Deal Makers and Breakers: “The Corporate Healthcare Attorney” – An Interview with Linda Hatcher of Theodora Oringher
By Michelle Hugard • January 20, 2011•Writers in Residence
It has been a great year here at Deal Makers and Breakers. I’m pleased to announce the last interview of my tenure as a Writer-in-Residence features Senior Attorney Linda Hatcher of the Los Angeles firm, Theodora Oringher.
Ms. Hatcher has extensive legal experience with business formations, operations, transactions, and regulatory matters. In her extremely varied practice, she represents physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare providers and businesses related to the health care and life science industries with their business formations, ventures, contracts, licenses, regulatory compliance, and other general legal matters. In addition to her professional activities and involvement on the leadership of several bar associations, she is very involved in the mentoring activities of the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles (“WLALA”). Scroll to the end of the post for her full bio.
Ms. Hatcher’s experience as a Senior Attorney and her corporate healthcare expertise qualify her as a “Female Powerhouse.” Below, read her advice on personal marketing development, breaking into the corporate and healthcare law industries, and engaging in mentoring activities with your local bar associations.
Please describe your pre-legal educational and professional background. My undergraduate degree was in business administration, with an emphasis in management. I wanted a career in corporate management and then, eventually, to own my own business. At that time, I had not contemplated a career in law.
I was recruited out of college by American Hospital Supply Corporation, which, at the time, was a large medical supply company that became part of a company now known as Baxter. I was in an accelerated management program, designed so that the managers could help the company continue to expand quickly. The position was exciting and a great experience. It required learning a substantial amount in a very short period of time, and I had the opportunity to obtain great responsibility early on in my career. That was how I ended up in California.
My intention was to work for a few years and then get my MBA. I was working so much, though, I felt I would have to change jobs to go back to school. Through an extraordinary turn of events, I ended up taking a position with a boutique healthcare law firm, which gave me the schedule I needed to enroll in an MBA program. When I took the position at the law firm, I was open about my education and career goals, and they understood it was for a limited engagement so that I could go back to school.
Immediately after I started, though, a family tragedy occurred that ended up being very instrumental to me re-evaluating my career path. I decided to briefly postpone school to make sure things were going to work out with my family. And during that time, I got to see what the business lawyers in the firm did and the matters they got to work on. I was intrigued that these attorneys were working on such high level business transactions, some of them very early out of law school. I was fascinated by the work they had the opportunity to do. It seemed so interesting and exciting. I also knew that, being on the corporate management track, it would likely be a number of years before I would have the opportunity to work on such significant business deals.
I began to consider whether I wanted to become a lawyer. The firm was full of terrific lawyers who became mentors to me and helped me explore my options. One of the owners of the firm was an incredible mentor. He had been a hospital executive with his MBA, when he decided to become a lawyer. He was a great resource in discussing the pros and cons of entering law and the options that may be presented with a JD verses an MBA. I thought an MBA would really be redundant in terms of my undergraduate education and work experience, and I thought the JD would really enhance my education, even if I ultimately decided to stick with my business career. I decided the JD route was best for me. And I ultimately decided that I wanted to become a lawyer.
Because of your background at the American Hospital Supply Corporation and your time at the boutique law firm, did you know you wanted to focus on business law with an emphasis in the healthcare industry? I can’t say that I was determined to focus on healthcare, but I absolutely went to law school to be a business lawyer. When I applied to law school, I included in my application materials that I intended to become a business lawyer. I knew that business law was the right choice for me. The healthcare aspect also became a natural fit, and it really enhances my practice. Lucky for me, I ended up getting to clerk at the law firm full time, almost the entire time I was in law school, and got great initial experience.
What law school courses were particularly beneficial when you started practicing? What law school courses do you wish you had taken? In law school, I took every business law related class I could. I had contracts, corporations, secured transactions, bankruptcy law, and tax courses. All of them were beneficial to me in my practice. I wish I’d taken securities law, but it didn’t work out for my schedule. Law schools now seem to offer many more practicum-type business classes, which I would absolutely recommend to law students interested in business law. I wish I’d had them available to me when I was in law school. I also wish there had been more healthcare law related classes available to me in law school. My understanding is that more and more schools are offering healthcare law courses.
My advice to law students, who know they want to practice in a particular area of law, is to take as many classes as possible related to that subject area. I know some law students will pick their classes based on how easy they think the courses will be, with the primary goal of maintaining a high G.P.A. I don’t recommend that. Obviously your G.P.A. and your class rank are important; but focusing only on those classes that help your G.P.A. is not going to make you as good of a lawyer, in my view.
What was your first position out of law school? When I graduated, the boutique healthcare law firm offered me an associate position. But while I was off studying for the California Bar Exam with my stipend from the firm, the firm imploded. It was so unfortunate. There was an amazing pool of talent there and terrific clients. It was a huge surprise to everyone. Each lawyer ended up at a completely different firm. No two lawyers ended up in one place.
It worked out fine for me, because the managing partner and primary owner of the firm asked me to come back to work when I finished the Bar Exam. He said he wanted my help in winding up the firm, knowing I could help from both the legal and business side. He said he thought the process would take about a year and that I could work until I found another position I wanted. He said he would also give me every opportunity to interview for other jobs during that time.
I must admit I was initially worried about finding another job, because it would be some time before I got my Bar results and I didn’t think anyone would want to hire me until I was licensed. As it turned out, because all the lawyers I had worked with were positioning themselves with other firms, I was contacted by many of them. That is a good example of why it is important to have good relationships with people you work with.
How did you obtain the position you are now in today? That very situation was what brought me here. One of the partners I had worked with at the boutique healthcare law firm ended up at this firm [now known as Theodora Oringher]. He had worked with a number of this firm's principals early on in his career, and he’d essentially reunited with them. He contacted me on day number three of my Bar Exam, wanting me to come interview for an associate position at this firm. I did and connected well with folks at the firm. I had really enjoyed working with him and knew he was going to be my supervisor. Actually, this firm’s policy was that they did not hire brand new lawyers. But he vouched for me, and they made me an offer -- before I got my Bar results – to be a clerk and then an associate. And here I am! Now, I’m a senior attorney with the firm.
Please describe your typical day or week as a business transactions attorney. Because my practice is so diverse, I don’t have a “typical” workday or week. I service my own clients, other attorney’s clients, have commitments related to my marketing efforts, and have firm administrative matters to fit in.
My practice is probably best described as being that of an outside general counsel. I’m always working on so many different types of projects, for clients that range from small entrepreneurs to large private and public companies. I may spend the better part of a day advising clients or working on documents for a particular transaction or business matter, or helping clients with their operational matters requiring legal attention. The healthcare industry is highly regulated and healthcare laws are quite complex, so on some days I may spend a good amount of time analyzing the healthcare laws and other laws that apply to a particular transaction or operational issue.
I am also very active in certain bar associations. I am on the Board of Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles (“WLALA”), and I Co-Chair the Business Development Committee. I had previously Chaired the Business Law Section. I'm also very active in a WLALA mentoring group for women lawyers and judges. That particular mentoring group is not for law students, but WLALA does provide mentoring opportunities for law students as well. I am also on the Executive Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Healthcare Law Section. I’m a recent past Chair of that Section and still very active on the Executive Committee.
Please describe your personal marketing efforts and strategy. As a senior attorney, marketing is an important aspect of my work. In fact, I have a small sign posted on my bulletin board that says, “What have you done today for marketing?” to remind me that marketing is a constant endeavor for attorneys who create, develop, and maintain books of business.
Marketing, however, is not just about trying to woo prospective clients. It's about marketing yourself to the legal community and with friends and relations, as potential referral sources.
It's also about marketing yourself to colleagues in your firm, so that you can help them and be of service to their clients. It’s important to let your colleagues know what you do, so they can market your services along with their own.
The key thing about marketing is developing relationships. And a key thing about advancing in our profession is having your own book of business. Keep in mind that the most important thing for junior lawyers to do is develop their legal skills and become great lawyers. However, it's never too early to start developing relationships.
How has the economy affected you as a business law practitioner? This is truly one of the hardest times for business lawyers because it is one of the hardest times for businesses in recent history. Business lawyers, and lawyers in general, if they are telling the truth, are not nearly as busy as they were before the recession. Businesses are trying to cut as many expenses as possible and that includes legal expenses.
What has certainly helped me in my practice is my work in healthcare. Although the healthcare industry has been affected by this economy, there is still a constant need for legal services there. Healthcare reform has also spurred activity, not necessarily present in other business sectors.
