Kathleen Waters: Chief Legal Officer, DaVita Healthcare Partners Inc.

We have it on good authority from an internal Morgan Lewis Alumni source that there isn’t anyone who has met Kathleen Waters who doesn’t like her. Tears, it is also purported, were shed when she left the firm.

Kathleen, a former litigation and healthcare partner, has done big things since departing from Morgan Lewis, serving in the general counsel role for two Fortune 200 healthcare companies, including recently being named chief legal officer at DaVita Healthcare Partners Inc., which provides healthcare services to patients in the United States and globally and is a leading provider of dialysis services for patients with chronic kidney failure and end-stage renal disease.

We caught up with Kathleen to chat about her time at Morgan Lewis, the politics of healthcare in the “Obamacare” era, and her new role overseeing the legal aspects of a large healthcare company that seeks to improve patients’ quality of life.

What will be the focus of your new role at DaVita as chief legal officer?

Everything! As the chief legal officer for the company, I’ll be protecting the company—which we refer to as “the Village”—and helping develop the legal department. I think there's a lot of room for change in our healthcare system, and DaVita is poised with its integrated care model to work to help the lives of our patients.

What attracted you to DaVita?

The people and their “uber” goals. When I was a partner at Morgan Lewis, I had the opportunity to do a great deal of work with DaVita, so I learned about their business, goals, and, more importantly, people. The leaders are amazing people who are very passionate about changing healthcare and making it better for the average person. And that's something I believe in, too.

What type of culture do you hope to foster in the legal department at DaVita?

It's very important to me that people enjoy where they work and how they work, and that their professional development is something that the most senior people in the company are looking at. As the most senior lawyer in the company, I want to make sure that everyone in the legal department knows that their professional development is important to me and to them, and that we do what we can to make this a great place to work so that we can bring the best services we can to our business clients. That, in turn, will help our patients, who are the real people we are here to serve.

Healthcare always seems to be at the heart of controversy, with the partisan divide regarding the Affordable Care Act (commonly called “Obamacare”) and the push and pull of politics and regulation. How does a healthcare company navigate the politics to focus on patients?

Well, operationally, DaVita has a lot of people who work in Washington to make sure folks on the Hill understand the impact of new legislation or regulations on patients. Philosophically, it's just part of our commitment to being the healthcare provider of choice. One of the core beliefs of the company is to work tirelessly to protect the patients.

What are you finding most interesting in the healthcare industry right now?

I think what is most interesting is what's going to happen with the exchanges—the impact of the exchanges and the future of the exchanges. When the ACA was rolled out, it was a three-year commitment to the exchanges, and each state handled them differently. That three-year time period is almost up. So it's going to be interesting to see, with the upcoming election, what happens next and what guidance will be provided to the exchanges.

What are you finding most troubling?

The same thing. There is a lack of clarity with the governing regulations so you have a lot of people, payors and providers uncertain of what comes next.

Do you have any standout memories from your time at Morgan Lewis?

I think that Morgan Lewis positioned me well to go on the “other side” because I learned to be a practical lawyer who seeks out business solutions, which is what's needed in my position. I also think that leadership is learned by what you experience. I experienced great leadership at Morgan Lewis with Fran Milone, Jim Pagliaro, and, in particular, Jami McKeon. Seeing how Jami strives to have people be happy at work, while still leaning in and working hard, is something that I would like to emulate.

Were there any mentors or other lawyers at Morgan Lewis who were influential in your career?

There are just so many great people. David Schrader was probably the most influential person from the time I was a junior associate throughout my career at Morgan Lewis. He taught me the importance of humility and how to work to try to be the best at what you do. Other people who come to mind are Jim Pagliaro, who was great at delegating and empowering people to achieve things. I think that he was one of the early people to let me be a leader—he and Jami—and that was a great opportunity. Molly Lane was amazing to learn from - she's such a good lawyer and still manages to have a lot of fun.

Do you feel that your time at Morgan Lewis informed or impacted the rest of your career to date?

Yes, absolutely, and in so many different ways. I learned how to be a healthcare lawyer and now, look, I have been GC at two Fortune 200 healthcare companies. And I also know where to look to find help with the many issues I face. I certainly have tapped into the pool of lawyers at Morgan Lewis with great confidence because I know how good they are.

Are there any personal updates or milestones you’d like to share with Morgan Lewis alumni?

My daughters, Anna (15) and Tess (13) are both great and have been very supportive of me taking on this new challenge, which is not going to be easy because it involves spending a lot of time traveling, since DaVita is headquartered in Denver.

What do you do for fun?

I run and I eat! In Denver, there are great running trails right downtown along the river. When I am not running (or working), I’m usually either eating a meal or thinking about my next meal!

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