August 16, 2017

Alumni Spotlight: Elizabeth McCuskey, Associate Professor, University of Toledo College of Law

  Name: Elizabeth McCuskey
  Job Title: Associate Professor, Director of JD/MD and JD/MPH programs, University of Toledo College of Law
  Drinker Biddle practice and years: Litigation Group, 2005-2010
  Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.A. 1999; University of Pennsylvania Law School, J.D. 2005
  Hobbies, Family, Civic Activities: Striped bass fishing, tennis, fundraising for the Girl Scouts

Among the book stacks of the Swarthmore Peace Collection Archives, Elizabeth McCuskey’s passion for law was sparked.

“I read a lot about how the conscientious objectors movement became a legal movement and started using law and court proceedings to further their quest for equal treatment and recognition of their conscientious objections,” she said, recalling her undergraduate history honors thesis research.

Liz is still constantly rediscovering her love for the law as an associate professor at the University of Toledo College of Law, and director of the university’s joint JD/MD and JD/MPH programs. She does research on preemption and federalism issues in health law, and over the past year has been busy sharing her findings in light of health care reform. Liz recently wrote an article on a little-known provision in the Affordable Care Act that allows states to apply to the Department of Health and Human Services for a waiver of all of the ACA requirements that are being hotly debated.

“A state can apply to HHS, not Congress, and get the individual mandate waived, the employer mandate waived, get all of these coverage requirements waived,” she said.

The health care reform bills debated by Congress earlier this summer would have changed the waiver program to be a rubber stamp that removed any discretion from the HHS Secretary to deny an application. The paper “Agency Imprimatur & Health Reform Preemption” is available online and will be published in the Ohio State Law Journal in November.

“If there’s no movement at a national level towards agreement on which fixes to the Affordable Care Act should come first, then we’ll see increased use of the waiver to let states pursue experiments and see which ones work best at the state level before getting consensus to implement those changes at the federal level,” she said.

Training the next generation of lawyers

After graduating from University of Pennsylvania in 1999, Liz moved to Boston and worked at a big law firm as a litigation assistant. The experience of working with lawyers and being on a trial support team gave her a better perspective on practicing law and confirmed for her that she wanted to pursue it as a career. She returned to Penn for law school and graduated in 2005.

Liz joined Drinker Biddle after graduation and was an associate in the Litigation Group, handling antitrust, appellate, and attorney-general fraud cases for health care clients. She worked on the Johnson & Johnson Risperdal cases and considers the trial in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas one of the highlights of her time with the firm.

In 2010, Liz became a fellow at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, which allowed her to teach and pursue her research full-time. She joined the law school faculty at Toledo in 2012 and was recently awarded tenure. Liz teaches classes in civil procedure, jurisdiction, health law, food and drug law, and health care business planning.

As the coordinator for the Health Law Concentration and director of the university’s JD/MD and JD/MPH joint-degree programs, Liz works on curriculum, which includes consulting with top lawyers in the region to develop training that will be relevant for students who want to work in health law and pursue compliance jobs. She also works on interdisciplinary efforts to find ways students in the law, public health, and medical schools can learn from each other through curriculum and programming. This fall, the top-ranked Center for Health Law Studies at St. Louis University School of Law is hosting Liz as a visiting professor.

Liz said being a law professor is a fascinating job that combines teaching, service, and scholarship. Law professors also have an important role in shaping legal education both at their schools and through American Bar Association policies and directives, she said, and it’s exciting to be involved in those decisions from a service perspective.

“We train the next generations of lawyers. I’ve been very heartened and excited to work with law students, who I think have an enormous range of experiences and motivations and really great ideas,” she said. “It makes me feel pretty happy about the future of the profession.”

Drinker Biddle was a formative experience that Liz said gave her valuable, real-life context for the legal doctrine she teaches students and enables her to teach in an effective way.

“The high level of work that our clients had entrusted to us at Drinker Biddle gave me the opportunity to think deeply about how these important legal and regulatory issues impact the entire health care system through all of its different players,” she said.

Her advice to someone interested in becoming a law professor is to “talk to as many people in academia as you can.” Law schools are in a shrinking phase and have been focused on bringing in smaller classes of students with good credentials who can pass the bar. Geography is also something you have little control over, she said, so someone who is committed to this career change must be prepared to relocate.

“There is less demand right now for new law teachers, but the demand for great and committed law teachers and law scholars has not waned,” she said. “So while the volume of new positions is down there’s still a real focus on getting and keeping the best and most dedicated people.”

Helping young women flourish

In her spare time, Liz enjoys striped bass fishing and tennis. She is also heavily involved in fundraising efforts for the Girl Scouts’ Girl Zone/Urban Camp in Charleston, West Virginia. Girl Zone enables Girl Scout troops from areas that don’t have any facilities to come and do their classes and hold their campfires. Liz grew up in West Virginia, and her fundraising efforts are in tribute to her mother, Anne, who served on the Black Diamond Girl Scout Council. The camp will eventually be named after Anne.

“Her work with the Girl Scouts and her general mission in life was to give everybody the opportunity to flourish in their own way,” she said. “I think that the Girl Zone is a very fitting tribute to her legacy. It’s a project that she started that’s made a lot of impact.”

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