In-House Duo Heads Back to Law Firm Life
Two lawyers who shared leadership of UnitedHealth Group Incorporateds legal department are returning to law firm life at Hogan Lovells. Christopher Walsh and Mitchell Zamoff will apply their collective legal and business know-how to establishing a new location for the firm in Minneapolis.
Walsh will serve as a member of the corporate practice group, and Zamoff joins the litigation, arbitration, and employment practice. Until office space can be secured in the Twin Cities, Walsh will be splitting his time between the firms Washington, D.C., and Denver locations, and Zamoff will work solely in Washington.
Both lawyers were partners at the firm prior to taking on a joint-GC role at the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based insurance giantfirst on an interim basis in early 2009, and permanently in October of that year. When Richard Baer became UHGs chief legal officer in 2011, Walsh took over primary legal responsibility for Optum, the companys health services business, while Zamoff became CLO of UnitedHealthcare, the health benefits business.
The duos leadership of the insurance companys legal department during the health care reform debate and the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was part of Corporate Counsels February 2011 coverage of the law. Last week, CorpCounsel.com caught up with Walsh and Zamoff to discuss the duos latest endeavor.
CorpCounsel.com: When we last spoke, you said the ACA made it an exciting time to be a lawyer in the health insurance industry. Two years later, would you say the same?
Mitch Zamoff: Yes, I feel the same way today that I did then. In fact, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed the law and the entire industry will turn to implementing it, the need for quality legal advice in this space is more important than ever.
CC: Will your practice continue to focus on health and insurance sector clients?
MZ: More generally, its a high-stakes litigation and investigations practice. But certainly my background with United[Health] and the clients that I represented before then will put me in the sweet spot of the health and insurance sectors.
CC: Since you last practiced at a law firm, some pretty significant legislation has been enactedDodd-Frank and the ACA, just to name some of the big ones. In what ways are you returning to an entirely different position as a firm lawyer than when you left?
Christopher Walsh: Certainly there have been some changes, and those changes were things that I was following and implementing on behalf of a large issuer as they were coming into effect. So when I left Hogan [Lovells], I evolved with those changes, even in-house. It doesnt really feel to me like Im now coming back to a different job than the one I left. Because I feel like my time at United[Health] involved tracking a lot of those changes. While some of them may not have been directly applicable to the companylike the provisions applicable to smaller issuers from a capital-formation perspectivethey were certainly things that we kept apprised of.
MZ: As a partner at a law firm prior to becoming a general counsel, my job was to help clients navigate through serious legal and compliance issues. Rejoining a practice five years later, thats still the same core responsibility that I have to my clients. Some of the substantive laws may have changed over those five yearsof course we had to monitor those changes in the roles we had at a highly regulated Fortune 20 company. I think that the key aspect, which is crisis management for important clients, remains the key element to what we do. And hopefully as a result of being [in-house] for those five years, well do it even better now than we did before.
CC: Why did you both decide to go back to law firm life?
MZ: We both agreed that we liked practicing law, and we liked practicing law together. We had done that before, though not as closely, at Hogan & Hartson [now Hogan Lovells]. When the opportunity arose to reunite with a firm we knew to be of the highest quality, where we had a lot of friends, and to do it in the geography that had become most important to us, it became an opportunity that seemed very attractive.
CC: Something I hear over and over from in-house lawyers is that they really enjoy being close to the clients business. Now that youll be back at a firm, will you miss having that proximity?
MZ: I think that this kind of a change gives you the opportunity to experience getting close to a number of different businesses. Getting as close as you do to a business when youre general counsel is a unique perspective. But in terms of providing quality legal services, I think that a law firm lawyer who is a trusted adviser of a client is going to have to get close enough to that business to be effective. So we look at it as an opportunity to diversify our plate, serve a very exciting geographical market, and to get as absolutely close to those businesses as we need to in order to provide quality service.
CC: You spent several years in the U.S. Attorneys office and have been recognized as a top trial lawyer. What was your level of trial involvement as an in-house lawyer?
MZ: I was very close to our most important litigation matters as general counsel, but I did not actually sit as a first-chair trial lawyer during my tenure at United[Health]. Our model was to allow outside counsel to litigate those matters. At Hogan Lovells, I will be back in the courtroomand one of the things Im looking forward to is the opportunity to be back in a trial environment.
CC: What are some of the challenges youll be taking on?
MZ: The principal challenge is the entrepreneurial aspect of opening a new office in a new geography. Its what in many ways drew us to this opportunity, because its unique in many respects. But certainly in the recent past [Walsh] and I have been part of law firms and large companiesin established offices. So this presents a unique challenge that were both excited about.
CW: The practice of law from a private firm perspective has not gotten easier. The demands of clients continue to grow. The time allowed to resolve issues continues to shorten. You couple the ever-increasing demands of the legal side with the entrepreneurial sidethat will present an exciting challenge. And I think its one of the things from our perspective that made this whole package interesting and new and worth jumping into.
CC: What advantages do you have when it comes to counseling clients, having seen first-hand what large corporate clients really need?
CW: We bring the experience of having been at a very successful Fortune 20 company that had a lot of interesting and exciting opportunities and challenges during the time we were therethe ACA being one of those. And I think just having spent the time we did in as dynamic a business and industry as we didcounseling the multitudes of companies within the UnitedHealth Group familyis going to be of immense value to clients, both in and out of the health care space.