Public Health for Attorneys: Preventing Health Problems through Laws & Policies

A public health attorney works in laws and policies that deal with legal concerns policies and laws that are supposed to prevent health problems from occurring and promote good health across entire populations. A public health attorney is mostly concerned with work that involves what we can do as a society overall to create healthy conditions in which people can live and work.

If you are a law student interested in public health law, you should consider taking courses in law school in public health, constitutional law, administrative law, state and local government law, and environmental law. They also will want to get familiar with the major areas of public health, such as biostatistics, community health promotion, and epidemiology.

Where They Work

Public health attorneys often work in various parts of the federal, state or local government. Some of the places they may work in the federal government include:

  • CDC

  • Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services

  • FDA

  • Health Resources and Services Administration

  • Indian Health Service

  • Office for Civil Rights

  • Office of General Counsel

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In state government, public health lawyers often are sourced from within the state attorney general’s office, so you should try to find employment there in one of the states. Other state agencies could have legal and policy roles that are relevant to public health. For example, you may be able to find a public health law job in the state department of human or social services.

On the local level, you may be able to find public health law work at the city or county attorney’s office, or even as a private contractor to the local government.

Some public health lawyers are able to find work in the private sector in health care or health insurance companies in the area of community engagement.

Career Opportunities

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that job demand for all attorneys will increase by 10% by 2022, which is about average compared to other jobs. There could be a higher demand for public health lawyers, as there continues to be greater demand for preventing health care problems from occurring. This is happening because preventative care leads to lower health care costs.

Case Study

There are many ways to get into public health law. In the case of Lawrence Gostin, it was due to his talent, hard work and a bit of luck. He graduated from Duke Law School in the 1970s, and he went to Oxford University on a Fulbright Scholarship. He stayed in the UK for 10 years, working as a legal director of the National Association for Mental Health. He also was on the faculty at Oxford. At a meeting in Italy, he met a doctor who was professor of health law at Harvard. The doctor invited him to come to Harvard as an NIH Fellow and to become an adjunct professor of public health and law. That is what launched Gostin’s career in public health law.

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BLS reports that lawyers overall earn a median salary of $113,500.

Additional Resources


Public Health and the Law

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