Network prior to their request for assistance, whether at a conference,
through social media or some other means. Such outreach measures help
the Network foster new relationships, inform target audiences about the
services provided by the Network and help build the field of public health
law. Individuals seeking assistance may have some previous experience
with public health law and see the value of using law within the public
health context to improve health.
The number of requests coming from the three jurisdictional levels reinforces the existing understanding of the legal infrastructure of public health
and one of the key reasons for which the Network was created. Federal entities submitted the fewest requests for assistance, while state and local entities requested a much larger proportion. The majority of local public health
entities have limited access to legal counsel with public health law expertise, which requires a wide range of legal knowledge.
24 Many local entities
access legal counsel through the city or county attorney’s office, which may
or may not have specialized knowledge in public health law. Other jurisdictions have attorneys from private firms on retainer. Finally, some jurisdictions may seek legal counsel from the state attorney general’s office or a
state department of health attorney, depending on the state and local governance structure.
25 These models all discourage the development of productive working relationships around the use of law as a tool to protect and
promote public health and instead encourage public health agencies to seek
legal assistance reactively rather than proactively.
26 The Network was created in large part to address the needs of local public health agencies by
providing a reliable and neutral source of legal assistance that could be accessed at any stage.
The topics that were most commonly requested for assistance among the
three jurisdictional levels seem to reflect the realities of legal practice and
available resources at each level. At the federal level, requests on emergency legal preparedness comprise more requests than all of the other top ten
most frequent topics combined. This reflects the large role of federal entities in addressing national efforts to ensure emergency preparedness and the
increasing importance of public health law in emergency preparedness.
In contrast, state entities submitted a larger portion of the requests related
24. Diane E. Hoffmann & Virginia Rowthorn, Building Public Health Law Capacity at
the Local Level, 36 J.L. MED. & ETHICS
6, 6-9 (2008).
25. Nancy Kaufman et al., Using Public Health Legal Counsel Effectively: Beliefs, Barriers and Opportunities for Training, 41 J.L. MED. & ETHICS
61, 61 (2013).
26. Id. at 62. (“In many health departments where resources for legal services are limited, the ability of managers to make educated decisions while conducting routine public
health activities — in essence understanding legal boundaries and operating in accordance
with them — makes their legal counsel’s time available for dealing proactively with emerging threats to the public’s health and authority to act.”).