Constructing a Legal Education for a Career in Health and Benefits Law

Health and Benefits Law is a fascinating subject that combines concern with compelling human need, complex personal relationships, high finance and corporate organization, complex and pervasive government regulation, civil rights, and equality. It is a huge and growing area of legal practice.

A career in health and benefits law can take many forms. This guide identifies the variety of work that health lawyers do and suggests courses that students should consider if interested in this area.

Core Curriculum 

Health Law and Policy (LW.10797)

Health care represents approximately one-sixth of the American economy, as skilled personnel provide life-saving services using advanced technology. But the fairness and efficiency of the health care system remain controversial. Enacted a century after universal health coverage was first proposed in the United States, the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) intensified public policy debate rather than resolving it. A decade later, the Republican Party continues to seek Obamacare “repeal” and “replacement,” while the Democratic Party explores an even greater government role through some form of “Medicare-for-All.” This course considers some of the toughest problems in health law and policy. Which countries have the best health care systems, and why? What roles should government play in health care, and what roles should it avoid? Does the U.S. make too many social problems into medical ones, or too few? What is the best way to support the cost of care for those who are too sick or too poor to afford it themselves? Can we spend less on health care and get more for our money? To what degree should the future health care system be controlled by physicians? How can individuals and communities become healthier? How can racial disparities in health care and health be reduced? How can the health care system best serve an aging population? What policies would most effectively further innovation? Health law addresses many of these problems, and legal change can facilitate their solution. Because much of health law is grounded in the relationship between an individual physician and his or her patient, the class will alternate each week between a "macro" level policy issue such as expanding health coverage or reducing aggregate spending, and a "micro" level policy issue such as redressing medical errors that cause patient injury or making decisions at the end of life. This three-credit course is taught by Visiting Professor William Sage in the Fall Semester.

Health Care Reform (LW.11371)

This seminar evaluates: the reasons for the U.S. health care system’s high costs and poor outcomes;  the Affordable Care Act’s methods, successes and failures in expanding access to, and improving the quality and cost of health care; judicial and legislative challenges to the ACA’s individual and employer mandates, Medicaid expansion, subsidized coverage and mandated benefits (including no-cost contraceptives); Congressional efforts to repair, repeal or replace the ACA; challenges to the Trump Administration’s efforts to destabilize the ACA; and  the role of health reform in the 2020 presidential election debate. It also examines selected current public health crises. These may include: gun violence, the opioid epidemic, concussions, and environmental threats. This two-credit seminar is taught by Adjunct Professor Mary Ann Chirba in the Spring Semester.

Public Health Law and Social Justice Seminar (LW.12471)

This course explores the legal and ethical frameworks in which public health operates, with an emphasis on social justice implications at the global, federal, state and local levels. It examines the constitutional foundations for public health's broad police powers and the consequences and limits of that authority, looking at the structural determinants of public health. It considers the interplay of public health's mission to safeguard the health of the populace with civil rights, and economic and racial justice. The seminar applies public health law and theory in practice through existing and hypothetical cases, examining a range of emerging case studies, such as the ongoing Flint water crisis, disaster related emergencies in Puerto Rico and Texas, as well as current efforts to mandate vaccinations, address terrorism, and regulate firearms. It will assess the history of drug control and the impact of mass incarceration. Throughout the semester, the class will examine the expansion of public health law and practice from its traditional focus on communicable disease to include regulating noncommunicable conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, and lung disease.  Adjunct Professor Janlori Goldman teaches this 2 credit seminar in the Spring Semester.

Mental Disability Law (LW.11545)

This seminar considers the rights of people with mental disabilities in institutional and community settings and explores legal, ethical and policy issues involving professional expertise, predictions of future dangerous behavior, involuntary commitment, the right to treatment, the right to refuse treatment, and medical decision making for incompetent and once-competent individuals.  Students examine the development of case law, statutes and the social policies and values underlying them, re- argue a Supreme Court case involving the death penalty, listen to and evaluate a recorded Supreme Court argument, attend court hearings, and most likely tour a forensic psychiatric unit. The course does not include a detailed study of discrimination laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), the Fair Housing Act, or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, although they will be discussed throughout the seminar. The ADA's integration mandate will be studied in depth.  Adjunct Professor Robert M. Levy teaches the 2 credit seminar in the Spring.

