What Does a Public Health Attorney Do?
By Sam MacArthur

When an attorney operates as an advisor for a governmental agency or groups of people in the public health space, chances are they are a public health attorney. The public health field can be very lucrative, but this is a challenging job that not only holds a lot of weight but can be stressful depending on their area of specialization.

A public health attorney is also known as a public health lawyer working in the public health field. They are often found advising in government agencies, communities, and groups or individuals. Their roles vary based on different areas of concentration. In most cases, they are found working to explain the legal rights of individuals, businesses, groups, or government agencies to assist in deciding the proper course of action.

They also work as advocates or legal representatives working for individuals or organizations during a trial. They are the go-to people working behind the scenes to develop policies that improve public health and wellness on a large scale. They tirelessly work to create laws and regulations that help stop health issues while improving the public’s health and well-being, affecting change on a local or large scale.

Health care attorneys handle different cases on a revolving basis. Some of these cases involve access to care; drug safety; care providers; treatment plans; disease intervention; ethics; food quality; insurance benefits, and treatment plans.

How to Become a Public Health Lawyer

When interested in becoming a public health lawyer, it all starts with education. The first step is acquiring a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university. The next step is three years of law school, and then passing the bar exam based on the state where they live. The law candidate must graduate from an ABA-accredited law school. It is important to note that each state has its own bar exam, so those wanting to practice in multiple states must take an exam for every state and complete continuing education courses every 1 to 3 years.

The curriculum for individuals aspiring to become attorneys includes classes in property law, civil procedures, contracts, constitutional law, and legal writing. There are also opportunities to take classes in certain specializations like public health. Additional specializations include behavioral science; biostatistics; child welfare; contract law; environmental law; religious rights, and reproductive rights. Some individuals also obtain a master’s degree in public health to gain a background in developing policy. Many public health attorneys seek joint JD/MPH programs which may be more fitting for their career path. There are internships, clerkships, externships, and research assistantships to help choose an area of interest.

A public health attorney job description requires the individual to have a background in developing policy while working as an advocate for others. This position also requires the attorney to advise and represent clients in court and before governmental agencies. They must be able to communicate with clients, conduct research on public health and other law matters, interpret what the laws mean as it pertains to public health and other areas of law, present facts verbally or in writing, and file legal documents.

What Types of Skills Do Public Health Lawyers Require?

As part of the public health lawyer job description, some skills and qualifications needed to be successful in this role include having good analytical; interpersonal; problem-solving; research; and writing skills. A public health lawyer also has good clerical skills, is organized, well-disciplined, and has good public speaking skills.

How Much Does a Public Health Attorney Make?

According to ZipRecruiter, the national average salary for a public health attorney is $70,959 per year. This figure varies based on the location, where the attorney works, and the level of experience and expertise they bring to the role. In some cases, these salaries can go high as $136,500. The overall employment outlook indicates growth in this area by about 10% but more in government agencies such as the CDC, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, FDA, Health Resources and Services Administration, Indian Health Service, Office for Civil Rights, and the Office of General Counsel. Public health attorneys are also found working in the state attorney general’s office, city or county attorney’s office, or with local government.

There are many resources and associations that are available for networking and other information. Associations for attorneys include the American Bar Association (ABA); National Lawyers Association; National Employment Lawyers Association; and the National Bar Association. Resources include ABA Health Law; the Public Health Law Center; and The Centers for Law & the Public Health.


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