed by a current update (in bold italics) as to its continued validity.
1. Supply and Demand. Ideally, the demand for individuals who can do the work should exceed the supply of qualified individuals.
Demand for health lawyers is high because of the following factors:
Demographics. The U.S. population is “aging up” to age 65 at the mind-boggling rate of 10,000 Baby Boomers every day. This demographic tsunami began in 2011 and will continue without let up until 2029. The older the person, the more healthcare they require.
We’re still 10 years out from 2029, so there is a lot of growth yet to come in the population requiring more healthcare. In addition, aggregate morbidity is increasing in all age-based demographic groups due in large part to the opioid epidemic and anti-vacc agitation.
Technology. Virtually every new technological innovation in healthcare creates legal issues that must be resolved. Technological advances happen so fast that it sometimes takes the law years to catch up, by which time new technologies create entirely new “law-tech gaps.” Combination products that meld medical devices and medicines are one such example that caused the FDA to scramble in order to determine how to cope with them, in turn prompting pharmaceutical and medical device companies to hire additional attorneys to nurture the product approvals through the complex FDA procedures.
Technology has not slowed down. Telemedicine is expanding as state legislature awareness of the utility of permitting it rises and the necessity of regulating it becomes apparent. The Food and Drug Administration is being besieged by an increase in combination product applications. Robotic surgery is growing. And much more.
Legislation. Major laws such as HIPAA and the ACA turned healthcare inside out and are still causing considerable legal turmoil years after enactment. The unintended consequences of any landmark legislation are bonanzas for attorneys.
While Congress sits on its hands, state legislatures are partially filling the gap with a spate of new laws addressing abortion, Medicaid expansion, state-run insurance marketplaces, e-cigarette regulation, nursing home regulation, biometric privacy, health care rate caps, etc. And then there are the “Medicare-for-all” proposals from the presidential wannabes which, if they came to pass, would completely upend the healthcare economy.
2.Number of Job Opportunities. The practice area should offer a large number of job opportunities relative to other practice options.
The healthcare industry is immense, accounting for 20 percent of U.S. GDP. It is generating legal job opportunities at an incredible rate.
At this writing—
- The American Health Lawyers Association https://careercenter.healthlawyers.org/ lists 95 health law attorney jobs.
- Indeed.com https://indeed.com/q-Health-Law-Attorney-jobs.html lists 743 health lawyer jobs.
- LawCrossing https://lawcrossing.com lists 893 health attorney and law-related jobs.
These numbers are way up in a short period of time and continue to grow.
3. Sustainability. The practice area should not be a flash in the pan. It should exhibit signs that it will be around beyond the present.
Health law will be around as long as people are around.
The increasing complexity of modern human and pathogenic life means that health law is never going to go away. Example: the two available pneumonia vaccines protect against only 36 of the more than 100 pneumonia strains.
4. An Upward Curve. The practice area should be a growth industry.
Even if no new laws are enacted and technological innovation comes to a screeching halt, health law will continue to expand due to general population growth.
However, along with population growth, new laws are constantly being enacted and technological innovation marches on.
5. Geographic Scope. Jobs should be available nationwide, or at least in a large number of geographic locations.
Health law practice is ubiquitous. It is no longer concentrated in major metropolitan areas. Hospitals everywhere need constant legal input. In my small home town of 10,000 population, several attorneys practice health law.
Today, even hospitals with the smallest number of beds are beset by a host of legal issues requiring both outside and in-house counsel expertise. We used to employ a rough rule-of-thumb that stated that the triggering number of beds for a hospital to have an in-house counsel office was 200. That threshold number is decreasing with every passing year.
6. Relative Ease of Entry. The practice area’s learning curve should not be too steep to be conquered by a novice. Some affordable education or training should be available to supplement basic legal education and experience.
Health law encompasses so many traditional practice areas that virtually any attorney can take his/her education and/or experience in other fields and apply it to health law, be it litigation, transactional, regulatory or other. Moreover, a common medico-legal nexus theme applies in the many administrative forums before which health lawyers practice. A great example is Social Security Disability Income hearings, Medicare hearings, veterans’ disability hearings, and workers’ compensation hearings. What an advocate learns in one of these venues has application in all of the others.
While health law is maturing, this still holds true.
7. Ideally, It Should Be New or Different. The practice area should allow for opportunities for practitioners to be among those who are “first-past-the-post.”
Although health law, per se, is not a new practice area, it keeps generating many new subspecialties (e.g., telemedicine licensing, bioethics, healthcare privacy, hospital-physician practice acquisitions) and cases of first impression (liability for robotic surgery gone awry), opening up opportunities to become an expert in a new field.
As long as health-related technology keeps advancing, new legal issues are never far behind.
8. Distinctive Value Proposition/Competitive Advantage. Practice area knowledge should be able to provide the elements of a unique selling proposition for a job campaign.
Due to high demand for health law expertise, a background in the field causes employers in a variety of sectors to “sit up and take notice.”
Healthcare’s tentacles intrude into virtually every aspect of the national economy, creating new opportunities for health lawyers.
9. Threat Analysis. Is this practice potentially subject to substitution of a human lawyer by a disruptive technology…or something else? And how soon could this happen?
Health law does not lend itself to a high job security risk.
This has not changed. If anything, the human element is now more important than ever.
10. Compensation. Will this practice area allow someone to manage their student debt effectively?
Healthcare is a very deep-pocket industry and is also one where the potential business risks can be very expensive. This translates into relatively high compensation for health lawyers.
This is true not only for mainstream health law practitioners, but also in JD Advantage fields such as Compliance and Risk Management.
In summary, health law is a solid, long-term career opportunity which also opens up many sub-specialties that are going to be around for a very long time.