Medical Lawyer: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for medical lawyers. Get the facts about job duties, education and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Juris Doctor degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Medical Lawyer?

Medical lawyers practice law as it relates to health care policy, legislation, advocacy, reform and related subjects. Lawyers can act as both advocates and advisors for clients in courts, before government agencies, and in private matters. They are responsible for communicating with clients and colleagues, researching and interpreting laws, preparing and presenting legal documents such lawsuits, and overseeing subordinates. Medical lawyers can work with a variety of clients, including private citizens and non-profit organizations, on issues involving medical malpractice or health policy.

The following chart provides an overview about becoming a medical lawyer.

Degree Required Juris Doctor (J.D.)
Training Required Almost all states require ongoing continuing legal education training
Key Skills Good research, communication, analytical, writing and speaking skills
Licensure or Certification All states require licensure for lawyers
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% for all lawyers*
Median Salary (2015) $115,820 for all lawyers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Does a Medical Lawyer Do?

While some people may believe that medical lawyers are primarily concerned with suing private physicians or hospitals for malpractice, current changes in the medical field seem to indicate otherwise. The Open Society Foundations state that public health is as an area that requires an increased legal presence; advocacy is needed on a global as well as national scale (www.soros.org).

The Open Society Foundations also state that lawyers may assist with a variety of civil and human rights issues that directly relate to medical care. Some areas that may require advocacy, litigation or legislation include women's reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, intravenous drug use, mental health and sex trafficking. Advocacy may also include harm reduction, vaccinations for under-represented groups such as the Roma and palliative care for those suffering with chronic or terminal diseases.

Medical lawyers may address issues caused by an absence or breakdown in public health care delivery systems. According to the Open Society Foundations, this breakdown could be caused by the mishandling of health care funds, a lack of government commitment and discrimination of marginalized persons. If a particular group is denied representation or access to the policy-making process, this may also be an area where your skills as a medical lawyer might be needed.

How Do I Become a Lawyer?

There are several steps to earning a Juris Doctor and becoming a lawyer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that most law schools will require a bachelor's degree and stress the importance of attending an American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited law school (www.bls.gov). Even though some schools may not require the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT, the BLS indicates that this entrance exam is usually required by ABA accredited schools.

After completing three years of law school, you'll need to pass the bar exam. Since state requirements may vary, the BLS says it's important to review the specific guidelines for the state within which you'd like to practice. This information is available through the National Conference of Bar Examiners. Once you've begun to practice, the BLS reports that as of 2016, almost all states require you to engage in continued learning to remain up-to-date with legal issues. While continued education requirements vary, you may need to take yearly courses, some of which may be available online.

To gain better insight into medical law, you'll probably want to attend one of the annual conferences provided by the American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics (www.aslme.org). Another option you may want to explore is through the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys (ABPLA), which provides opportunities for Board certification in Medical Professional Liability or Legal Professional Liability (www.abpla.org). After meeting the ABPLA's application requirements, you'll need to take an exam.

Where Might I Find Work?

The services of a medical lawyer can be utilized in various fields and organizations. One example is the American Bar Association's (ABA) Medical-Legal Partnerships (MLP) Pro Bono Support Project, which assists low-income families and trains hospital and health care staff to better address client needs (www.americanbar.org). The MLP program uses a holistic approach that acknowledges the complex relationship between health and legal issues. Since stress may cause or exacerbate existing medical conditions such as asthma, this partnership's goal is to address underlying legal issues that may be cause or prolong such illnesses or conditions.

The ABA doesn't only cite pro-bono opportunities, however. Other employment possibilities exist with civil legal aid agencies, law schools and medical schools. Some of the free legal services provided by these clinics include issues relating to family law, guardianship, housing, immigration, public benefits and wills. In some cases, you may provide basic advice, while in others, you may represent someone with a more lengthy case.

If you're interested in working on behalf of veterinary research, animal welfare and related issues, you may want to explore the field of veterinary medical law. According to the American Veterinary Medical Law Association, there's a need for lawyers to handle a variety of issues that include corporate and employment law, land use and zoning as well as animal care and veterinary procedures (www.avmla.org). Lawyers may also be needed to address malpractice cases.

What Salary Could I Expect?

Lawyer salaries will vary upon place of employment, years of experience and other factors. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) May 2015 wage report for lawyers indicated that they earned a median wage of $55.69 per hour or $115,820 per year (www.bls.gov).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several careers other than lawyer which are related to the law. For instance, arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators work outside of the court system to resolve disputes between parties by facilitating negotiations. These require only a bachelor's degree to practice and do not have to attend law school. Paralegals and legal assistants work to support lawyers by organizing files, conducting research, and writing documents. Paralegals and legal assistants require only an associate's degree.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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