Federal, state, and local regulations in healthcare law are abundant to protect the well-being of patients undergoing medical treatment. The judicial rules that govern the healthcare industry are consistently evolving with new amendments to make quality medical care safer. Staying abreast of these legal changes is essential for healthcare providers to avoid costly lawsuits and medical malpractice claims. That's where the legal services executive comes in. As upper-level health administrators, legal services executives oversee the activities of their organization's legal department. Most executives are licensed attorneys to provide accurate, lawful counsel to the healthcare provider's senior management team. Legal services executives will ensure that all medical operations and contracts are meeting the latest regulations. Whether they're working for hospitals, clinics, medical groups, or health insurance companies, legal services executives will coordinate the preparation of legal documents for department heads.
According to statistics published on Salary.com, the median annual salary for legal services executives in the United States is $166,689. This is equivalent to an average hourly wage of $80 or $3,206 per week. With bonuses, retirement, disability, time off, insurance, and other benefits included, the total compensation of legal services executives averages $228,472.
Newly appointed legal services executives will likely land in the bottom 10th percentile of earnings with a yearly income around $117,932. However, experienced legal services executives can bring home base salaries higher than $214,104 each year. The highest paid Chief Legal Officers (CLOs) surpass the half-million mark to make $656,607 annually.
Legal services executives have the primary responsibility of keeping their healthcare organization law-abiding by reviewing operational procedures for compliance with judicial rules. Executives will oversee the legal department's staff for analyzing legal documents, including contracts, healthcare proxies, and DNR orders. Legal services executives will plan and direct all of the health organization's legal affairs. If needed, they'll protect the provider's legal rights with proper counsel in court. Legal services executives may also lead the prosecution of lawsuits on behalf of their healthcare facility. They meet regularly with other healthcare executives at board meetings to provide legal guidance on staff, vendor, and doctor-patient relationships.
Being a legal services executive requires having excellent analytical skills to carefully review complex healthcare laws and resolve any infringements. Legal services executives must have the interpersonal skills to develop trusting work relationships with other senior managers. Public speaking abilities are important for executives to speak on their organization's behalf and explain cases to arbitrators. Writing skills are a must for legal services executives to precisely prepare documents that are binding in court. Legal services executives should have the problem-solving skills to objectively evaluate any lawsuits or malpractice claims and implement an effective solution. It's also important for legal services executives to have research skills to stay up-to-date on healthcare regulation changes.
Degree and Education Requirements
Healthcare organizations typically only hire legal services executives who have become licensed attorneys with a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Most begin their college career with a bachelor's degree in government, public policy, political science, business, criminal justice, or public administration. Then, you'll have to attend a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) for at least three years full-time. Some universities offer specializations in healthcare law or corporate law. Pursuing a joint Master of Health Administration (MHA) and Juris Doctor program could also help prepare legal services executives.
Pros and Cons of the Position
There are several upsides and downsides to becoming a legal services executive. On the positive side, legal services executives are among the highest paid healthcare workers with a salary potential that rivals physicians. Legal services executives are needed in a variety of health settings, ranging from hospitals to ambulatory care centers and private practices. The job comes with the reward of helping medical providers resolve legal problems and pursue justice. Legal services executives can use their extroverted demeanor to lead and motivate the legal staff. However, the lucrative title comes with heavy pressure to maintain compliance with rapidly changing laws. Legal services executives must invest significantly in higher education. Graduates face strong competition for available legal job openings. Most legal services executives also work long hours beyond the 40-hour week to meet deadlines.
After earning a bachelor's degree, the next step is to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) to begin applying to ABA-accredited law schools. Passing the five, 35-minute test sections of multiple-choice questions is essential for admission. Once you're admitted to a Juris Doctor program, begin building experience in healthcare law. Participate in sponsored legal clinics, court competitions, and practice trials to develop your resume. Getting your legal research published in law journals is also advised. Accredited J.D. programs will require at least one internship, so find a placement in a healthcare organization's legal department. Upon graduation, you'll be qualified to take your state's bar exam. Check requirements with the National Conference of Bar Examiners since they can vary by state. Going the extra step to become Certified in Healthcare Compliance (CHC) could pay off for promotion.
Demand for legal work in the healthcare industry is expected to rise as government reforms, such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Patient's Bill of Rights, take effect. Many health organizations are increasing their in-house legal departments to cut consulting costs for legal counsel. Legal services executives will be hired to oversee these staff members and the total direction of healthcare provider affairs. Tight budget constraints, especially in publicly funded hospitals, will limit new job openings though. Competition will be strong for the coveted title of legal services executive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 6 percent job growth in legal professions from 2014 to 2024. Legal services executives can work for hospitals, clinics, medical groups, insurance carriers, pharmaceutical companies, outpatient centers, mental health facilities, long-term rehabs, and more.
Overall, legal services executives are in-house counsels who assist healthcare organizations interpret laws and establish policies that enforce them. Often called Chief Legal Officers (CLOs), executives will advise healthcare executives on the best actions to resolve legal issues. Most of their time is spent outside the courtroom, but legal services executives have the training to file lawsuits, appeals, contracts, and other documents. If you decide to specialize as a legal services executive, you'll have the opportunity to keep healthcare business affairs running within the law to protect patient health.
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