ENTRY FROM: The Top 100 Health Promotion Professionals

Nominee: Barbara Zabawa

Promoting Wellness Through the Law

I am an attorney and President of the Center for Health Law Equity, LLC, a law firm that I started in August 2014 after practicing law in a variety of settings for the last 13 years. Right now, my law firm consists of just me, but I fully intend to grow the firm to be a leader in advising and serving the health promotion industry.

Professional Development 

Before graduating with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School, I obtained a Master in Public Health Degree from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor’s Degree from Lawrence University.  I have received several awards and fellowships, such as the Skadden Fellowship, the Elaine Osborne Jacobson Award for Women Working in Health Care Law, and a 2011 Wisconsin Up and Coming Lawyer award.  Receiving the Watson Fellowship, however, fueled my enthusiasm for health promotion through studying workplace health promotion efforts in Europe.  That experience led me to earn an MPH, which best supports my zeal for health promotion.   

Demonstrated Success 

My most successful health promotion contribution is the creation of my law firm, the Center for Health Law Equity, LLC.  My firm is dedicated to serving the wellness industry so that those promoting the health of individuals and populations can do so with confidence and within the parameters of the law.  After working for years as a health lawyer in a traditional law firm setting, I realized that very few, if any, lawyers paid attention to the needs of wellness providers and institutions.  

As in health care financing, the bulk of attention by health lawyers is aimed at serving large, acute care providers.  After some time serving those providers, my foundational training in health promotion eventually bubbled to the surface of my legal career.  I felt compelled to open a firm that stayed true to my roots in preventive health efforts.  Through my law firm, I now help wellness providers understand and comply with many of the same laws that impact acute care providers, as well as laws unique to the wellness industry.    

By starting a law firm that focuses on the wellness industry, I can promote the legal health of my clients by saving them from costly mistakes.  For example, one health professional client wanted to sell nutritional supplements to her patients and others outside the office.  The client’s good intentions to help people lead healthier lifestyles conflicted with her legal and ethical duties as a health professional.  Having a legal advocate who appreciated the wellness goal but also understood the law was invaluable to this client and helped her prevent a legal and ethical conflict from occurring. It also helped her realize that even with the best intentions, the law can place limits on health promotion efforts.  But, the law can also bring legitimacy to health promotion efforts.  Going forward, the client was more cognizant of her role as a health professional even outside the office and more respectful of the role law plays in her practice.

A law firm that serves wellness providers is essential at a time when the health marketplace is emphasizing coordinated, value-based care.  As healthcare stakeholders create partnerships to deliver value-based care through Accountable Care Organizations and patient-centered medical homes, a legal resource that advocates for the inclusion of wellness providers in these initiatives is crucial.  In addition, the existence of a law firm that represents wellness providers redefines what constitutes the practice health care law, as traditional health law practice often neglects the preventive side of health care.
To help sharpen the focus of my law firm, I consulted CEOs of wellness companies, created a business plan, and examined the current state of the healthcare market, which is requiring team-based care and demanding data-driven results.  Because wellness providers are critical to achieving these goals, a law firm that helps wellness providers meet such goals makes perfect sense.


As a lawyer serving the health promotion industry, it is imperative to be physically and mentally healthy, not only to make my clients proud, but also to inspire other lawyers and entrepreneurs.  I exercise most days of the week, drink mostly water, eat vegetarian whenever possible, gravitate toward constructive and helpful news outlets and articles, and keep a daily list of things I must accomplish in order to make positive contributions to society.  Staying healthy allows me to devote much of my spare time to writing, speaking and learning about health laws as it impacts the wellness industry.  This sincere devotion drives me to be a leader in the field.  I would advise other wellness practitioners wanting to emerge as leaders to think creatively; assemble all of your passion and past experience to create a new way of promoting health.  Then, blaze that trail with gusto!    


Because many laws impacting the wellness industry are at the state level, it is difficult for wellness providers to stay abreast of all the laws that may influence their programs.  I am working with law students to help research state laws that affect the wellness industry.  Once completed, I envision the project results to be delivered through a user-friendly, technological platform.  By involving law students in this project, I not only save clients the cost of research, but encourage law students to think more broadly about the practice of health law.  This 50-state research project, once completed, will make wellness industry legal compliance more accessible and cost effective.  It also expands the concept of health law practice to include clients focused on preventive care, rather than just acute care, and promotes a team-based approach to delivering legal services by partnering with academia and technology providers.   

Compelling Vision 

I believe one of the biggest threats that the health promotion industry faces in the next five years is unequal access to health promotion programs and services.  This access problem is due in part to a historical unequal balance of resources dedicated between acute, curative care and preventive care.  With the Affordable Care Act’s emphasis on preventive care, there are opportunities in the next five years to improve the balance between these two types of care.  A mission of my law firm is to promote more equal access to health promotion services by helping wellness providers integrate their services into coordinated care models, advocating for improved reimbursement and financing mechanisms and offering cost-effective legal services so that wellness providers can thrive and advance population health.   

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Barbara is the best health lawyer I know she is very faithful in her work I am very proud of my daughter in all what she already as accomplished love you mom

avila z. on 11/09/2014

Barbara has always been a very focused, dedicated, and passionate person. She has always been outstanding in whatever she sets her mind to and works extremely hard in everything she does.

Sarah K. on 11/06/2014

Barbara is an outstanding lawyer who is passionate about health care. Barbara brings a unique balance of health care knowledge and impassioned advocacy, which has served her clients well. Equally as important, Barbara is a great leader in the community.

Michael C. on 11/03/2014

I can't imagine anyone working harder in the field of health and wellness! Barbara definitely deserves this award.

Dorthy A. on 11/01/2014

Barbara is among the best health care attorneys in the state of Wisconsin. She is passionate, insightful and highly respected. I give her my unconditional support.

Brian A. on 11/01/2014

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