Bill Carpenter wanted to slow down the deal.
The LifePoint Health CEO has been on an acquisition binge lately, but he began pumping the brakes during one recent hospital deal. He worried LifePoint was being rushed into the arrangement, because of the hospital's financial situation, before it had time to conduct its due diligence.
The CEO credits his experience as a lawyer—his first career—for his caution. “My legal background and my focus on risk management said, 'Go slow here, go slower here,'” he recalled.
Carpenter is part of a small but growing group of healthcare executives with legal backgrounds. This year, 630 of the American College of Healthcare Executives' 38,373 fellows and members had law degrees, up from 462 in 2010 and 266 in 2005.
Several factors are driving that growth, industry watchers say. Healthcare organizations are increasingly including their general counsel in strategic decision-making, which prepares them for future leadership roles.
Executives with legal backgrounds may also have an edge when it comes to navigating the complex regulatory environment facing hospital chains these days, whether it involves reimbursement, mergers and acquisitions, or quality and safety. Hospitals remain under constant and growing scrutiny from a host of federal and state government agencies.
“(A law degree) sets them apart, but also it gives them information that can help them be a better resource for the organization and lead in a way that will give them deeper insight,” said Mark Madden, senior vice president of senior executive search at B.E. Smith. Hiring those with legal expertise is part of a broader trend of executives with nontraditional degrees rising to top leadership positions, he said.
LifePoint, based in Brentwood, Tenn., has done well since Carpenter took the helm a decade ago. The $5.2 billion-a-year chain of 72 mostly non-urban hospitals in 22 states has grown to become the sixth-largest investor-owned hospital chain in the country, based on 2014 revenue.