It’s somewhat unusual for a company to employ two general counsel, but that’s been a secret to success for the MetroHealth System, as attorneys Laura McBride and Sonja Rajki have found a great rhythm for working together.
Surprisingly, neither woman originally pursued a career in law.
McBride thought she was headed to medical school to follow in the footsteps of both her parents, who were physicians. Instead, she wound up getting a master’s in public health, enjoying the policy aspect much more than medicine. An early job with the Department of Health and Human Services in the Inspector General’s office taught McBride about administrative law and the regulatory system, and her interest led her to law school at the George Washington University Law School.
Meanwhile, Rajki, a religious studies major, had an early interest in biomedical ethics, and an adviser recommended she also get a public health degree. After looking into it, she decided a dual degree with law made the most sense for what she wanted to do with her life. She took jobs in public health while finishing her law degree.
Rajki had experience working in a hospital system in Iowa: when she moved to Cleveland, she practiced at a law firm before the MetroHealth System recruited her. “I saw that I could come here and be here when healthcare reform was happening. I thought I might just be here a couple of years, but here it is ten years later and I’m still here,” Rajki shares.
As soon as McBride got to Cleveland, she wanted to join MetroHealth. “My parents had trained here, and Metro was the perfect overlap for me with healthcare and public administrative law, because we’re a county hospital,” she explains. “From a legal perspective, it’s more interesting to be doing hospital things here because of the public overlay.” She approached a partner about the possibility, but nothing was available. It wasn’t until six years later that the organization hired McBride.
When MetroHealth learned the former general counsel would be retiring, leadership kicked the tires on the idea of creating a team for the position. “We were both not even yet deputy general counsel together when we turned to each other at one point to look at the future,” Rajki says. “We had talked about what we wanted out of our careers and lives, and did quite a bit of research on how being co-general counsel could help our careers, the hospital system, and our team.”
Neither could conceive of someone else caring more about Metro than either of them, and both knew that no one would be more qualified, so they proposed the idea of working together to the higher-ups.
“One of the aspects we like the most is that we can continue to be practicing lawyers because we are able to share lead responsibilities and C-suite engagement,” McBride offers. “That gives us more time to do legal work, which we both saw our previous boss wasn’t always able to do as much. We felt it was a great way to provide value to the system.”
The secret for making things work is communication, keeping egos in check, and being savvy collaborators. “We knew it was unusual and difficult, and we sought coaching and learned insights from others who have had successful partnerships,” Rajki notes.
Together, as co-general counsel, Laura McBride and Sonja Rajki prioritize the organization of their approach through the coordination of all things legal, recruitment, and retainment.
“One of the things we’ve always focused on is that we’ve been incredibly thoughtful in how we think about our team in terms of structuring their work scope and areas of responsibility,” McBride explains. “There’s always a little bit of fluctuation as our team’s interests change or our clients’ needs change, but we’ll always look to balance what Metro needs from a depth and breadth perspective.”
Today, they lead a team of sixteen legal experts as MetroHealth goes through a huge period of growth under Dr. Akram Boutros. This includes the expansion of the school-based health program, with clinicians and nurses deployed throughout the Cleveland school system.
“We’re pushing legal boundaries and navigating appropriate solutions that are best for the community in all sorts of areas, with lots of focus on social determinants of health and making sure that care is getting out to the community. We do our part from the legal perspective so our providers can provide innovative solutions for the community,” Rajki shares. “We get to help move the health system forward and work on cutting-edge projects that are mission-value based.”
The dynamic duo also focuses on diversity issues throughout the company—both legal and otherwise—helping to push through initiatives and contracts championing women and minorities.
“Legal has a large role to play in this, in making sure terms of the contracts are going to be enforced for diversity,” Rajki says. “And making sure there are opportunities for diversity in all the vendors we are looking at.”
Laura McBride and Sonja Rajki also initiated a compressed workweek for department staff, including attorneys, at MetroHealth, which has proved to be a big accomplishment. Staff can now have a day off every other week, or half a day every week.
“We’ve been in a pilot for about six months now, and it’s been very successful to our key stakeholders and our clients, many of whom didn’t even realize it was happening,” McBride states. “We’re looking for ways to keep the workforce engaged, while providing flexibility and dependability.”
The attorneys of Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP are proud to support innovative health care clients like Laura McBride and Sonja Rajki.
Bricker & Eckler is proud to partner with the MetroHealth System as outside legal counsel on construction projects. For more than 40 years, our attorneys have partnered with health care providers and health plans to understand and address their unique and complex policy, regulatory, construction, and business issues.