PFC Spotlight: Academic Fellow Alumnus Matthew J. B. Lawrence image

Petrie-Flom Center , January 31, 2018


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Matthew J. B. Lawrence was an Academic Fellow from 2010-2013, during which time his research focused on health care reform and health insurance coverage decision-making. Today, he is Assistant Professor of Law at  Penn State Dickinson Law, where he teaches and conducts research on health law and administrative law. He also holds a secondary appointment at Penn State College of Medicine. 

When did you first become interested in health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics?

My first post-law school, post-clerkship job was as a Trial Attorney in the DOJ office responsible for ACA litigation, Medicare litigation, and so on. I handled a few interesting cases with some great colleagues and was hooked.

What attracted you to the Academic Fellowship program at the Petrie-Flom Center?

The strength of the Petrie-Flom Center’s community (faculty, affiliates, students, alums, visitors—everyone); the strength of Harvard’s interdisciplinary collaborations in this space; and the opportunity to teach, learn, and research the things I was most passionate about. 

What was the focus of your Academic Fellowship research, and how did Petrie-Flom community assist you in completing it?

I focused on health care reform and health insurance coverage decisionmaking. The community helped so much! [Former Academic Fellow] Chris Robertson was visiting my first year and was UNBELIEVABLY generous with his time and expertise. It was so helpful. Holly Fernandez Lynch [former Executive Director], I. Glenn Cohen [Faculty Director], Ben Roin [former Faculty co-Director], and Einer Elhauge [Founding Director] were all terrific mentors. I loved talking to, sympathizing with, and strategizing with [Administrative Director] Crissy Hutchison-Jones and then [former Project Coordinator] Justin Leahey. And we had a whole family of visitors and affiliates who supported, encouraged, and taught me, coming in and out: Michelle Mello, Aziza Ahmed, Aaron Kesselheim, Timo Minssen, Kuei-Jung Ni, and Abby Moncrieff jump to mind but I am sure I am forgetting others (sorry!). Last but definitely not least (probably first), my PFC co-Academic Fellows and office neighbors Jeff Skopek [Spotlight], Nicholson Price, and then Rachel E. Sachs were so supportive, welcoming, and fun to get to know.  

What were your key takeaways from the Academic Fellowship? Have you continued to interact with the Center and/or its affiliates since completing your fellowship?

Three key takeaways. First, I learned about the little things—events, contacts, references, visits, etc.—that make interdisciplinary collaborations possible, and how vitally important such collaborations are for really getting to the meat of problems in healthcare.  Second, I learned a lot about health care policy and how it matches up with health care scholarship (and vice versa). Third, I learned how to teach and advise; I am tremendously grateful in particular for that opportunity!

How has the Academic Fellowship influenced your career?

First, it was a huge boost to me as a lawyer.  My first step after the fellowship was to return to the Department of Justice, and having learned a bit about “nitty gritty health reform” (Wendy Mariner’s term, from a PFC conference) as a fellow opened the door to me to represent the Secretary of Health and Human Services in a series of big-ticket “v. Sebelius” and “v. Burwell” healthcare cases.  That was a tremendous practice and learning experience.  My fellowship background was also a huge asset to me during my next stint, working on health care regulatory issues at the White House Office of Management and Budget. And since coming back to academia, I have found that all my old friends and contacts from the broader Petrie-Flom “family” are still out there, ready and willing to help, comment, connect, and collaborate. The fellowship was and has been a formative opportunity for me.  

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