Health Law Curriculum

Health law is a broad field of practice, not a specialty. Healthcare practice includes topics as disparate as medical malpractice litigation, international tax, regulatory compliance, and constitutional law. Attorneys with knowledge of health care law are frequently sought out by corporate legal departments, law firms, government agencies, trade associations, tech startups, and other organizations. Healthcare attorneys may have transaction practices, litigation practices, regulatory practices, corporate practices, and all other manner of careers. Indeed, graduates of Richmond Law can be found in many of the leading healthcare organizations, including academic medical centers, national healthcare systems, and long-term care providers.

Consistent with the recommendations of the American Healthcare Lawyers Association (AHLA), a well-prepared healthcare attorney will have a foundation in several core areas of law, including patient care, privacy, fraud and abuse, quality improvement, healthcare reimbursement, and human research. Students will want to take additional courses in the substantive fields that most interest them, such as antitrust, business associations, labor and employment, litigation, intellectual property, or tax. Likewise, an externship with a healthcare organization or government agency is encouraged. Students should take advantage of the multiple opportunities to publish articles under the guidance of a faculty member in the healthcare media. Membership in the AHLA (free to students) is encouraged in order to utilize its research materials, publications, mentorship, and job postings. Students are also invited to participate in the annual health law section meeting of the Virginia Bar Association.

Introductory Course

All students, not just those interested in a career in healthcare, should consider taking Medicine & the Law, a course that looks at the many ways in which law and medicine interact throughout society. Among the various questions addressed in the course are: Who should have access to medical care? Can medical research be conducted on humans? What rights should people have in choosing end-of-life care? In the process of answering these questions, students will appreciate the complexity of healthcare law and its many components, including statutes, regulations, reimbursement rules, and case law. The course also will introduce students to research methods in health law, which is quite different than other fields of law.

Another important introductory class is Health Law. This class will introduce students to the myriad statutes and regulations that uniquely impact the business of healthcare. For example, students will learn about laws regulating fraud and corruption in the provision of healthcare, as well as laws regulating the health care market place (including antitrust and certificate-of-need laws). Due to the complexity of healthcare regulation, special emphasis will be placed on research techniques using primary and secondary sources of health law.

Upper-Level Electives

Students considering a health law career should take not only the introductory courses described above, but also courses focusing on specialty areas of the practice. Such courses would include

  • Corporate Health Law, which covers a broad variety of legal and business considerations that arise in the formation and management of a health care enterprise; and
  • Mental Health & the Law, which covers the way in which the law treats those afflicted by mental illness, whether they be persons involuntary committed to state custody, criminal defendants claiming they are not guilty by reason of insanity, or parents seeking custody of children; and
  • Medical Malpractice, which covers the duties of medical professionals to their patients, and the resultant causes of action that accrue upon a breach of these duties.

Experiential Learning

Beyond classroom offerings, students desiring to gain experience in the health law field should consider clinical opportunities at the Law School. For example, the Externship Program offers the opportunity to extern with in-house healthcare legal departments, healthcare insurers, and government agencies. Another externship option is a Medical-Legal Partnership between the Law School and the VCU Health System. This Partnership allows law students to work with medical students on the unique legal issues that frequently arise in the midst of the physician-patient relationship.

Electives in Related Areas

In addition to taking some or all of the courses above, a student would be well served to take classes in other related areas. Healthcare attorneys practice across the spectrum of the law, and many specialize within the specialty. One can be a healthcare immigration attorney, for example. Bankruptcy, white collar criminal practice, and intellectual property all have specialists within healthcare. If one wants to be a trial attorney, courses in civil procedure, e-discovery, and trial practice are recommended. From there, medical malpractice, anti-trust, or civil rights may be appropriate depending on the student’s interests. If one is focused on becoming the general counsel of a healthcare entity, then a broad education is encouraged as a general counsel is expected to have a broad knowledge and be able to enlist outside specialists as needed. Employment law and administrative law are courses found useful by general counsel.

Dual-Degree Program

Finally, students with serious interest in health law can pursue a joint degree with the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Department of Health Administration. Students can earn a JD at the Law School and a Masters of Health Administration at VCU. VCU’s MHA program is currently ranked as #3 in the nation by US News & World Report. Its graduates can be found in leadership positions of prominent national and international healthcare organizations. The JD/MHA graduates likewise have been very successful.