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Hart’s first private client becomes her employer

Rachelle Hart, vice president and general counsel, Aurora Health Care Inc. (Photo by Kevin Harnack)

Rachelle Hart, vice president and general counsel, Aurora Health Care Inc. (Photo by Kevin Harnack)

Rachelle Hart has been lucky enough to be in on the ground floor not once, but twice in her career.

First, in 1989, she was offered an associate position with Foley & Lardner LLP’s budding health law department. She accepted, although she said now she really had no idea what health law was.

Over the next two decades, she learned quickly as health law took off as a practice concentration. Foley’s team became one of its largest and busiest.

Then in 2010, Aurora Health Care Inc. offered Hart a job as one of the first members of a new in-house legal department. While it wasn’t easy to leave partnership and co-workers she loved, Hart said she knew it was the right move because, “On my very first day at Foley, my very first client was Aurora.”

Hart was appointed general counsel last year, and in three and half years, Aurora’s legal department has expanded to six lawyers, with more growth in the works.

Wisconsin Law Journal: Tell me about your job.

Rachelle Hart: I used to specialize in health law. Now, as general counsel, as the title implies, my role is much broader. I’m no longer just providing answers to specific legal questions. I’m now responsible for overseeing myriad of issues, and work on business and strategic matters, anticipating the implications of decisions and providing creative solutions. One decision in one part of the business almost always affects another part. You can’t work in a silo; you always have to look at the big picture. It’s actually a lot more enjoyable.

WLJ: What do you consider to be your most important role?

Hart: Managing the legal risks of the organization. I’m no longer just advising; now people look to me to make the difficult judgment calls.

WLJ: How’s life in-house different from private practice?

Hart: In private practice, I had the time and resources to build a niche practice and was highly specialized. In-house, you just don’t have that luxury. Instead, you’re multitasking and must have a broad base of knowledge; legal knowledge, but also the industry and the business, as well as the community you serve.

WLJ: What projects are you working on right now?

Hart: The new health care law keeps us very busy. Plus, we are looking at affiliations, including a collaboration with UW Health.

WLJ: What piece of advice would you give to someone considering going in-house?

Hart: Get as much training and experience as you can before going in-house, knowing the law is just a part of the equation. You need to know your industry, the business and strategy, and understand the people. That comes from listening and really seeking to learn the way that the business people and senior leadership think. In my case, I’d worked with Aurora my entire career, and I still knew when I came in-house I had so much to learn. Never underestimate the importance of just listening to what others in the organization have to say.

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