Health Justice: Medical-Legal Services for Vulnerable Populations Simulation (LW.12729)

Health justice depends not only on access to medical services, but also on addressing the social determinants of health—how the conditions in which people live, work, and play affect health and well-being. One promising approach is medical-legal partnership (MLP), in which lawyers join collaborative health care teams and improve the health of vulnerable individuals, families, and communities by advocating for rights and reducing barriers. This class takes an interdisciplinary, inter-professional approach to health justice, making it valuable to law students and to students in fields such as social work, nursing, pharmacy, public affairs, business, and medicine. Using interactive lectures, discussions with local and national MLP leaders, case studies, and simulations, students will learn how lawyers and health care providers can solve problems jointly and creatively. Health-harming legal needs addressable through professional screening and intervention include income and insurance benefits, safe and affordable housing, effective and appropriate education, and individual and family stability. The class also provides an introduction to:

  • The systems of individual and population health in the United States
  •  The role of law, policy, and legal services in informing social determinants of health
  • Diverse professional cultures and responsibilities of interdisciplinary practice
  • Value-based metrics for evaluating the health and social benefits of legal interventions. From the redesign of complex medical care to the management of population health, law turns out to be a major factor in both the efficiency and the fairness of our health care system.  

Visiting Professor William Sage leads this simulation course in the fall semester.

Health Care Competition and Regulation (LW.12731)

This advanced class explores the role of competition in health care systems that are also highly regulated. The first half of the course will consider the interplay of competition and regulation as both normative and descriptive matters, including international comparisons. The second half of the course will focus on the application of U.S. antitrust law to the health care system, examining both historical cases and recent or ongoing disputes through readings and conversations with antitrust litigators and enforcers. Visiting Professor William Sage teaches this course in the Spring.

Professional Responsibility: Comparing Law and Medicine (LW.12694) 

The course explores ethical conduct by American lawyers by situating their responsibilities in a larger landscape of professional commitments, constraints, and mechanisms of governance. It covers all the elements of a standard class in attorney professional responsibility, while also presenting parallel issues of medical ethics and physician professionalism to compare and contrast. Students learn the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct and Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers, selected provisions of the AMA Code of Medical Ethics, various external legal obligations of each profession, and secondary sources on ethics and professionalism. After exploring the roll of self-regulating professions in contemporary society, the course considers the role of lawyers (and physicians) as agents and fiduciaries, examining the formation and termination of a client relationship, confidentiality of information, informed consent, and apportionment of control between professional and client. Professional fees are the central concern of the course’s next section, including the ethics of particular fee structures, the response of antitrust law to professional limits on competition, and expanding access to services through volunteer and pro bono practice. Several classes are devoted to understanding conflict of interest between clients, between professionals and clients, including institutional providers, corporate clients, and insurance-related entities. The last topic leads into a broader examination of professional responsibility when organizations rather than individuals are delivering and receiving services. After considering ethical limits on individual advocacy and collective professional obligations to advance justice and health, the course offers a sustained examination of quality in professional services, including unlicensed practice, malpractice, and professional discipline. The course ends by identifying ongoing challenges to legal and medical professionalism, such as technology, globalization, and consumerism. The 3 credit course is taught in the Spring by Visiting Professor William Sage. 


Supplementing the Core Curriculum

In addition to the core curriculum, NYU offers many courses that may be important to a career in health law practice, depending on the area chosen.  The courses listed here are grouped by general career paths. Lawyers often move from one area of health and benefits law to another throughout their careers. The core health law concerns of access to care, costs, and quality are complexly intertwined, as are lines between public and private, and the relations between state, federal and local responsibilities.    

Not all courses listed are offered every academic year.

Health Care Organizations 

This area presents many employment opportunities for lawyers interested in health law.  Many health care organizations have full-time staff counsel, including, for example, hospitals, medical schools, health maintenance organizations, health insurance companies, and drug companies.   Both large organizations and small also look to law firms to provide outside counsel to help with complex legal issues of reimbursement, liability, antitrust, employment relations and others.  Larger firms often have departments that specialize in health law issues, while some smaller firms focus on legal work in this complex area. The NYU Office of Career Services can help you identify opportunities.

