Female Law Firm Leaders in Small Markets: Q&A with Cathy Martin

Law Firm Q&A with Cathy Martin, Baker DonelsonIn Baltimore, an increasing number of women have assumed leadership positions in law firms. Some are managing partners, COOs, board members, and practice group leaders of established law firms. Others lead solo or small firm practices. Catherine ("Cathy") A. Martin is one of them.

Cathy Martin is a Chambers-ranked health care lawyer and a shareholder in the Baltimore, Maryland, office of Baker Donelson, formerly Ober|Kaler. She is co-chair of the health care regulatory group at Baker Ober Health Law. In short, Cathy is a rock star with a calm, confident, approachable demeanor. Her smile lights up the room, but her health care experience is captivating. Cathy has a broad, national practice representing health care systems, hospitals and providers in compliance and regulatory matters, with a focus on fraud and abuse, alternative payment models, provider and physician alignment strategies, and guidance on health system operations.

Baker Donelson has a nationally ranked health care practice, the third-largest in the country, with more than 200 attorneys across 10 states serving the industry. The firm is the 60th largest in the U.S. with more than 750 lawyers and public policy advisors representing more than 30 practice areas across 24 offices.

Q&A

How did you build your reputation and practice as a health care attorney at Baker Donelson (formerly Ober | Kaler)?

I have a long history with the firm. I worked as a first- and second-year summer associate at Ober focusing on health law during my second summer. During my third year of law school, I accepted an offer to return to Ober as a heath care associate, and I worked as a law clerk in that department. That was the launch of my career in health care.

As a young lawyer, I trained in all areas of health care law. I loved it all, particularly fraud and abuse issues, and that is the area in which I chose to focus. I was an associate at Ober for about five years. During that time, it became apparent to me that government experience is a tremendous asset to a fraud and abuse attorney. So, when I had an opportunity to assume a government role, I took a position with the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) working in the Industry Guidance Branch. I always intended to return to the firm, and they were very supportive of my career decisions.

Working in the Industry Guidance Branch for three years enabled me to understand how the federal government handled issues associated with fraud and abuse, and significantly enhanced my ability to represent my clients when I returned to private practice. At HHS, I worked on fraud and abuse and various policy matters from the government's perspective. I also was a co-author of the Electronic Health Records Safe Harbor Act that regulates electronic health records and services and defines certain conduct protected from liability under the Federal Anti-Kickback statute. Working for HHS has also proven to be an invaluable resource for my clients. I have been able to remain in touch with my colleagues, including speaking on panels with government experts, and to keep up with what is going on in the government from an enforcement perspective.

I left the government to engage in a lobbying and policy practice at another law firm in D.C. for one year to build on the policy work in which I engaged at HHS. Understanding policy and how regulations are developed are skills essential to representing health care clients. Next, I took a partnership position at an established boutique hospital law firm and focused my practice on hospitals and health systems.

I returned to the firm as a partner in April 2013, with my own book of business, and a year later, I became co-chair of our health care practice. Since the merger in January 2017 with Baker Donelson, I was appointed co-chair of the health care regulatory group of the Baker Ober Health Law practice.

Now, a large part of my practice is focused on helping hospitals operate under new government sponsored bundled payment models quality initiatives and physician alignment strategies that are aimed at improving quality and reducing waste in the health care delivery system. In fact, I am the key person designing and implementing new payment initiatives coming out of the government for many of my health system clients. I work with legal departments, CEOs, CFOs and other hospital executives on operational issues, with a particular focus on fraud and abuse. My clients view me as an integral part of their team—not just their outside counsel—someone they can rely upon. I provide advice around compliance and help executives figure out the right way to do things. I truly value my relationships with my clients. And, my clients rely on me because I understand their businesses and how to help them operate in a difficult fraud and abuse environment.

Baker Donelson has a strong diversity focus with a nationally recognized women's initiative. Could you tell us more about the firm's women's initiative?

One of the many wonderful things about Baker Donelson is its genuine commitment to our female lawyers. There is an emphasis on developing women's leadership skills so they are prepared to assume leadership positions both in our firm and in our communities. In fact, for more than two years now, our firm's president and COO is a woman, Jennifer Keller, a Chambers-ranked employment lawyer who also held leadership positions as a board member and chair of our labor and employment practice.

