HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Jacobson on Teaching Health Law to Nonlawyers

For anyone who regularly or occasionally needs to communicate legal topics to nonlawyers, I recommend Peter D. Jacobson's reflective column on the topic in the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics.  Here are a few quotes from the piece reflecting his perspective: 

What I want public health students to learn is very different from my approach to teaching law students. For one thing, the key objective for the former is for future health care executives/public health policymakers to understand the role law plays in their strategic decision-making environment. In contrast, law students need to know how the health care system works to provide effective legal advice and representation. . . . 

[I]t is not important to me whether [non-law] students can remember the elements of a medical liability claim or the elements of an antitrust action five years later. Much more important is that they leave the class with a sense of how to think about the law in meeting their day-to-day and long-term responsibilities.

One central goal of the class is to ensure familiarity "with key terms and concepts of how the legal system operates."  The idea is to assure that those interacting with attorneys know the right questions to answer, developing some sympathy for the necessarily ambiguous aspects of client advising: 

Because of the rapid changes in how heath care is organized, financed, and delivered, [executives often] cannot expect clear answers from their attorneys. Understanding the law’s inherent ambiguity is an important goal for future health care executives to comprehend. That way, they will not feel overly confident that they can address legal challenges on their own.

Joan Robinson once called economics a valuable course of study, if only to avoid being fooled by economists.  A similar point could be made about law teaching outside the law school; as Jacobson notes, at their best, "students become increasingly comfortable with how to use the law to advance their strategic objectives while simultaneously realizing the law’s limitations." 

Jacobson also mentioned a great exam question he recently asked: 

In an increasingly competitive market, it seems timely to re-examine the legal system’s oversight of the health care enterprise. What public accountability function should the legal system provide in either the transition to a market-driven system or in a world with accountable health care organizations (ACOs) and health insurance exchanges? Does the trend toward consolidation require new ways of thinking about the legal system’s role? If so, what approaches would you recommend?

Those are questions we'd all do well to ponder. [FP]

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