Using Public Health Legal Counsel Effectively: Beliefs, Barriers and Opportunities for Training


  • Nancy Kaufman,

    1. President of The Strategic Vision Group. She served as Vice President at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) from 1991–2003, leading its public health, tobacco control and health reform efforts.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Susan Allan,

    1. Director of the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice and an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Services at University of Washington in Seattle, WA.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Jennifer Ibrahim

    1. Associate Director of the Public Health Law Research Program and an Associate Professor in the Department of Public Health at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.
    Search for more papers by this author


Effective use of public health law can be a powerful tool to advance the mission of public health departments to protect and promote the health of the population. However, there is little known about the way that public health officials think about law, use law, and/or interact with their legal counsel. The purpose of this paper is to examine some of the beliefs and barriers facing public health officials and legal counsel in their efforts to collaborate and to describe specific opportunities to better facilitate the use of law and collaboration, particularly in the area of training and education. Our findings are based on two studies: (1) a mixed methods study of state and local public health officials and their legal counsel, including surveys and qualitative interviews; and (2) a survey-based needs assessment of training for public health law. While state health officials and legal counsel view the role of public health law in similar ways, variation exists in organization, interactions and perceptions of collaboration on issues of public health law. Tremendous opportunity exists for improving collaboration between legal counsel and public health agencies through additional education and training opportunities. Improving the use of law in public health is possible — if practitioners and legal educators work together to fulfill its promise.