Baker Donelson actively recruits and develops women lawyers. Women represent more than 36 percent of our lawyers and advisors. I am very proud that we ranked third in diversity for women in Vault's 2018 national survey of 18,000 law firm associates, and we have been certified for three consecutive years by the Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF) as a Gold Standard Firm that is making a difference in increasing the representation and leadership of women in the legal profession. We ranked 53rd in 2017 in Forbes magazine's 100 Best Workplaces for Women. We also consistently rank in the Top 100 law firms for diversity and women in Multicultural Law magazine.

In our health law practice, 43 percent of the lawyers are women. Working in a firm that truly embraces diversity and recognizes the contributions of women, I have learned that being a woman attorney with a family is not a barrier to my success. I can be a devoted mom, give back to my community and build a vibrant legal practice. I need to have excellent time-management skills, however, but I haven’t felt like I needed to make a choice between work, community and family. Our firm has created a culture that values the things we do outside of law because we believe it makes us better lawyers.

What is your leadership philosophy?

I benefited tremendously from the mentorship by more experienced lawyers when I was an associate. The former chairs of the health law group, particularly Sandy Teplitzky, created a strong culture designed to mentor and develop young attorneys. The partners were and continue to be incredible mentors. There was a palpable focus on training for all associates. Baker Donelson has the same mentoring culture, and in fact, has more formalized programs to help build lawyers' professional knowledge, to educate them on the business of the practice of law, and to provide them with marketing and networking skills.

When I first moved into a leadership role, the prior chairs of the department showed me how to be a good leader, to handle operational and other issues, and to recognize the importance of forging and maintaining genuine relationships. They were there to help support me in a leadership role. Now that I am in a leadership role, I believe in the importance of "paying it forward." My leadership is also focused on the theme my mentors emphasized—that internal and external relationships are key. People spend a lot of time at Baker Donelson and they like the people they work with. The same is true with our client relationships.

I try to lead by example. I am involved in recruiting efforts for the Firm and for our practice to build our team. I see myself as a role model to young women looking to build a successful practice and have a family.

Like my predecessors, I strive to create a culture and an environment in which our lawyers and other colleagues enjoy their work. I enjoy showing our team how to provide the best service to our clients and to model top-notch representation while working efficiently. At the same time, I enjoy teaching our lawyers about how our clients' business goals and initiatives align with the legal parameters of the health care industry. Ober|Kaler and Baker Donelson each subscribe to a common principle: The client comes first and relationships with clients are key.

How would you define your career in 5 words or less?

STRATEGIC JOURNEY TO SERVE CLIENTS

Every move I have made in my career was designed to help me become a more well-rounded health care attorney to serve my clients. After gaining a solid foundation in health care law, I worked in government, gained health care lobbying and policy experience, and worked in a small boutique representing hospitals and health systems. I brought these experiences back to Baker Donelson, and I am now called upon to advise some of the largest hospitals and health systems in the country.

What advice would you give to newer lawyers who desire to become a partner in a law firm?

Go the extra mile in your representation of your clients. It will differentiate you. There are a lot of attorneys out there. Push yourself beyond your comfort level. Get a wide variety of experience and then narrow your area of expertise. Don't be a master of everything as your career progresses. Seize the opportunity to develop deep knowledge of an industry and become an expert on something so that you will be viewed as the go-to person.

Take opportunities to write and speak before industry groups. Maintain law school relationships. If you have an opportunity to work in government or engage in other experiences that may enhance your knowledge, do it. The government and lobbying experience I gained was invaluable for me. At the same time, pay attention to the more junior people in your clients' organization and develop strong relationships with them. Focus on nurturing those relationships in a genuine way. When those people move to another company, your relationship will follow. Eventually, they will move up the ranks and will seek your counsel.

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Randi Lewis, Law Firm RecruiterRandi S. Lewis is a Director at Major, Lindsey & Africa, based in Baltimore. Randi specializes in recruiting and placing law firm partners and associates in Maryland and Richmond, Virginia, and partners in Philadelphia.

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