Law School fills need in emerging area of legal education


The University of Akron School of Law is taking on a new challenge in an emerging field of public health law that other law programs around the country are not.

The University of Akron

From left, Elizabeth Reilly, interim dean of the School of Law; Katharine Van Tassel, professor of law and leader of the Public Health Law & Science Center; and Luis Proenza, president of The University of Akron.

Adding a new layer to health-based legal education, UA’s new Public Health Law & Science Center (PHLSC) and Health Law Certificate Program focus on advances in science and technology as they relate to overall population health. Both programs were approved today by UA’s Board of Trustees.

Most health law programs in the U.S. put emphasis on the health of the individual, says Katharine Van Tassel, UA professor of law who will lead the center. What makes PHLSC and the certificate program distinctive is the focus on population health which includes individual health. This allows for a more holistic approach to crafting laws and policies designed to improve the human condition, she adds.

PHLSC is focused on community service. The health law certificate program is focused on education, Van Tassel says.

Van Tassel points out that because advances in healthcare science and technology tend to move so quickly it’s difficult for law and regulation to keep up. The analysis of how law, science and technology – present and future – can work together to improve public health also is a unique theme that runs through every course in the program.

“Every day, another scientific or technological innovation comes along that tests and changes the way things have traditionally been viewed and done. Nowhere in legal education is that more evident than in the area of public health law,” said Van Tassel, who also serves as a research fellow at UA’s Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security and adjunct professor of law, graduate studies, at Northeast Ohio Medical School (NEOMED). “Our broader population health approach, coupled with our focus on the intersection of law, science and technology, allows us to include into our program the study of social conditions that can contribute to poor health.”

Pragmatic approach

Van Tassel says it is imperative that law and regulation work closely with science and technology as each is important in shaping the other. To promote this objective, PHLSC will actively create a unique space for professionals in the scientific, medical and technical fields, social scientists, lawyers, legislators, regulators, the media and the public to engage in active dialogue to strengthen the public health aspects of their work.

The new Health Law Certificate Program focuses on educating practitioners who can hit the ground running in their first years of practice in multiple areas, such as regulatory compliance and risk management, while continuously educating themselves on the relationship between law, science and technology. This “boots on the ground” approach recognizes the new dynamics in health law where private and public sector employers are moving away from a focus on what new health lawyers know to rather what new health lawyers can do with what they know, Van Tassel says.

“As described by the Institute of Medicine, protecting and advancing public health requires a systems approach grounded in the collective action of government, healthcare institutions, the community, businesses, the media and academia,” said Van Tassel. “The Public Health Law and Science Center and new health law certificate program will act as catalysts for this systems approach by bringing together the public and private sectors to create and implement solutions to the pressing public health issues of our times.”

Media contact: Laura M. Massie, 330-972-6476 or