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Name and title: W. Bradley Bickham, vice president and general counsel Age: 41 Hospice-service first and foremost: Contrary to its public image, Bickham said, a hospice is not necessarily a place where people go to die, but a web of end-of-life services offered to patients, whether they live at home or someplace else. “We perform care where the patient is,” said Bickham, general counsel at Odyssey HealthCare Inc., the nation’s largest publicly held hospice provider. The team approach to care for the terminally ill is a key element of the Dallas-based company, which entered markets in some 27 states since launching operations in January 1996. As America grays, companies like Odyssey see increased need for hospice care. Odyssey’s net patient service revenue (akin to gross sales) reached $194.5 million in 2002, according to the company’s annual report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, an increase of 49.4% from $130.2 million the company brought in for 2001. Today, Odyssey has roughly 35,000 employees, yet the company operates only five inpatient facilities: three in Arizona, one in Nevada and one in Georgia. More than 90% of Odyssey’s business comes from providing routine home care. Legal unit: When Bickham joined Odyssey in June 2003, he became the company’s chief (and only) in-house lawyer. The legal unit has three paralegals who spend most of their time reviewing the countless contracts that govern every facet of the business. For example, agreements with nursing homes spell out the respective responsibilities owed by Odyssey and the facility regarding a hospice patient who resides there. On a typical day, Bickham spends about 20% of his time on leases and contracts; 20% of his time on securities issues and issues arising from laws like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act; a third of his time on compliance issues; and the rest on miscellaneous tasks. Odyssey went for years without any in-house counsel, so some legal tasks remain attached to other units of the company. For example, human resources handles labor and employment issues. “They keep me in the loop,” Bickham said. Projects: Mergers and acquisitions account for roughly one-third of the company’s expansion, and a good part of the GC’s legal work, Bickham said. Since he came on board almost six months ago, Odyssey has acquired additional businesses in Utah, Texas, Nebraska and Delaware. The most recent deal closed in September, when Odyssey acquired Utah’s Heritage Hospice, which provides care to roughly 280 patients in the state. Most mergers and acquisitions are in the $2 million to $3 million range, with some hitting $12 million. Bickham declined to put a dollar figure on the Utah transaction. “Our deals, frankly, aren’t too terribly difficult,” he said. One of Bickham’s tasks is to oversee outside counsel, who handle a smattering of liability suits. The docket has only two to three tort suits at the moment, Bickham said. These are usually contract disputes and professional liability cases alleging substandard care, including wrongful death claims, where Odyssey is named along with a host of other defendants, including the patient’s nursing home, physician and hospital, Bickham said. He declined to indicate the outcome of any litigation, but said “we’re just not a very attractive target.” Odyssey went public in 2001, so the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the corporate compliance rules that arrived with this piece of federal legislation are high priorities for Bickham. Hospice providers, like the rest of the health care industry, were highly regulated before corporate debacles like Enron prompted stricter controls, Bickham said. One example: the company’s whistleblower hotline. “We’ve been doing that on the health care regulatory side for years,” Bickham said. Outside counsel: “I am very partial to Vinson & Elkins,” Bickham said of his former firm, which now gets the nod to do work involving securities and health care issues for Odyssey. Bickham’s key people at Houston-based Vinson include Jeffrey A. Chapman and Paul G. Hildago, partners in the securities arena; and partners Gary W. Eiland, Brenda T. Strama and Debbi M. Johnstone, plus Donna S. Clark, of counsel, on health law matters. For litigation involving tort suits or contract disputes, Bickham often turns to counsel in the city where a particular Odyssey hospice operation resides, and he assesses who gets the work on a case-by-case basis. Labor and employment issues usually go to Dallas’ Thompson & Knight, Bickham said, noting that Odyssey’s human resources department has a long-standing relationship with that firm. Route to the top: Bickham once assumed that he was going to be a tax lawyer. Given his background, however, signing on with a health care provider is a natural fit. “I’ve always been close to the health care industry,” Bickham said. His father was an Air Force doctor and today maintains a private practice in internal medicine. Bickham earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Louisiana State University at Shreveport in 1984 and went straight to work as a CPA for Cole, Evans & Peterson in Shreveport, La. From day one as an accountant, Bickham knew he wanted a law degree, and he went on to earn his J.D. from Louisiana State University in 1994. Bickham signed on with Shreveport’s Cook, Yancey, King & Galloway, where he divided his time between matters involving tax and estate planning and projects involving mergers and acquisitions. In 1997, Bickham began a one-year stint with Dallas’ Hughes & Luce, then moved to Vinson & Elkins in 1998. “I missed doing deals,” said Bickham, explaining the switch. At Vinson, Bickham got to know Odyssey when doing M&A work for the company. Soon 30% of Bickham’s time went to Odyssey matters. He had daily contact with the client and worked on Odyssey’s initial public offering. “They reached a point where they knew they needed in-house counsel,” Bickham said, adding that the company approached him about coming on board. Bickham would have been up for partner at Vinson & Elkins the coming year, but he made the move, intrigued by the opportunity to make his mark as the company’s first in-house lawyer and general counsel. Family information: Bickham and his wife, Cherré, have three children. Last book and film: Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand, and Pirates of the Caribbean. �Lisa Stansky

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