Healthcare law is a great area to specialise in if you know that you want to be a lawyer but you’re not sure of all the options the law profession offers.
You may not have considered a legal career specialising in healthcare law, as you may not have gone beyond thinking that you simply want to be a lawyer. However, it’s a good idea to give some thought to what kind of lawyer you might want to be, early on in the process while you’re still at school and choosing qualification options.
What kind of lawyer can I be?
Most employment sectors need specialist lawyers because different kinds of businesses have to deal with different legal issues. For example, the law as it applies to jobs in the motorsport industry or to buying and selling property will differ significantly from the legal issues faced by the medical and healthcare sector..
Understanding the application of the law in the healthcare sector is very important even if you are not working as a lawyer. New legal issues in healthcare are emerging all the time due to technological advances in the sector, such as the development of robotics in medicine and the use of big data.
All healthcare professionals are expected to understand the ethical and legal issues that arise in their line of work, such as patient consent and confidentiality. Failure to comply with the law surrounding ethical and medical issues could lead to legal action being taken against you. Understanding and practicing healthcare law requires a high level of qualification and there are a number of specific legal healthcare careers that you could opt for.
Qualifications for a career in healthcare law
If you choose to study for a degree in law, you will be able to select particular modules or courses that are either relevant to medicine and involve studying healthcare law or which are specific to medical law. These will often be available at both undergraduate and post-graduate level and you could study healthcare law either full time or as a distance learner.
What kind of healthcare law issues could I be dealing with?
Some legal firms specialise in providing legal advice and services specifically to do with medical and healthcare law. These healthcare law firms employ lawyers who can advise clients on legal issues, in both the public and private sectors. One of these healthcare law issues would be patient confidentiality, information management and data sharing, as healthcare information is held electronically (see page 15 of the June / July issue of Moving On for our article on healthcare informatics)
Other legal issues that are specific to healthcare include the law relating to vulnerable adults and children, mental health law and capability, clinical negligence and professional misconduct, organ transplants, public health, legal issues surrounding beginning and end of life care, and medical research.
As a specialist healthcare lawyer, you might find yourself working on litigation or arbitration, resolving disputes and advising clients. Alternatively, you might find yourself specialising in criminal and regulatory law and prosecuting or defending in cases of misconduct or negligence.
The new Level 7 solicitor apprenticeship
There is an existing apprenticeship route to becoming a lawyer. This is available through the Level 6, chartered legal executive apprenticeship. Now, a new Level 7 Articled Apprenticeship has been approved for delivery from September 2016. This is a six-year apprenticeship route to qualification as a solicitor, offering an alternative to the traditional full time university pathway.
Entry requirements for the solicitor apprenticeship
For successful entry to the solicitor apprenticeship you will either need a minimum of five GCSEs at grade C or above, which must include maths and English and three A-levels at grade C or above or you will need to have completed a relevant apprenticeship. These include: the Level 3 Advanced or Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Services, a Paralegal Apprenticeship or a Legal Executive Apprenticeship.
Common healthcare law terms
- Arbitration: The process of deciding a legal dispute without going to court
- Litigation: The process of settling a dispute through the court system
- Case law: Law based on previous decisions of appellate courts (courts of appeal)
- Civil law: Not involving a crime, for example compensation cases
- Negligence: A failure to exercise reasonable care and to meet standards