Document Type


Publication Date



The film Five Easy Pieces is named for a selection of five piano compositions that the Jack Nicholson character played in a childhood recital. Here, its namesake refers to five motifs of teaching and practicing health law. Like playing the piano pieces, some of these motifs sound difficult to teach but are quite easy, and others sound easy but are quite difficult.

First, whether it is the lawyers shaking their heads about the doctors or the doctors stunned by the ignorance of the lawyers, these two professions have difficulty reaching common understandings. Health law’s defining characteristic is that it attempts to bridge gaps in culture and understanding between law and medicine. As a field, health law is committed to gaining insight into the medical culture and context in which it operates.

Second, sometimes the best answer a health lawyer can give is "I don’t know." It is critical to be aware and honest about whether there is law that determines the course to be followed, or whether the course is the result of an educated guess. Where the state of the law is uncertain, the lawyer who begins with "I don’t know" can provide the health care client with the most valuable professional advice.

Third, health law has a robust replay function. The continual reemergence of issues such as what constitutes brain death or how to handle malpractice crises evinces the cyclical nature of health law. Health lawyers should not be surprised when issues tied up with a ribbon explode onto the scene several years later.

Fourth, health law is the house that Medicare built. Health law as a field would not have developed as it has without the robust growth of the industry that the federal Medicare statute kindled. Finally, the field of health law has been created and enriched by brilliant and generous teachers. From the professors in the classrooms to the patients sharing their stories, teachers of health law defy the sentiment that "those who can, do; those who can’t, teach."