Areas of work, specialisms and alternatives

What is healthcare law? A guide for aspiring solicitors

19 Aug 2023, 16:14

Healthcare lawyers rely on the advice of medical experts to inform their work.

An ambulance on the street

Healthcare law focuses on the various pieces of legislation that maintain and regulate the healthcare sector, largely under the realm of the NHS in the UK. For solicitors, this will likely mean representing one side or other where there is an allegation of negligence.

What is healthcare law?

Many healthcare lawyers work primarily on clinical negligence cases. On the defending side, clients will be NHS Resolution (an NHS body that specialises in resolving patient concerns), NHS trusts, private hospitals, GPs, dentists and pharmacies. On the other side, your client will be the claimant. This could be an injured person or the family of a patient who has died. Firms typically only represent one or the other.

What do healthcare solicitors do?

Lawyers might also be involved in inquests where a coroner needs to investigate a hospital death or in court cases relating to patients who are unable to consent to treatment.

Healthcare law cases are never usually heavily publicised. However, the media may report on a particularly serious or high-value case. Lawyers will always aim to resolve cases quickly and amicably through mediations and informal negotiations. Less than 1% of litigated clinical negligence claims against the NHS end with a trial.

Lawyers can work on between 30 and 40 cases at a time. Each case will be managed by a qualified lawyer, assisted by trainees. A partner might not be involved day-to-day, but they will review the case. Late-night and weekend working is uncommon in this practice area.

What is life like as a healthcare trainee?

Trainees will typically attend meetings alongside partners and associates, will draft court orders, prepare reports and research case law. They may also spend time interviewing witnesses or briefing medical experts.

What skills do you need to be a healthcare solicitor?

Trainees don’t need to be medically trained or to necessarily had an education in medicine, but an interest and ability to get to grips with the sector is essential. The ability to analyse medical reports will be valuable for life in practice. A well-developed sense of empathy and the ability to negotiate will also be useful.

Types of law practised healthcare

  • Contract
  • Tort
  • Product liability
  • Employment

How much can I earn in healthcare law?

You will likely undertake healthcare law as a seat on a training contract as part of a rotation and may specialise later. You can take a look at our article on How much you can earn as a trainee solicitor to get a broader picture of how much law firms pay trainees, but it’s not uncommon for firms with UK offices to offer £50,000 to trainees in their first year, rising to anywhere up to and above £100,000 upon qualification.

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