I was 15 years old when I decided to become a lawyer. I envisioned my future as Law & Order meets Matlock meets Ally McBeal—the briefcase, corner office, high-profile clients and outbursts of “Objection, your Honor!” in the courtroom. Although my experience as a courier during undergrad and as a law clerk during law school recalibrated my perception of traditional legal practice, I left law school—like most everyone—planning to work for a law firm, represent clients, file pleadings, and appear in court.
As is often the case, my career didn’t turn out quite as planned.
For nearly a decade, I worked for MAXIMUS, Inc., a company that contracts with government (state and federal) agencies. I worked on two different contracts within the federal division, both providing healthcare support services for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Prior to leaving, I was developing policies and procedures for the adjudication of eligibility appeals arising out of the Affordable Care Act on a contract supporting the Marketplace Eligibility Appeals Center (MAC).
Writing business processes for the MAC could be compared to writing the rules of criminal, civil or appellant procedure. We mapped out the process that each eligibility appeal would follow depending on the issue and facts of each case. The policies and procedures addressed both whether the MAC had jurisdiction over the issue on appeal and how to evaluate whether the Marketplace (Healthcare.gov) correctly determined the consumer’s eligibility.
I worked closely with CMS officials to interpret the rules and regulations governing the MAC and translated them into standard operating procedures that could be understood and used by individuals of varying professional levels, from GEDs to JDs. Providing clear, concise directions helped ensure appeal requests were adjudicated correctly and consistently.
I joined the MAC contract from another MAXIMUS healthcare appeals contract, which dealt with Medicare Part A, Part B, and DME (Durable Medical Equipment) fee-for-service appeals. This contract reviewed Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decisions granting or denying reimbursement for claims submitted by or on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries. After the ALJ decisions were evaluated by a team of medical and technical reviewers, the decisions would either be effectuated (and the claims paid or denied) or escalated to the legal team to consider for appeal. I was a member of the legal team that reviewed the escalated ALJ decision and determined whether to appeal to the Departmental Appeals Board of CMS.
Even though a law degree was required for both positions I held with MAXIMUS, these jobs weren’t practicing law in the traditional sense. I certainly wasn’t doing what I thought a lawyer did when I graduated law school.
Nevertheless, the lessons I’ve learned as a non-traditional lawyer have given me a new appreciation for my law degree, the legal profession, and my peers.
- We are uniquely qualified as lawyers to see everything through a risk-management lens. We analyze problems with the goal of reaching the best outcome in the least amount of time (because time is, after all money).
- We are trained in written and oral communication – with the ability to persuade while sounding objective.
- We are decisive and strong in our convictions because let’s face it, we all had THAT professor in law school (mine was Professor Adams) that almost seemed to enjoy putting an unprepared student on the spot to squirm and think through the question under pressure. Looking back, that trained us.
- We have an unmatched ability to do the work that needs to be done and the grit and determination to pull an all-nighter to meet the deadline—thanks to the 240-page Constitutional Law reading assignment Professor Brown gave on Monday that would be discussed Wednesday (not to mention the Torts, Civil Procedure and Property Law assignments also due).
- We learned how to answer law school exams and wrote briefs in the IRAC (Issue-Rule-Analysis-Conclusion) format which is a formula that can be applied to literally every situation: What is the problem? What are the constraints, rules, and available remedies? How can those be applied to this particular situation? What is the solution? We, as lawyers are incredibly versatile and have transferable skills giving us a competitive advantage in all other industries.
- We think outside of the box and question the way things have always been in pursuit of the way things should be. Lawyers change the world around them – most of the time for the better. We may not all be Matt Murdocks, but I dare say some of us are superheroes in our own right.
After almost ten years in non-traditional legal positions, I’ve been called back into public service and traditional legal practice and accepted a position with a state government agency.
Looking back, if I had to give one piece of advice to an attorney thinking about non-traditional practice it would be to tailor your resume for the industry you want to pursue. Legal resumes don’t always highlight the skills lawyers possess that make them competitive in non-traditional roles. Lawyers typically surround themselves with other lawyers and we can sometimes lose sight of what sets us apart from other professionals in non-legal settings.
And although it took me a few years to join traditional practice, I’m excited and enthusiastic about this new adventure and chapter in my career. After all, who knows—I might finally get that briefcase and corner office.