Philadelphia health care lawyer Rafael Villalobos Jr. is taking his practice from one Pittsburgh-based firm to another, trading firms he worked with when he was in-house at a local hospital system.
Villalobos has joined Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s Philadelphia office as counsel in the health care and litigation departments, coming from Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott. Earlier he had relationships with both firms while serving as chief legal counsel for Aria Health.
Aria merged with Jefferson Health in 2016, so Villalobos’ in-house position was eliminated and he went into private practice at Eckert Seamans. Since then, he said, he has developed a book of business in the high six-figures. His in-house experience helped in that effort, he said, lending him additional credibility with prospective clients.
“A lot of health law attorneys have never sat as a member of a senior executive team … and didn’t work in a clinical hospital setting day-in and day-out,” he said. “As a result I understand the culture, the nuances and the complexities within health care that some others don’t.”
Villalobos started his career as a medical malpractice lawyer, but after he gained exposure to other areas of law in his position at Aria, his practice expanded to providing other services for health care clients, such as employment litigation, governance, controlled substance law and health law.
His move to Buchanan, he said, will help him to continue to expand the ways in which he serves clients. “Buchanan is really branded and situated as a health law firm in many ways,” he said. The 450-lawyer firm has more than 50 health care lawyers, according to its website.
“Eckert is a good firm,” he said, but “they do not have a big presence in the health care segment outside professional liability, and that was somewhat of a limitation for me.”
Villalobos’ clients include hospitals, health systems, ambulatory surgical centers, physicians, a medical school, a medical marijuana company and a large Boston-based physician practice with over 2,000 physicians, he said.
Until Aria’s merger with Jefferson, Villalobos was the health system’s chief legal counsel for more than 10 years, also serving as a senior vice president and director of insurance and claims.
“As the former chief legal counsel for a major hospital system, Raf has a deep understanding of the multifaceted regulatory and compliance landscape and operations of a health care system,” David Gordon, co-chair of Buchanan’s litigation section, said in a statement. “He is able to utilize this experience to guide our clients regarding risk avoidance and complex, high-stakes litigation.”
Before that, Villalobos was a medical malpractice defense attorney for about 13 years. He was of counsel at McKissock & Hoffman for less than one year prior to taking the Aria position. Before that, he was a shareholder at Christie, Pabarue, Mortensen & Young, now Christie & Young.
Eckert Seamans did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Villalobos’ departure. Late last year, in Pittsburgh, Eckert Seamans hired lawyer Christine Boronyak Bowers away from Buchanan, bringing her on as a member in its tax and employee benefits and executive compensation practices.