Suggested courses:  

  • Corporations (LW.10644)
  • Income Taxation (LW.10794)
  • Law of Nonprofit Organizations (LW.11276)
  • Tax-Exempt Organizations (LW.11754)
  • Community Development Law (LW.10732)  

Health Care and Insurance Regulation

Many lawyers work for local, state or federal agencies that regulate health care, health insurance, antitrust or civil rights, as well as working for the health care organizations that must comply with such regulations.  

Suggested courses:    

  • Insurance Law (LW.11770)
  • Antitrust and Regulatory Alternatives (LW.11367)
  • Local Government Law (LW.10569)

Benefits Law and Policy

This area also presents many employment opportunities working for local, state or federal agencies administering public programs and regulating employee benefits.  One may also work for service providers, advocacy groups, think tanks, or lobbying organizations.  

Suggested courses:  

  •  Law and the Welfare State (LW.11846) 
  • Tax Policy and Public Finance Colloquium (LW.10787)
  • Brennan Center Public Policy Advocacy Clinic (LW.10328)
  • Government Civil Litigation Externship Clinic (LW.11701) 
  • Litigation, Organizing, and Systemic Change Clinic  (LW.12651)              

Client and Patient Rights: Civil Rights and Benefits

Because there are relatively few organizations in the United States devoted to obtaining benefits to which people are entitled, competition for job opportunities in this area are intense, even though pay is modest. Many legal services and civil rights organizations have projects that focus on tax, benefit, and health care access issues for the clients they serve.  Additionally, local, state and federal anti-discrimination agencies employ lawyers who focus on health and benefits law.  Again, the Office of Career Services can provide detailed information.

Suggested courses:  

  • Civil Rights Clinic (LW.10627)
  • Sex Discrimination Law (LW.12271)
  • Sexuality, Gender and the Law (LW.10529)

Medical Malpractice 

This area of practice employs both plaintiff and defense lawyers.  Defense counsel is generally paid by insurance companies and on average earns more than plaintiff lawyers.  Plaintiff lawyers are usually paid on a contingent fee basis.  Malpractice defense lawyers, and less well-established plaintiffs’ lawyers, tend to have less choice about the clients they represent.

Employment and Labor Law 

Health workers, particularly in the public sector, are often unionized.  Further, the general federal and state law of pensions and employee benefits applies to most private sector workers.  Many large law firms have specialized departments dealing with employee benefits and/or unionization. Some small firms specialize in representing unions, while other firms specialize in resisting unionization.  In addition to representing individual clients, labor lawyers often play an important role in state and federal debates about health care and benefits policy.  

Suggested courses:  

  •  Labor Law (LW.11933)
  • Employment Discrimination Law (LW.10259)

Health and Benefits Law Litigation 

The area of health law offers many opportunities for a litigation-based career, whether at a law firm, legal services, state and federal agencies, in-house at an insurance company, hospital, or pharmaceutical company, or a non-profit that specializes in the needs of people with particular health needs.  

Suggested courses:    

  • Federal Courts and the Federal System (LW.11722)
  • Trial and Appellate Advocacy Simulation (LW.10059)
  • Clinics offering litigation opportunities 

International Health and Benefits Policy 

The study of health on an international level relates primarily to the work of national governments and international organizations to develop and reform health care and other safety net systems.  In recent years, the provision of health care, food, and shelter has been promoted under a human rights framework.  Many United Nations agencies are involved in the provision of health care and other basic needs on an international level, such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF.  The US government is also active in such international initiatives through departments such as the Agency for International Development.  Additionally, many non-governmental organizations, such as CARE, Oxfam, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, are committed to international health care and poverty relief work.  Information about these organizations can be found through the Public Interest Law Center.

Suggested courses:  

  •  International Human Rights Law (LW.11329)
  • Global Justice Clinic (LW.10679)
  • International Human Rights Organizations Clinic (LW.12165)

Reproductive Justice

This area of health law has received a lot of attention because reproductive health services are both broadly important and highly contested.   There are very few jobs that offer the chance to specialize solely in reproductive justice law, but many fields, such as employment discrimination law, regularly touch on reproductive rights.  Furthermore, a growing number of think tanks and legal organizations focus on reproductive rights.  A few government offices maintain a staff attorney to address these issues.

