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Trudy Henson will teach a course this spring on the law and policy of emergency public health response, one of five UM Carey classes developed and taught by staff members at the Center for Health and Homeland Security. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Combat beyond the courts

Law, public policy mix at UM’s Center for Health and Homeland Security

With its emphasis on deeply rooted principles, law is not often considered a profession of fast-paced change.

But law school graduates who apply their degrees to careers in rapidly developing fields like homeland security and emergency management are tasked with combating unforeseen crises and threats to public safety, often without precedent to fall back on.

At the University of Maryland’s Center for Health and Homeland Security, separate from but based at the Francis King Carey School of Law in Baltimore, 60 percent of the staff members have a law degree and one of the institution’s primary functions is giving legal advice on policy decisions.

There is nothing stagnant about the center’s areas of focus, and that’s part of what attracts many law students to these fields, said Markus Rauschecker, a senior law and policy analyst at the center who also teaches a course on law and cybersecurity at UM Carey.

While his course covers key topics like data breaches, privacy issues and First Amendment rights every semester, Rauschecker opens each class with a discussion of current events related to cybersecurity — and there’s always something new to talk about, he said.

“That’s really what’s so exciting about it,” he said. “Here we are at the beginning of something, and whoever starts getting involved with it really has the opportunity to shape the future. That’s very rare when it comes to law.”

Trudy Henson, the center’s public health program manager, said that sense of discovery also propels law students to apply their legal training and critical-thinking skills to the medical world, helping governments, hospitals and other clients prepare for the legal dilemmas posed by public health emergencies.

As someone who entered UM Carey with the goal of entering the policy arena rather than practicing law, Henson began working at the center as an intern while still in law school. She assisted with projects such as a public health legal handbook that spelled out actions the government could take under Maryland law during a public health emergency.

“Can we compel medical treatment? Can we have citizens quarantined or isolated in particular situations, and how far does that power extend? That was a very legal research-intensive project,” she said.

Henson will teach a course this spring on the law and policy of emergency public health response, one of five UM Carey classes developed and taught by center staff members. The first focused on homeland security and counterterrorism and launched in 2002, and the most recent, which deals with issues of national security and data collection, began last semester.

At the same time, the center’s externship and research assistant program has expanded to give more students the chance to get hands-on experience, professors said. Five students will work for the center during the fall semester, and 129 have been employed there as externs or research assistants since the center opened in 2002.

Justin Morris, a third-year at UM Carey and a research assistant at the center, has worked on crisis management seminars hosted in collaboration with the U.S. State Department. The programs provide anti-terrorism and disaster-mitigation training to law enforcement officials around the world, such as Turkey and Bangladesh, he said.

Morris also took three courses taught by staff members at the center, which helped cement his decision to pursue national security law or federal law enforcement.

“I think they’re very applicable,” he said. “They prepare you more for what you need to know in a working environment, as opposed to a theoretical one.”

Rauschecker, who also applied to law school knowing he wanted to work on policy after graduating, has helped with planning and coordination for the last two presidential inaugurations, a task that requires ironing out jurisdictional issues between federal, state and local governments.

He said working on emergency management gives him the ability to impact a greater number of people than he could as a practicing attorney.

As a lawyer, “I can help these people get what they need, and that’s great, but then there are thousands or millions more people with the same exact problem,” he said. “If I’m representing one client at a time, it’s a drop in the bucket.”

In the realm of health law, the potential for mitigating harm through policy and preparation is clear — every time a new disease or public health issue is in the news, whether it’s swine flu or Ebola, there are new concerns to address, and many of those questions relate to the legal powers of government in an emergency, Henson said.

“What makes this work exciting is that there are new questions and novel questions,” she said. “As the disease concerns change, those questions get a little more nuanced.”

For some students, fear of a lackluster job market for attorneys might be the motivating factor to branch out into the legal aspects of other fields, while others are simply more interested in homeland security or emergency management than in practicing traditional law. For many, it’s a combination, and both Rauschecker and Henson said students are enthusiastic about legal possibilities in these fields.

“I think there is consistent growth as people are realizing there are a lot of very complex issues, Henson said. “As health law gets more complex and society gets more complex, the questions just sort of compound.”