The work habits of more than two decades in private practice are slow to disappear — just ask Robert F. Corrigan.
“It’s funny. I still catch myself jotting down how much time it took to do something,” Corrigan says of recording billable hours, which he did for 22 years at Fulbright & Jaworski.
Corrigan, who has been vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston since January, says, “There is not a job like this anywhere. I worked in my career a lot with hospitals, with academic medical centers, with physicians’ groups and with insurance companies. But to work with a medical school that has a teaching component, a medical research component and basically a clinical component, you see issues here that you don’t see in any other circle.”
BCM has more than 9,000 employees, including roughly 1,000 scientists engaged in research, he says. Part of the legal department’s function is to monetize the scientists’ work product through licensing to different parties or by developing the product, he says. BCM also has agreements with many of its physicians and several affiliated teaching hospitals, he says.
“On top of that, we’re a school,” he says. So the legal department also handles student disciplinary issues and faculty tenure agreements. And BCM has all the legal issues associated with practicing physicians, such as guaranteeing compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 and handling medical-malpractice suits, he says. The college has no major litigation at this time, he says. “I’m delighted to be able to say that. . . . It is wonderful to come into this post and not have a major piece of litigation hanging over you.”
Corrigan had not originally planned to be a lawyer, initially thinking he would follow in his father’s footsteps as a foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State. Corrigan says he was born in Guatemala and lived in Panama, Brazil and Africa while growing up. As a result, he has conversational skills in Spanish, Portuguese and French.
Corrigan attended high school in Washington, D.C., and attended Rice University to earn his undergraduate degree because of Houston’s warm climate and booming economy in the late 1970s. After earning a B.A. in managerial studies in 1982, he worked in D.C. for then-U.S. Sen. Lloyd M. Bentsen, D-Texas, on federal taxation and budget matters. As a legislative staffer, Corrigan says he was around a lot of lawyers, so he decided law would be an interesting career.
After earning a J.D. from Vanderbilt University School of Law in Nashville in 1988, Corrigan joined Fulbright in Houston where he had been a summer associate after his second year of law school. He started as a tax associate with the firm and worked for many of that group’s health care clients, including BCM. Over the next 22 years he developed an expertise in health care law. “In many ways, I came full circle,” Corrigan says.
Corrigan describes Jerry A. Bell, a partner in Fulbright’s Austin office and head of the firm’s health law business and regulatory department, as the mentor who encouraged his interest in health care law. “I’m a health care lawyer today because of Jerry Bell,” Corrigan says. When Bell was co-head of Fulbright’s health care group in Houston in 1991, he recruited Corrigan to his group. “He did well and made partner and had a good career with the firm,” Bell says of Corrigan.
Bell says Corrigan is a perfect match for the job because of “his familiarity with Baylor, experience with the academic medical center world, and his good professional and personal traits.”
Corrigan has four lawyers working for him in-house who handle intellectual property, contracts, and labor and employment matters.
“My philosophy on hiring outside counsel is you hire lawyers, not law firms,” he says. “The nice thing about being a practicing health care lawyer is I know the bar pretty well.”
One outside lawyer he uses is Kent Newsome, a shareholder in the Houston office of Greenberg Traurig, for real estate matters. “We lease property, we own property, we buy and sell property,” Corrigan says. “We have people donate property to us, and we try to monetize that unless the situation fits in our investment profiles.”
Newsome says he has known Corrigan since 1988, when they both were associates with Fulbright. He says Corrigan has the ability to “stay on point” when working on transactions where various interest groups, such as physicians and business people, have different goals. “Bob realizes what each party needs,” Newsome says. “Through his personality and the way he interacts with people, he is calmness in the face of the storm. He’s able to stay the course.”
While at Fulbright, weekend work was routine, Corrigan says, but “weekend work is a rarity now.” Corrigan says, “I carry my BlackBerry and will respond to e-mails from leadership 24/7, but that’s different than sitting at the office working on agreements that clients need on Monday to deal with a time deadline.”
Corrigan says the job change was “a parallel move, not materially dissimilar.” But with a more predictable work schedule at BCM, Corrigan says he, his wife and two teenage sons are planning an Alaskan trip this summer and a trip to France toward the end of 2011.
Best Practices: Expertise, Relationships, Value
Editor’s note: Robert F. Corrigan, vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, has three criteria when it comes to hiring outside counsel. And when it comes to paying for that work, value is key. Texas Lawyer research editor Jeanne Graham e-mailed Corrigan some GC best-practices questions. His answers are below, edited for length and style.
Texas Lawyer: What are the most important factors you consider when hiring outside counsel?
Robert F. Corrigan, vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston: Subject-matter expertise, relationships and value, in that order, though without value, it is difficult to maintain a good relationship. Ideal outside counsel meets all three criteria.
TL: Under what circumstances do you expect outside counsel to offer alternative billing?
Corrigan: During my 22-plus years of private practice, I worked on a variety of alternative billing arrangements. In that time, I learned that any billing arrangement, alternative or otherwise, will not work unless the arrangement makes sense for both the client and the outside lawyer. Alternative billing arrangements are not a zero-sum game. I will certainly consider alternative fee arrangements for our matters, but have found, so far, that that our current traditional billing arrangements seem to be working well.
TL: Do you pay for the work of first-year associates?
Corrigan: I believe that properly supervised associates at whatever level may add value to an engagement. I will pay for the work of a first-year associate; I will pay for the work of a midlevel or a senior associate, provided the attorney brings commensurate value.
TL: What percentage of your company’s legal work is done in-house and what areas of work does that include?
Corrigan: I would estimate that we handle between 80 [percent] and 85 percent of our legal work in-house, work that includes labor and employment, academic, intellectual property, risk management and compliance, and routine business matters. The college turns to outside counsel for advice on matters in areas where we lack subject-matter expertise. We always involve outside counsel in disputes that end up in litigation.
TL: Which one thing from your previous legal experience is helping you most on the job today?
Corrigan: Working to properly manage my client’s expectations. Not promising what I or my team cannot deliver.
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