If there’s one lesson Lara Compton has learned on her way to becoming a partner at Nelson Hardiman, a healthcare and life sciences law firm based in Los Angeles, it’s that life doesn’t always go as planned. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be successful.
A premed student in college, Compton originally had set her sights on becoming a doctor. After graduation, she worked at a blood bank and conducted HIV vaccine research at an R&D laboratory.
“I applied to medical school twice, and after being waitlisted both times, I realized it was time to reevaluate my plans,” she recalls. “It was pretty disheartening. I was trying to figure out what to do next, since it didn’t look like medical school would be an avenue for me.”
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A friend suggested that Compton could take all her training and flip it around, citing coworkers who had used their knowledge to become patent attorneys.
“It had never occurred to me that there were so many different types of lawyers. When I pictured practicing law in my mind, I thought of litigation, and I knew I didn’t want to do that,” Compton says. “I sat in on a few law school classes and discovered I really liked the subject matter and the critical thinking involved. I also liked that I could build upon my love for science and healthcare rather than leave it behind.”
She was twenty-nine when she started law school and did “surprisingly well.” Although Compton thought she would focus on patent law, once she took a class on healthcare law and learned about the regulations involved, a new passion was born.
A friend encouraged her to apply for a clerkship at the California Department of Managed Healthcare. As a clerk, she helped draft regulations and opinion letters. Along the way, she soaked up knowledge about HIPAA regulations and other areas she found fascinating.
As luck would have it, when Compton finished law school in 2006, a small hospital system in Fresno was looking for a new graduate. Her clerk experience helped her land the job.
“It was the best experience I could have had as a young lawyer. We did everything in the legal department for several hospitals, and I got to see it all,” Compton says, who became a trusted go-to lawyer for healthcare regulatory work. “I learned HIPAA frontward and backward. There were several pieces of substantial hospital licensing that had been passed, and I was charged with interpreting and implementing those requirements.”
“I felt I was really contributing to the communities involved by assisting with the continued operation of the distressed hospitals as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded. We made it through the initial phases of the pandemic. It was definitely an interesting time to be hospital counsel.”
Today, at Nelson Hardiman, Compton advises traditional healthcare clients and works with innovative products and technology. She also collaborates with healthcare providers amid the increasing push toward telehealth and the incorporation of more technology within the healthcare industry.
“In addition to my practice, I’m managing the regulatory practice as a whole, monitoring regulatory trends and making sure folks are aware of all the different changes happening,” she notes. This work grew more important during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We had to help our clients who either had not considered using telehealth due to various limitations or were not yet prepared to use telehealth quickly pivot to the use of telehealth technology. The infrastructure seemed to be built overnight.”
Additionally, for more than a year, Compton served as special regulatory counsel for a major hospital system going through one of the largest bankruptcy filings in history. The engagement involved providing regulatory compliance support for the hospital system’s day-to day operations, including serving as outside compliance officer as well as extensive regulatory work on the sale of the system’s assets. That took up a lot of her time in 2020. Happily, she navigated the transition of ownership successfully, even as the pandemic unfolded and she dealt with multiple competing priorities.
“I felt I was really contributing to the communities involved by assisting with the continued operation of the distressed hospitals as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded,” she explains. “We made it through the initial phases of the pandemic. It was definitely an interesting time to be hospital counsel.”
While Compton notes she was a little “crushed” when she didn’t get into med school, she has no complaints now and is happy to be making a difference by helping her clients navigate difficult healthcare regulatory issues.
“I love having a front row seat to healthcare innovation as it evolves, for example, software, telehealth platforms, and AI,” she enthuses. “I love doing this kind of work because it’s new and different and most of the time there isn’t an obvious answer. I love solving that puzzle.”
Wellness has always been a key component of Lara Compton’s identity. A triathlete in her spare time, she pencils in a Half Ironman with her husband into her calendar every year. At Nelson Hardiman, she encourages her team to develop a winning mindset, stay healthy, and enjoy what they’re doing.
“Sometimes it seems focusing on wellness doesn’t go well with practicing law,” she says. “I view it as a very important component to what we are doing at the firm, and I certainly take that approach as regulatory chair.”