 Suggested Courses:  

  • Sex Discrimination Law (LW.12271)
  • Sexuality, Gender and the Law (LW.10529)
  • Reproductive Justice Clinic & Advanced Clinic (LW.12333)      


This area, although fascinating, offers few jobs that allow lawyers to focus exclusively on these issues.  A lawyer interested in focusing on bioethics may become a professor at a college, law school, or school of public health. General counsel at a research hospital or medical school confront ethical issues in the context of human subject research, research studies involving animals, stem-cell research and other cutting-edge research.


Other Coursework

Aside from course offered at the Law School, students can further pursue study of health law issues through a variety of avenues, both within the Law School and through other venues.

Directed Research 

Students should consider directed research opportunities as a way to explore and develop expertise.  Many professors are willing to supervise directed research projects on health law issues relating to the law that they study and teach. Consult the faculty advisor guide in determining the appropriate faculty member to supervise your work.

NYU Wagner School of Public Service  

NYU Wagner offers a variety of classes that focus on the policy and administration of public benefit programs.  Information about NYU Wagner courses can be found at  Courses in the Social Policy “Cluster Area” include: Poverty, Inequality and Policy (P11.2445), Public Policy and the Shaping of Wealth and Poverty in the United States (P11.2622), Advocacy for Public and Nonprofit Organizations (P11.4125), The Economics of Education: Policy and Finance (P11.2441), Race and Class in American Cities (P11.2620).  Courses in the Institutions and the Policy Process “Cluster Area” include: Policy Formation and Policy Analysis (P11.2411), Power and Influence in Organizations and Politics (P11.2178), Decentralized Development Planning and Policy Reform in Developing Countries (P11.2665). 

In addition, through its Health Policy and Management Program, NYU Wagner offers classes that focus on the management and policy aspects of health care delivery and financing.  Courses in the Health “Cluster Area” include: Community Health and Medical Care (P11.1830), Health Economics and Payment Systems (P11.1832), Health Services Management (P11.1833), International Health Policy and Prospects (P11.2242), Global Health Governance and Management (P11.2244), Healthcare Management Information Systems (P11.2821), Human Resources Management in Health Care Organizations (P11.2832), Current Issues in Health Policy (P11.2836), Financial Management for Health Care Organizations (P11.2842), Health Care Financing in Developing Countries (P11.2843), Advanced Health Care Payment Systems (P11.2845), Health Insurance and Managed Care (P11.2848), Economics of Global Health (P11.2852), Comparative Health Systems (P11.2852), and Health System Reform: Comparative Perspectives (P11.2867).  

Finally, students interested in careers in public policy should consider taking some foundational courses in economics and empirical analysis, including: Public Economics and Finance (P11.2140), Multiple Regression and Intro to Econometrics (P11.2902), Program Analysis and Evaluation (P11.2171), and Government Budgeting (P11.2143). 

School of Medicine  

While there is generally little overlap between medical and law school coursework, the medical school occasionally offers classes that are relevant to law students’ studies.  One example is Doctor/Patient, Lawyer/Client: The Nature of Professional Relationships (L06.3588), which is co-taught with law school faculty.

Note on Coursework in Other Graduate Schools of the University

For law school credit, a case must be made that a course advances interdisciplinary understanding and one of those disciplines must be the law.  That is, for a course to receive law school credit, a case must be made that the course will enrich a student’s knowledge of the law itself.

Students will be permitted to enroll for non-law school graduate courses within the University only if they have permission from the Office of Academic Services.  Permission to enroll, in all cases, will be subject to the availability of space in the class after registration at the particular department within the University is complete.

For more information, see the Academic Services request form

Columbia School of Public Health

Law students can take courses at Columbia’s School of Public Health by using transfer credits.  Information about these courses can be found on the Columbia School of Public Health website.  To take courses outside the law school, you must obtain a request form from the Office of Academic Services.  Once you submit the form and receive the law school’s approval, you can receive transfer credits for courses taken at the Columbia School of Public Health.

Columbia School of Law  

Law students are allowed to take one course at the Columbia School of Law. Though only a limited selection of Columbia courses are available to NYU students. Two courses which may be of interest to law students are: The Anatomy of Autonomy: From Personhood to Personification (L8174) and Reproductive Health and Human Rights (L8152).  The list of courses is available on Columbia Law School's website. For instructions on how to register and receive credit for a course taken at the Columbia Law School, please use the online request form