Pros and Cons of a Medical Lawyer Career
As a medical lawyer, also called a health or healthcare lawyer, you would be an attorney whose work centers on the legal aspects of the healthcare industry. The table below outlines the most common pros and cons of being a medical lawyer.
|Pros of Being a Medical Lawyer|
|High salary (2014 annual median salary was about $114,000)*|
|You could work in many geographic areas**|
|Employment rate is consistent with the national average (Job rate for lawyers is projected to increase 10% during 2012 through 2022)*|
|Varied work opportunities are available through specializations***|
|Cons of Being a Medical Lawyer|
|Extended work hours (beyond 40 hours weekly) occur frequently*|
|Lengthy educational requirements (at least seven years of schooling)*|
|Continuing education often needed to maintain licensure (required by 45 states)*|
|Work may be very stressful during court trials*|
Sources: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics*, Online job postings (obtained April 2012)** and Stanford University***
As a medical lawyer, you will primarily be concerned with the legal rights of patients and medical professionals. You might act as a litigation lawyer in the healthcare field, handling legal disputes between two parties. You may represent clients in court on matters involving patient care, healthcare provider activities, medical equipment and pharmaceuticals. You may also be responsible for conducting legal research and preparing documents.
Stanford University reports that you may choose to focus on specific aspects of healthcare law, including medical ethics, intellectual property, regulatory law and corporate/nonprofit law. Work in medical ethics generally regards the conduct and decisions made by healthcare providers in their treatment of patients. Regulatory law pertains to government imposed standards, guidelines and protocols in the healthcare industry. Intellectual property law involves legal entitlements and/or ownership of items such as medical patents and inventions. Corporate and nonprofit law centers on the business management of healthcare.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2014, the annual median salary for lawyers as a whole was approximately $114,000. The lower 10 percentile of attorney wage earners received about $55,000 that same year. The highest 75 percentile earned a 2014 annual median salary of around $172,000.
What Are the Career Requirements?
The BLS reports that in order to become a lawyer, you will need to obtain a juris doctor (J.D.) degree from a school that is accredited by the American Bar Association. A bachelor's degree is usually required for admission into law school. However, even if you apply to a law school that only requires a certain amount of college coursework for entry, having a bachelor's degree may be advantageous because of the highly competitive nature of law school admissions.
Your concentration in healthcare can be obtained in one of two ways. One option is to acquire a health law degree through a dual degree program. Single programs that yield both a master's and a J.D. degree in law and public health are available at some law schools. Another option is to obtain a general law degree and then complete a separate master's degree program in a healthcare related discipline. This option may be more appropriate for those who already have a law degree and then later decide to concentrate on healthcare law. Also, the BLS reports that most states require that lawyers participate in continuing education after graduation. While these requirements vary among states, continuing education coursework is usually required every 1-3 years.
In order to practice law, you must be admitted to the licensing jurisdiction or 'bar' in the state in which you will work. Admittance requirements vary with each state; however, you must pass one or more bar examinations facilitated by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. If you would like to work in multiple states, you typically have to take a separate exam for each state, according to the BLS.
What Employers Are Looking For
You could work for many different types of employers, including law firms, healthcare organizations, government agencies, private businesses and non-profit organizations. Even with recent law school graduates, many employers prefer candidates with practical experience, which can be obtained while you are in school through internships and other part-time work opportunities. Some of the job opportunities in your field that were posted April 2012 are as follows:
- A hospital in Orlando, FL, wants to hire an associate general counsel with a J.D. degree and a minimum of five years of work experience. You must also have knowledge of hospitals and be an active member of the Florida Bar.
- A university in Fairfax, VA, wants to hire a health administration and policy adjunct. Applicants must be licensed lawyers in the state of Virginia and have a master's degree in a related (health) discipline. Professional law experience and teaching experience is preferred.
- A manufacturing company in Princeton, NJ, is seeking an associate general counsel with a J.D. degree and at least 15 years of experience. You must have direct experience with the Food and Drug Administration and be a member of at least one state bar.
How to Stand Out in the Field
Joining a health-related trade association, such as the American Health Lawyers Association, may help you stand out as a medical lawyer in the job field. Trade association memberships generally offer benefits that include access to job boards and professional networking opportunities. Also, staying current on health industry standards, technologies and protocols that are associated with your specialization (beyond general continuing education requirements for lawyers) may also be advantageous.
Alternative Career Paths
If you would like to work in the legal field, but you are put off by the time commitment involved with becoming a lawyer, then perhaps working as paralegal may be an option. You would provide administrative support to lawyers, which may include duties such as conducting research and drafting documents. Your minimum degree requirement is a 2-year associate's degree in paralegal studies. The 2011 annual median salary for paralegals was $47,000, according to the BLS. They can expect to see an employment increase of 18% over the 2010-2020 decade.
Occupational Health and Safety Technician
If you are interested in work that involves public health initiatives, but the cost requirement of graduate studies is a disincentive, then you may be interested in becoming an occupational health and safety technician. You would help health and safety inspectors ensure that businesses comply with government regulations that pertain to workplace health and safety. On-the-job-training, an associate's degree or professional certificate are acceptable for entry-level positions. The annual median salary for occupational health and safety technicians was $46,000 in 2011. Jobs in the field are predicted to grow 13% between the years of 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS.