Lawyers are great at asking questions, but how are they at answering them? Bloomberg Law is talking with lawyers and other legal industry players at the top of their fields to find out what makes them tick, what challenges they face, and how they do what they do.
Goodwin Procter life sciences and healthcare partner Delphine O’Rourke has had a busy 2020, between starting at a new firm and guiding her health care and women’s health clients through a pandemic she calls both the “biggest challenge” for the industry and the “biggest opportunity” for innovation that helps patients.
O’Rourke joined Goodwin in August after a nearly two-year stint at Duane Morris in both New York and Philadelphia. Her practice focuses on complex regulatory matters, crisis management, and public health laws
Prior to returning to Big Law—O’Rourke was an associate at Linklaters and at Shearman & Sterling early in her career—she was the associate general counsel for Ascension, a $29 billion healthcare conglomerate.
Bloomberg Law spoke to New York-based O’Rourke about how the pandemic is driving innovation in healthcare technology, the uniqueness of working inside hospitals and healthcare systems, and how she once helped the DEA take down a drug ring.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Bloomberg Law: What sets your firm apart from other Big Law firms?
Delphine O’Rourke: At Goodwin, there’s this amazing convergence of market-leading life sciences, tech, private equity, and health care practices so I can offer my clients the entire continuum of core legal services that they need as well as pull from other verticals. The Goodwin culture is also super collaborative which is a real differentiator and value add for clients —and it also makes it fun. I spend a significant amount of my time advising clients in the women’s health and wellness industry, and I can seamlessly draw from talent and insight that exists across the whole firm.
BL: What is the biggest challenge currently facing your practice area?
DO: I’m spending a considerable amount of time advising my health care and women’s health clients on the post-Covid regulatory framework and how to innovate quickly without creating additional legal risk. The pandemic is the biggest challenge and, at the same time, the biggest opportunity for innovation. We need new solutions, we need them really quickly, and investment in healthcare tech went up by 22% last quarter. There’s a five to 10-year acceleration in health technology innovation to meet new demands. At the same time, clients are struggling with the complexity of the current health care regulatory laws as well as with how to strategically plan ahead when the current laws, such as the Affordable Care Act or telemedicine waivers, may be struck down or reversed.
BL: What is your favorite war story from your career/practice?
DO: Early on in my career, when I was the general counsel of a health system, I went “undercover” to help the DEA arrest a drug dealer. A coordinated drug ring had been posing as patients and would get violent with physicians and nurses when they did not get pain killers. They would hit all of the physician practices at once, and then disappear for a couple months. The DEA and local law enforcement just couldn’t catch them. Finally, they got a tip that the dealers would be back, so the agencies made a plan to make simultaneous arrests. At the last minute, one of the security guards refused to sit in the waiting room to alert the police when the suspect entered. The police were waiting, and since we didn’t have enough time to find another security guard, I stepped in to play the role of a waiting room patient.
BL: What is the biggest difference you’ve noticed working for a Big Law firm compared to working in-house for Ascension, one of the largest non-profit health companies in the world?
DO: I have spent a lot of time working in and around health systems, hospitals, and other providers of care, and they are special places where the best, the worst, the tragic, and the inspiring somehow co-exist. Patients don’t, nor can they, leave the rest of their lives at the door. As an in-house hospital attorney, I was involved with some truly beautiful and intense situations with families, as well as disasters such as a mass shooting that traumatized the community. Those experiences inform my relationships with my clients and our shared understanding that reducing suffering and improving people’s lives is at the core of what we do.
BL: What advice would you give an associate just starting out his/her Big Law career?
DO: Schedule at least 25 minutes every week to intentionally build relationships and get to know people. Send an email to a law school classmate, reach out to the partner who offered to meet for coffee, grab a drink with your neighbor who is working at a major bank.
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