How to become a medical lawyer (with skills and FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Within the legal profession, there are various specialisations which allow solicitors and barristers to focus on specific areas of law. One of these is medical law, with entire firms specialising in this branch of legal work. If you're interested in medical law, knowing the requirements for becoming a medical lawyer can help you get the job you want. In this article, we explain what a medical lawyer is, how you can become one, what their work involves, list some key skills and answer frequently asked questions.

What is a medical lawyer?

A medical lawyer is a solicitor, barrister or advocate who specialises in the field of medical law. This means that they handle cases which involve clients who've experiences issues with a health care provider. They can therefore investigate or otherwise deal with issues of medical malpractice, clinical failings, misconduct by medical staff and related matters.

Related: How much does a medical lawyer make? (With salary)

How to become a medical lawyer

Knowing how to become a medical lawyer can help you to get the job you want. If you want to become a legal professional specialising in medical law, here are the steps involved:

1. Get A-levels

One of the most common ways of becoming a legal professional involves getting a degree, which means that you're going to require some GCSEs and A-levels to be eligible to study law. For university degrees, you're typically going to require at least two or three A-levels for entry. It's usually a good idea to check the particular requirements of any universities you're considering so that you know what's going to be necessary in terms of scores and subjects.

2. Pursue a law degree

A law degree is typically the most direct route to becoming a legal professional. Look for bachelor of laws (LLB) degrees, which are the equivalent of other bachelor's degrees like a BSc or BA. Normally, an LLB takes three years to complete full-time, and up to six years in the case of part-time study. If you've already got a degree in another subject by the time you're considering a legal career, there's the option of a Graduate Diploma in Law. This is a conversion course for those who've studied another subject at university and takes one year to complete full-time.

It's essential to remember that England and Wales have one law system, whereas Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own. Depending on where you are and where you want to practice, it's necessary to select a university programme which covers that specific legal system. Some universities are also going to require you to pass the Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT) for admission. During your studies, choose any optional modules which cover medical law wherever possible.

Related: Law degree requirements: everything you need to know

3. Seek legal training

Depending on whether you want to become a solicitor or barrister, you're going to require different training. In England and Wales, you pursue a Legal Practice Course (LPC) after graduation to become a solicitor. To become a barrister, you pursue a Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). It's common to do this part-time while working. In Scotland, after completing an LLB in Scottish law, you pursue a Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (DPLP) to become a solicitor. To become an advocate in Scotland, you're also going to require the DPLP, together with 21 months of specialised advocacy training.

In Northern Ireland, look for a degree in Professional Legal Studies after you've completed your LLB. After that, you can seek postgraduate training. Wherever possible, seek training opportunities which relate to medical law.

4. Complete qualifying work experience

Whether you're going to be a solicitor or barrister, you're going to require some qualifying work experience. The amount of experience necessary can differ, with one year for solicitors and two years for barristers being common. For the Scottish DPLP, training and work experience are often part of the process, followed by a traineeship. To seek a career as a medical solicitor or barrister, look for qualifying work experience and traineeships in firms specialising in medical law.

5. Apply for medical law positions

After you've completed all of the necessary training, examinations and qualifying work experience, you can apply for work as a legal professional specialising in medical law. Your experience and training at firms which specialise in this field are going to be vital to your applications. In many cases, you may find that the firm you trained at is a good place to start looking for work opportunities.

If you're looking for work elsewhere, make sure you highlight your expertise and relevant experience in medical law on your CV to increase your chances of getting the job you want. It's also a good idea to tailor your other application documents in the same way, in addition to tailoring them to the employer in question.

Related: 15 popular law degree jobs (with salaries and duties)

Responsibilities of a medical lawyer

Here are some of the key responsibilities of a medical law professional, including solicitors, barristers and advocates:

  • advise clients of their rights and the law relating to healthcare-related experiences

  • liaise with other legal professionals to provide services to clients

  • research legal records and case law

  • research medical records for evidence

  • prepare documentation for courts

  • keep up to date regarding any changes within the field of medical law

  • represent clients in court on matters of negligence, malpractice or criminal offences

  • collaborate with medical professionals to develop a case

  • request medical examinations to get insights into their client's needs

  • consult medical experts to get relevant information for a case

Related: What does a solicitor do? (Legal specialisms explained)

Skills of medical law professionals

Here are some of the most useful skills and competencies for a legal professional specialising in medical law:

Knowledge of medical law

One of the most important competencies for a medical law professional is an in-depth understanding of medical law and how it changes over time. This allows them to understand the rights of their clients in cases of medical malpractice, negligence and related matters. There are numerous aspects to medical law, such as medical ethics, health and safety, public health law and confidentiality.

Related: 6 law specialisms that have the highest-paid lawyers

Medical knowledge

To understand their clients' interactions with medical professionals, solicitors and barristers specialising in medical law benefit from knowledge of health care procedures and the field itself. Although this isn't a strict requirement, it can be very useful for understanding the needs of a client and for interviewing medical professionals to build a case. Many medical law professionals acquire this knowledge over time through regular interactions with health care professionals.

Empathy

A medical lawyer may frequently encounter individuals who are enduring pain, discomfort or injury due to health-related issues. Empathising with these people can allow medical law professionals to connect with their clients and make them feel understood. The issues these individuals endure might have affected their social lives, ability to work or even their ability to function daily.

Related: What is empathy? With steps on how to be more empathetic

Frequently asked questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about medical law professionals, together with their respective answers:

Where do medical lawyers work?

A legal professional specialising in medical law could work in various settings, although these are typically going to be closely related to the health care sector. For instance, there are law firms which specialise in medical law and help clients with claims related to experiences with medical professionals. Public health bodies and government departments also employ medical lawyers.

What's the difference between a solicitor, barrister and advocate?

The primary difference is that a solicitor's work mostly takes place outside of court, involving research and client advice. Barristers and advocates represent their clients in the courtroom and often work with a solicitor who briefs them on the details of the case. Advocates are the Scottish equivalent of an English or Welsh barrister, although the training and requirements differ slightly.

Related: FAQ: How much does a barrister make?

Are there specialisations within medical law?

Yes. Some medical law firms might specialise in certain types of cases, such as medical negligence. Among medical law professionals, some may choose to specialise in certain cases which relate to particular problems. For instance, a medical solicitor could specialise in advising clients who've suffered obstetric injuries, which are those related to childbirth.

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