Regina Cabral Jones
Associate Attorney, DLA Piper in Sacramento
Area of Practice: Health Law
Year Graduated: 2009
It could be said that Regina Cabral Jones owes her career as a health law attorney to her first job after college. That job happened to be with Sutter Health, a non-profit provider of healthcare services in Northern California. As a legal secretary to an assistant general counsel at Sutter Health (a woman who would later become her mentor), Ms. Jones learned the ins and outs of healthcare, and she became inspired. "I didn't really have a career plan when I graduated from college ...," she explains. "Working at Sutter Health, I thought, 'I really like what I've seen, I really like this organization, and I want to learn more. I want to be part of it.'" With this goal in mind, Ms. Jones enrolled at Pacific McGeorge as an evening student so that she could pursue a law degree while continuing her work at Sutter Health.
Throughout her first year of law school, Ms. Jones worked at Sutter Health during the day — becoming exposed to hospital operations, finance, and regulatory compliance — and took classes at night. That spring, she had her first child. Fortunately, both Sutter and McGeorge were very supportive of Ms. Jones as she balanced school, work, and family. After her first year, Ms. Jones left her job at Sutter Health to take a law clerk position in the health care group of McDonough Holland and Allen, the now-defunct Sacramento law firm that served as Sutter Health's outside counsel at the time. She made the switch in part to make her schedule more manageable and in part to gain legal experience in a litigation setting. As a law clerk, Ms. Jones spent most of her time conducting research to support managed healthcare litigation; she also had the opportunity to draft a few discovery requests and learn about the Medicare provider enrollment process.
Ms. Jones continued her work at McDonough Holland and Allen until her graduation from McGeorge in 2009. She had her second child soon after she took the California bar examination that summer, and after her admission to the State Bar, Ms. Jones became an attorney with McDonough. Less than a year later, in the spring of 2010, the health care group at McDonough left to join DLA Piper, an international law firm that now has a large presence in Sacramento. At DLA Piper, Ms. Jones focuses her practice on litigation of payment and contract disputes in the healthcare industry. Occasionally, Ms. Jones handles other healthcare-related matters as well. "I review licensing requirements for healthcare providers ranging from hospitals to ambulance companies to pharmacies. There's a huge application process that goes along with being a Medicare and/or Medi-Cal provider."
Even though Ms. Jones is a member of DLA Piper's Litigation practice, she spends more time in arbitration than in the courtroom. This is because agreements between healthcare providers and plans often require that disputes are resolved in arbitration instead of in court. "Arbitration is a streamlined way of litigating a dispute," Ms. Jones explains. "It's also useful for companies who want to keep the nature of their dispute private." When she isn't in arbitration, Ms. Jones conducts a substantial amount of legal research in the areas of healthcare law and civil procedure; drafts motions, oppositions to motions, briefs, and discovery requests; prepares witnesses for arbitration and trial; and handles depositions.
One of the advantages of working for a large law firm with an international presence is that Ms. Jones has access to a significant range of resources to facilitate her work. For example, she explains, "I called up our librarian and asked him whether we had the Third Restatement of Unjust Enrichment, which had just been published. He was able to call our Palo Alto office and have it sent here [within a few days]. At a big firm, you can pick up the phone and have just about any resource at your disposal." Working with other practice groups within the firm also "increases your ability to reach out and get work," Ms. Jones notes. On the other hand, "At a large firm, you're expected to put in a lot of time," she explains. "I'm constantly trying to put in enough time at work but also spend enough time with my family ... Having a supportive family and the support of the people I work with is helpful."
Ms. Jones likes the variety that is inherent in her healthcare practice. "There are so many players: health care providers, consumers, insurers, all trying to navigate some of the most complex federal and state laws and regulations ... And there aren't a whole lot of state-specific treatises written about healthcare. You really have to go and find the answer for yourself ... It's very challenging, but I'm never bored," she says. She also gains great personal satisfaction from her work. "The thing I like the most is feeling that I'm making some kind of contribution to the improvement of the healthcare system in whatever small way I can. If I can answer a question quickly or research an issue that nobody has looked at before and that is going to improve how healthcare is delivered somehow, that's making a difference."
The most critical skills for a health law attorney, she says, include those that she learned in law school — critical thinking, strong writing, and effective communication. In a Business Planning class, Ms. Jones learned how to think critically about how businesses are structured, a skill which she has been called upon to use due to the need to understand the business of healthcare, and the knowledge she gained as a student in McGeorge's Trial Advocacy class has also served her well. "Trial Advocacy was probably the best class I took at McGeorge in terms of practical application," she says. "Greensheets Legislative Review was also amazing because it greatly focused my writing and citation skills ... Also, because I often deal with several healthcare-specific statutes, it's helpful to have had the background in statutory interpretation and construction, seeing how laws are going to develop. Now, if I have to look at legislative history, it's much easier than if I had never had the benefit of Greensheets. In such a highly regulated environment as healthcare, you're going to be looking at statutes all the time and arguing over what they mean." Finally, Ms. Jones recommends that all students take Federal Income Taxation, since tax considerations are particularly important for some healthcare providers, which are often organized as not-for-profit 501(c) entities.
Ms. Jones also notes that a background in finance or business can be very beneficial in her field. "If you represent providers, and you know how healthcare entities are financed and how they get paid, that can greatly inform your knowledge of the healthcare system and your ability to advise clients ... Business finance issues crop up in business formation, contract negotiations, and dispute resolution." Ms. Jones, who did not initially have a strong background in these areas, had to "ask a lot of questions, read a lot of articles, and spend a lot of time" to more fully understand the business and financial aspects of the healthcare industry.
Ms. Jones recommends that law students who are interested in health law join organizations made up of healthcare professionals — such as the American Health Lawyers Association, the California Society for Health Care Attorneys, and the Health Care Financial Management Organization — and also local groups like the Sacramento County Bar Association and Women Lawyers of Sacramento. She also suggests reading the Sacramento Business Journal, newspapers, and healthcare blogs to keep current on developments in the healthcare industry. DLA Piper has its own healthcare blog, and Ms. Jones notes that it is a "great source of information." She also advises students at McGeorge to take advantage of the school's Informal Mentor Network, since it provides a channel for students to connect with alumni who practice in the field of health law. Reaching out to alumni in this way, she says, reflects positively upon the students who use the Network and can help them secure the respect of practicing attorneys.
"Being an attorney is a challenging profession," Ms. Jones explains, "but if you go into health law because you have a real passion for it and you are truly interested in it, it can be a very rewarding career path."