Health law continues to be among hottest practice areas

Health care is a significant driver in the U.S. economy. It represented 17.5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2014.

And it just keeps growing. By 2024, health spending in this country is expected to rise to nearly 20 percent, and its increase should eclipse growth in the GDP itself.

Health care law continues to be one of the hottest practice areas, fueled by the Affordable Care Act, which presented new regulatory requirements. The field has undergone sweeping changes during the past several years: the digitization of health records, billing for medical outcomes rather than procedures, increased medical tourism, and consolidation and specialization, especially because of rising overhead costs.

“New regulations mean compliance and enforcement work,” said Allison Hoffman, professor of law at UCLA School of Law. “Over the past several years, there have been many new opportunities in government positions, law firms and working for health care companies of every kind. My sense is that this trend will continue.”

In Los Angeles, for instance, many law firms are looking for graduates with some knowledge of health care to add to their growing practices areas, Hoffman said. Having an advanced degree or other specialization in health law can help generate these employment opportunities that help set attorneys up for in-house positions at hospitals, insurance companies, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

There are other intellectual and practical benefits. Students with a strong background can question conventional wisdom and can find the line between health care truth and myth.

“This kind of knowledge is useful for any erudite individual, from reading the news to cocktail party conversation about presidential candidates’ health care proposals,” Hoffman said.

Anything else that those entering the health field should know?

“Attorneys need to pay special attention to the business side of the field,” said June Carbone, a law professor at University of Minnesota Law School. “You want to know what’s in the future, whether you want to stop it or encourage it. Understand the intersection of business, ethics and government regulation.”

Change is here to stay in health care, meaning law will continue to evolve in complicated and fascinating ways.

“I have no doubt that there will be new legal issues and opportunities in this field in the coming decades,” Hoffman said.