The Petrie-Flom Center is excited to welcome David Tolley to our Advisory Board!
Tolley is a Partner at Latham & Watkins LLP and is the chair of the Litigation & Trial Department for the firm’s Boston office. He represents health care organizations in high stakes matters, including government investigations and litigation. Tolley has also worked on pro bono litigation with the Center for Health Law Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School to help secure access to life-saving therapies for people with hepatitis C.
To learn more about the depth of experience that Tolley will bring to the Advisory Board, we asked him a few questions about his background and current areas of practice. The interview, which has been edited and condensed, follows.
Can you talk about your background and the perspective you’ll bring to the Petrie-Flom Center’s Advisory Board?
In terms of the background that I bring, it comes in a couple of different pieces.
Before law school, I did a master’s in ethics at Yale, which focused on bioethics and health policy. So I have long been interested in and engaged by big questions of bioethics.
I ultimately chose to go to law school because I wanted to participate in health care, bioethics, and health policy as a day-to-day professional. I was really passionate about thinking, writing, expressing ideas, and bringing to bear policy solutions from the perspective of the law and health and public policy.
Since graduating from law school just over 12 years ago, I’ve practiced mostly as a health care lawyer, focusing in the past seven or eight years on representing all kinds of health care organizations in their highest stakes regulatory and government enforcement matters.
I tend to work with these companies and organizations when they are at a critical moment that could define their future. That could be a big regulatory question that they must answer, a regulatory challenge to sort through, or a government investigation that potentially threatens the enterprise’s future. I really enjoy helping organizations navigate these kinds of challenging circumstances.
For someone who’s not working in health care litigation, could you highlight the kind of on-the-ground work that you’re doing?
Anybody who receives money from the federal government for their work in the health care space is regulated by the federal government and often by state government, as well.
In the context of the pharmaceutical industry, for example, the regulatory issue might concern sales and marketing practices around a particular pharmaceutical product or biologic.
For a health care system or organization, it could be questions about how it billed for the services it provided and how it makes those billing decisions.
In many cases, a health care entity will receive an investigative request, often a subpoena or civil investigative demand, that prompts the company to call somebody like me and say, ‘Hey, we’ve received this. We need your help.’
What I enjoy the most about the work is that the stakes are often quite high, so the opportunity to have a material impact for the organization is also significant. As somebody who works on these sorts of matters day in and day out, it allows me to partner with a mission-driven organization that’s going through something very stressful and bring a sense of order and reasonableness to the process, ultimately helping them march through it and hopefully achieve a successful outcome, whatever that means.
And what might people be surprised to know about your work?
I think people are often surprised by, in the particular kind of work that I do, how very interpersonal it really is.
At the core of this work is identifying the people involved in the issues that are important to the investigator — meeting with them, getting to know them, hearing their stories, and understanding their organization’s culture. Maybe there was a problem, or maybe there were some people that made decisions that were inconsistent with the organization’s culture. How did that happen? How did that come about? Does the organization need to make changes, or was this isolated activity quite inconsistent with its broader culture?
I find all of these issues fascinating to untangle. Ultimately, as the organization’s advocate, I carry that narrative back to the government and become the client’s voice.
What are you looking forward to about being a part of the Petrie-Flom Center’s Advisory Board?
What initially attracted me to bioethics, and what continues to draw me to the work that I do, is that that the work in the health care space cuts to the core of who we are as human beings and how we want to take care of each other.
For a little more than 12 years, I have lived the day-to-day realities of the health care world, seeing how industry players make decisions and how we constantly face a scarcity of resources that requires figuring out how to best allocate them.
Those fundamental questions are at the heart of the work that I do. And I would say it’s also one of the things that excites me about being involved with the Center — having an opportunity to reframe those questions in an academic context and seriously engage with fundamental societal questions.