Mehreen Sherwani, associate counsel of Loyola Medicine, never envisioned she would be a healthcare attorney, but in retrospect, it all makes perfect sense.
“I grew up wanting to be a doctor, but the reason I didn’t go that route is because I enjoyed using my analytical skills and writing, so becoming a lawyer became really attractive to me,” she explains. “While in law school, I did not gravitate toward any particular specialty.”
The one thing Sherwani knew for sure was after graduating law school, she wanted to clerk for a judge. She clerked for the Honorable Justice Thomas E. Hoffman in the Illinois Appellate Court and was inspired by the experience.
“Following my clerkship, I was looking for another challenge and wanted to go into private practice, still not knowing what area of law I was interested in,” Sherwani says. Fortuitously, the judge had a former law clerk who was a partner at the law firm L&G Law Group LLP, and who was looking to hire an associate on the corporate side.
“At the law firm, I did corporate transactional work, and because of my appellate background I also did medical malpractice appellate work, which is somewhat of an odd combination,” she notes. “I really liked working with the healthcare clients. The combination of work piqued my interest in the healthcare environment; specifically, how a health system operates, its distinct culture, and learning all the nuances involved.”
Soon, she was advising on risk issues and offering guidance on unique issues for the healthcare clients. Then, Sherwani made the decision that she wanted to work in-house for a health system.
That led to her accepting a job as associate general counsel at Ingalls Health System, a smaller community hospital in Illinois, which allowed her to get the frontline experience she was looking for.
“In addition to serving as associate general counsel, I was also the privacy officer and director of risk management. I had to learn quickly and triage the issues that came my way. It was baptism by fire, trying to do a lot with very limited resources. It was challenging, but just a wonderful experience for me,” Sherwani says. “I worked there three years and I knew I wanted to work for a larger health system. That’s when I joined Loyola Medicine, which is owned by Trinity Health.”
In her current role, Sherwani supports three hospitals and is lead counsel for Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, overseeing all contracts of independent physicians and handling medical staff issues, regulatory matters, and the day-to-day legal issues. She’s also the attorney who handles medical staff bylaws and medical staff issues for the trio of hospitals.
In support of the overall mission, the legal team is together for the most part three days a week at Loyola’s main medical center, which is almost like a boutique law firm environment, allowing for the sharing of ideas and advice.
“Aside from my legal team at Loyola, at the Trinity level, we have specialized attorneys, so if, for example, there’s a complicated medical staff issue, instead of going to outside counsel, I can go to an attorney in Michigan with whom I can talk through an issue. It’s a great resource because they may have seen something similar at another Trinity hospital and can talk about how they approached the issue,” Sherwani explains. “This expands collaboration further.”
“One of my main philosophies . . . is to take on every opportunity presented, even if it does not make sense in your career trajectory at the time, work hard, and try and make yourself invaluable.”
Although she learned great lessons as a private attorney, one of her favorite parts about the in-house position is being able to think creatively.
“We are very fortunate to work as in-house healthcare attorneys in such a dynamic and ever-changing environment. Here, I feel I am very much a business partner in addition to being an attorney,” Sherwani says. “It is very rare that a client will come to me with a question and I would say no, we absolutely couldn’t do that. We can think outside the box and make something happen by working collaboratively with our business clients and thinking creatively.”
In 2018, Loyola Medicine acquired MacNeal Hospital, a 374-bed, fully accredited teaching hospital in Berwyn, Illinois, which also included Chicago Health System, Chicago Market Laboratories Inc., and some physicians of Chicago Health Medical Group. Sherwani was tasked with helping to integrate the departments into Loyola Medicine.
“We had two of our Loyola attorneys working on the acquisition in a legal capacity, but I was selected as one of the three integration leads, serving in a nonlegal capacity, in charge of facilitating the integration of four or five different departments,” Sherwani says. “It was a great project for me because I had the opportunity to work with operational colleagues I probably would have never crossed paths with; it allowed me to manage a large project, which I had never done at Loyola before; and it provided me with the opportunity to interface with executive leadership by serving on the integration steering committee.”
She also participated on weekly legal acquisition calls and she helped be the point person to connect the legal and business teams together in an effort to eliminate integration barriers, enhancing her role as attorney even more.
“One of my main philosophies, which I’ve held in each of my positions in my career, is to take on every opportunity presented, even it if does not make sense in your career trajectory at the time, work hard, and try and make yourself invaluable,” Sherwani says. “There’s a lot that goes into that. It’s really about trying to learn everything you can—not only from the attorneys you work with but more so your business and operational colleagues. Collaborating with your colleagues, learning the nuances of the culture of your organization, and making yourself indispensable—those are the building blocks which I think can really help propel you forward in becoming a successful in-house healthcare attorney.”