Also, business opportunities exist in any recession. Strong companies and resourceful people tend to take advantage of such opportunities. Strong companies acquire floundering ones, so we see merger and acquisition activity. People whose jobs have been eliminated will sometimes look to start their own businesses. I’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurial activity rise out of these circumstances.
What advice do you have for female law students who are interested in achieving positions similar to yours in this tough economy? The economy makes everything a little more difficult. I would say get as much education and experience as you can in business law and healthcare law. Healthcare lawyers are in demand, but it is not an easy area of law to learn without good guidance.
For law students who really just want to be business lawyers, this is a difficult time. My practice has been so rewarding to me, and I don’t want to be discouraging, but there is a struggle right now trying to break into this area. If you cannot get an associate position as a corporate/transactional business lawyer, then get experience if you can as a business litigator or some other legal position that will help you gain knowledge as a lawyer and on business matters. Then, be persistent about transitioning into what you really want to do.
Network with other lawyers who do what you want to do. Let people know who you are and what you are interested in doing, and how you are developing valuable skills and experience. Let them see how responsible you are, how happy you are to take on leadership roles, and what you are accomplishing. Every relation is an opportunity to gain some insight and may result in a job opportunity or contact.
It seems like a lot of your career choices are very male-dominated and in an “Old Boys Club” business law setting. How has being a woman affected your professional development? Do you feel like you have had any additional challenges being a woman in this setting than what you see with your male counterparts? Yes, without a doubt, the business world and the legal world are male dominated. There are some men who prefer to work only with men, or who tend to help their male buddies first and foremost – whether deserving or not. But that has become less and less common over the years that I’ve been working.
I find that if you are professional and responsive and produce quality work, people want to work with you, period. I’ve actually had some men, both clients and colleagues, admit to me that they think women tend to be more thorough in their work – stereotyping, of course. Clients want good service and to know they can rely on you. If you can deliver that, most are not going to care if you are male or female.
You are very involved in mentoring activities for women in the law. What motivates you to engage in these activities? As you know, the statistics regarding women in the legal profession are not where they ought to be. About half of law school graduates are women, and it’s been that way for a while. But we don’t see anything near that percentage of women advancing in the profession – whether we’re talking about advancement as a partner, in management, or in the judiciary. I firmly believe that women lawyers need to support other women lawyers in order for us to advance in the profession. WLALA’s mission and Ms. JD’s mission really stress this concept, and it is something I think is important.
Mentoring is not just about advising someone junior to you, or receiving advice from someone senior to you. Its also about encouraging each other and helping each other to be successful, and about being mindful of the importance of “paying it forward,” so that we can help develop a regular pattern and system of support that will help women at all levels advance in our profession.
What has surprised you most about your career path? To be honest, becoming a lawyer is the thing that truly surprised me most about my career path, because its not what I initially set out to do.
Any last thoughts? Work hard and make it happen. And always respect people along the way. Relationships are so important. Be the kind of lawyer you want to be, and be a good leader. This doesn’t mean you are going to be perfect. You might not have the particular natural gifts or talents that enable you to achieve each and every goal, but always strive to be your best and keep improving. It’s called the "practice of law," not the "perfection of law." Find good mentors and learn from them. And, in the future, be a good mentor to other attorneys as well.
Linda Hatcher has been a business lawyer for 15 years, representing clients that range from individual entrepreneurs to publicly traded companies. She has represented clients across diverse industries, with significant experience in the health care industry. Prior to her law career, Linda was a business manager with American Hospital Supply Corporation (now Baxter), where she became one of the youngest branch managers in the country for its home health care and durable medical equipment division.
Ms. Hatcher is admitted to practice in California and is a member of the Business Law Section of the California State Bar. She also serves on the Executive Committee of the Healthcare Law Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association and is a recent past Chair of the Healthcare Law Section. Linda is on the Board of Governors of Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles (WLALA), is Co-Chair of the Business Development Committee of WLALA and a past Chair of the Business Law Section of WLALA. She is also actively involved in the WLALA mentoring program for women lawyers and judges.
Ms. Hatcher received her BS magna cum laude from Murray State University. She received her JD from Loyola Law School, where she received the Dean's Academic Achievement Scholarship, was a member of the Phi Delta Phi Honor Society, and received the American Jurisprudence Award for Trial Advocacy.