Deanna Cook Is Up for the Challenge

Assistant General Counsel Deanna Cook brings a multifaceted view of the law to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

When Deanna Cook walked into an interview with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, she thought a job as in-house counsel at the large health insurance company would be tough to land.

Up to that point, she had been something of a generalist, accumulating a wealth of experience as an attorney at a large law firm in Washington, DC, after graduating from Georgetown University.

For Cook, the law served as both a practical entry point to a fascinating career and a way to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Growing up in Detroit and then around Ann Arbor, her mother was also a generalist, honing skills in family, municipal, and business law.

“She has always served as a wonderful role model, not only as a working mother but also as an attorney,” Cook says. “I grew up with a view of her experience as a female lawyer in the 1980s to 1990s, when women were significantly outnumbered in law schools and in the legal profession.”

But it was the person who would become her husband, Cass, who gave Cook a final push toward the law. “I was debating between getting a master’s degree, not sure in what subject, or going to law school,” she says, reflecting on the time after she finished college. “He convinced me law school was the way to go. He still jokes that he is single-handedly responsible for me becoming a lawyer.”

Her time at the firm was valuable, she says, giving her exposure to a range of work in areas including litigation, antitrust, contracts, and corporate internal investigations.

But she knew that she wanted to move back to her home state of Michigan and to go in-house. Working closely with a company’s core business and addressing clients’ needs appealed to her. So when she saw that a position had opened up at Blue Cross in her home state, she took a shot.

She was surprised and elated when she got the job. Later, she learned that she and the attorney who hired her had something in common: they both came from larger firms. He saw in her an agile thinker and practitioner who could think on her feet in a variety of settings and use her broad experience to adjust to situations as necessary.

“I got a good general background in legal practice. It helped me focus, in the long term, on what I wanted to do in my career.”

Her adaptability is a skill that has served her well. “I thought litigation would be a good place to start and would give me exposure to all kinds of practices—and it did,” she says.  “I got a good general background in legal practice. It helped me focus, in the long term, on what I wanted to do in my career.”

Her time at the law firm was shaped by diligent professionals who showed her the ropes. Mentors like Kathryn Gainey took the time to explain the ins and outs of cases to her, and former SEC enforcement attorney Philip Khinda “made me a better lawyer by teaching me that even the smallest details matter. He also had a knack for crafting an impactful letter, an important skill for any good lawyer.”

Working as an in-house attorney in the healthcare space aligns, in part, with standard business practice: assessing contracts and disputes. But because healthcare is a highly regulated industry, it also means understanding what changes in regulations and law mean for insurers like Blue Cross. “I enjoy it,” she says. “Every day is a little bit different.”

The passage of the Affordable Care Act has meant continuing changes to requirements for insurers and health plans that come from the US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Staying on top of that changing landscape is a key part of her job, Cook explains.

Keeping abreast of regulatory changes and opportunities at Blue Cross has pushed Cook to help oversee some new initiatives. And these new possibilities in healthcare mean Cook is again relying on her past experience as a generalist to navigate a constantly changing industry. Undaunted, she is learning quickly, adapting, and overcoming hurdles as they arise.

“I’m not coming to work and doing the same thing every day,” she says. “It’s always a new challenge.”

Cook aspires to conquer these challenges as well as to become well versed in other areas of health law and lead a legal department within a corporation down the road. Just as her mother did for her, she hopes to pass on what she’s learned to younger attorneys.

As Cook puts it, “By her example, I came to view the law as an honorable, admirable, ethical, and intelligent line of work.”