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Aretha Delight Davis has a plan: Harvard undergraduate. University of Pennsylvania law. Five years of practice, the last three of which were with Morgan Lewis & Bockius as a well-respected associate in the white-collar defense group. Then, medical school. Medical school? Everything is going according to plan. “When I was in law school, I had always said that I was only going to practice law for five years, then I was going to go back to medical school,” Davis said. “And I think many people didn’t take me seriously.” They do now. Davis left Morgan Lewis in May to begin summer classes at Penn. She has completed the second of two summer sessions and will continue to take undergraduate science courses over the next two years in anticipation of attending medical school. “I think I told her she was crazy,” said Rich Negrin, who is also an associate in the white-collar defense group at Morgan Lewis, of his initial reaction when his friend asked his advice on the matter over a year ago. However, he quickly realized that she was making the right decision and supported it. “She’s special,” Negrin said. “She’s different. She’s not the kind of person whom I saw spending her life at a law firm. She had broader social goals in her heart. … I can’t tell you I can relate to it, but I understand it because I know her.” These broader social goals have driven Davis from the time she was in college. As an undergraduate, Davis volunteered to represent people in small claims court, which prompted her interest in seeing justice done. “The reason I wanted to be a physician was the same reason I wanted to be a lawyer,” Davis said. “It sprung from the same conviction. I was interested in helping people, particularly poor people.” After law school, she spent two years on the Pennsylvania Health Law Project, helping represent uninsured people seeking health care. She continued in her efforts as a Morgan Lewis associate and as co-chairwoman of the Philadelphia Bar Association pro bono task force. “She was dedicated to the ideal that she should use the law degree to help people, more dedicated to that ideal than any lawyer I’ve ever met,” said Jack Dodds, who heads the white-collar defense group at Morgan Lewis. “She was an inspiration to me and to a lot of people around here.” The compulsion for altruism has deeper roots than her desire for law or medicine. Davis is a first-generation American whose parents were natives of Guyana in South America, a nation that is among the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. After graduating from Harvard, Davis received a fellowship to spend a year volunteering in the impoverished nation and studying infant nutrition. “When I went back to Guyana, I just had a deeper appreciation for how fortunate I am [to have been born in America],” Davis said. “I have dreamed about going back and opening a clinic. I’d like to make that a reality, and I can make that a reality. And it would be sorely needed.” However, after her experiences in Guyana and America, Davis realized that her views were tilting toward the patients. To understand an issue as complex as health care as completely as she wanted to, she would need to understand both patients and providers. “I wanted to balance my very patient-oriented view with an understanding of how corporate America works,” Davis said. Hence, she spent years representing clients in a white-collar criminal defense practice, where her clients were usually corporations and rich executives, not the impoverished that were her passion. While her practice was broad, including import/export cases, tax evasion and general corporate criminal defense, she increasingly focused on health care fraud cases, representing pharmaceutical and medical supply companies. Her boss and colleagues agree that she would have been able to spend a lifetime ably representing these clients. However, she felt that this experience was a building block, one that would be invaluable in coming years, when she is ready to set out on her own. “I had always thought she’d be making a difference full time,” Negrin said. Making a difference, be it in Guyana or America, is the next step of the plan. In 10 years, when she is able to set off on her own, she plans on working as a practicing physician a few days a week and spending the rest of her time as an advocate for the poor in public health policy. She realized early on that a law degree alone would not be enough to represent the indigent as effectively as she demands from herself. Nor would just a medical degree. “It’s going to require both humanities and hard science,” Davis said. After all, getting the law degree was part of the plan for a reason. “The fantastic thing about having a law degree is that you’re not in a fixed box. You can get involved in practically every kind of human endeavor,” Davis said, “except medicine, obviously.” Even if the transition is not as harsh as it could be for some, Davis does not harbor any illusions over the difficulties associated with this decision. “This is going to require a complete reorientation of my life,” Davis said. “I’m just throwing everything away to do this, it seems. It’s going to be expensive. It’s going to be long. It’s going to be a very lonely and hard road. And I already have what a lot of people think is the ideal situation.” However, unlike some who decide to leave the law after a few years of practice, Davis does not do so out of necessity. “She can do this,” Negrin said. “This is not a situation where it wasn’t a good fit; she was performing at a high level. … It’s like Michael Jordan deciding to play baseball.” However, no one expects Davis to sputter in a medical equivalent of the minor leagues. “I told her that someday, and probably someday soon, I’d be telling my children that I used to know her,” Dodds said. “There is no limit to what she can accomplish.” If studying leads to success, she certainly will not disappoint. Awake by 5 every morning, Davis does not stop studying, attending classes and completing assignments until about 11 p.m. “It has been like intellectual boot camp for the last six weeks,” Davis said. However, Davis is where she knows she should be, and those who are closest to her do not question her decision. “My parents were delighted to hear that I was planning on going to medical school because they knew that’s where my heart was,” Davis said. “Certainly they’re worried. They’re concerned. … But they know I’m happy.”

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