Understanding the Healthcare Industry from Every Angle
By Axiom Law
Get to know Erica at a glance:
- 25+ years of experience
- Served as Associate General Counsel at a F500 health insurance company
- Engaged at a F500 healthcare company negotiating contracts and supporting the business teams
Erica brings deep, specialized life sciences experience to Axiom clients, but it is impossible to pigeonhole a lawyer with her expertise and interests. Her legal career has taken her through large law firms, to in-house roles at major healthcare and health insurance providers, to the federal government, and finally to Axiom clients in the healthcare and life sciences areas. Erica studied medicine even before pursuing a career in law, and she has a passion for the written word, finance and accounting, and the business side of law.
Erica’s varied experiences and interests inform her legal work, and vice versa. “I had someone refer to me as a unicorn,” Erica says. “I didn’t know whether to feel insulted or flattered! But I thought about it: They’re right. I was one of the rare lawyers on the healthcare side who had experience with the regulator -- but then externally, on the private sector side, specifically with health insurance as well.”
For the past four and a half years, Erica has worked with a number of Axiom clients in the healthcare field. Since June 2019, she’s been engaged with a Fortune 500 healthcare company that administers Medicare Advantage and Medicaid plans.
According to Erica -- who, outside of her legal work, is also a writer, researcher, gardener, and parent -- variety is one key to navigating an evolving legal industry. Changing economic factors and client expectations present opportunities for lawyers and legal teams to vary their work, both in focus area and in geography. “We have to re-envision taking control of your own career trajectory,” she says.
A passion for medicine, language, and numbers
Erica was drawn to the medical field at a young age, initially studying pre-med at Emory University, before deciding to pursue a major in English. While she enjoyed the science aspect of her studies, she also had a deep passion for English courses and was drawn to political science, economics, and statistics. “I have an analytical, but creative mind,” she says. Today, she says she sees those diverse studies as “the birth of a healthcare lawyer.”
Erica divides her legal career into what she calls “two books.” The first book followed a traditional plot. After graduating from the University of Georgia Law School, she took a judicial clerkship, then joined the law firm Long Weinberg and Wheeler. Her law firm work involved representing large insurers and manufacturers, focusing on premises, professional, and product liability. She was interested in litigation, so she left the firm and became a prosecutor. “I took the leap, took the pay cut, and was a prosecutor in crimes against women and children for about three and a half years in Fulton County, which is the biggest county seat in the Metro Atlanta area,” she says. “It was great work. It could be painful work because of the subject matter, but helpful.”
Erica felt a pull toward an in-house role and decided to join the Department of Health and Human Services. In 11 years at HHS, her clients included the Center for Medicare and Medicaid and the Centers for Disease Control. Her work involved administrative hearings, bankruptcy employment, and regulatory issues -- including regulatory aspects of the 2001 anthrax scare.
After working on the transition team between the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, she became general counsel at the Federal Transit Administration for mass transit in the Southeastern region. She managed other lawyers, working on mass transit projects in the Southeast. One, the SunRail from Orlando to Tampa, Florida, was “about a hundred million dollars -- from drafting the master agreement, to securing the rail cars, to the easements with different counties.”
Experiencing the benefit of Axiom’s support as in-house counsel
The second book of her career saw Erica enter the healthcare private sector and, ultimately, join Axiom. Working in-house for a Fortune 100 health insurance provider, she turned to Axiom for support for her own team while preparing for an acquisition and consolidation. “When I saw the Axiom business model, I was intrigued, because outside counsel costs were killing us,” she explains. She realized Axiom could provide the support she needed without straining a lean budget.
When Erica decided to join Axiom herself, she wasn’t sure how long she would stay, but found that “the quality of engagements has been amazing.” She elaborates, “The support of the Axiom team has been excellent. And I have really gained a level of confidence now that I've seen the Axiom model work and know the caliber of talent.”
The flexibility to pursue a creative life and explore family history
The flexibility that comes with working as an Axiom lawyer has allowed Erica to devote more attention than before to her creative work, her family, and her garden. Her two kids are now of high school and college age. While they were growing, her work frequently called on her to travel and to put in long hours -- which made parenting challenging, even with a supportive husband. “For the first time in my legal career, I have really been able to decently balance being an active and hands-on parent, in addition to pursuing my own professional goals,” she says of the Axiom difference.
Erica is also enthusiastic about the book she’s been researching about her grandmother and her family. Her grandmother and great-grandfather were both African American entrepreneurs who lived and did business in Atlanta. Her great-grandfather rose from being a bootlegger to a real estate investor; her grandmother opened a childcare center (one of only three African American-owned childcare centers in Atlanta at the time) at the age of 50 and ran it for 32 years. “Neither of them, I think, completed a high school education,” she says, “but they were just tremendous in terms of pursuing their dreams of entrepreneurship and investing in their communities.”
The need for legal professionals to bring business expertise to the table
Observing trends in the business world and speaking with other lawyers, Erica has thought about how the legal team can justify its costs to business leaders and thrive into the future. “I've heard so many different C-suite executives say they don't just want legal to be legal,” she says. “They also want you to have a business-minded lens. It is absolutely imperative for every attorney that's in-house, and for every support person, to really understand the way that businesses are run, as to profit and loss.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has left many lawyers, by her description, “functioning and nervous,” she recognizes it’s also demonstrating how well work can be done remotely -- and how low-overhead remote, flexible legal support can save businesses money. This in turn will encourage businesses to hire legal talent outside of their immediate geographical areas, and for legal professionals to look for farther-flung opportunities. Despite the uncertainty of the economy’s near future, she believes companies like Axiom are “are no longer the model of the future -- it's the current model, and it's only going to continue to expand.”
Indeed, she says, she sees the younger generation of lawyers already acclimated to responding quickly to crises while still performing well, to operate with fewer resources, and to apply that business mindset. “They're running with it,” she says, “seeing your career as your brand and looking at opportunities to add value.”
Axiom’s flexible model can help legal leaders reduce their outside counsel spend and face today’s business challenges with agility. Get in touch with us today to connect with experienced lawyers like Erica.
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