Corporate Counsel Awards: Brett J. Denton, Atrium Health

Brett J. Denton is a finalist for the Corporate Counsel Awards given by CBJ. He is the executive vice president and chief legal officer with Atrium Health.

Corporate Counsel Awards: Brett J. Denton, Atrium Health

Current position: Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer, Atrium Health

Education: B.S.B.A.

What have been your biggest professional achievements in the last few years? The completion of a number of transactions that helped transform the company's managed-hospital model into an integrated operating model, and helped it grow from $8 billion total revenue in 2019 up to $28 billion total revenue today. I'm also proud to have advanced the diversity, inclusion, and equity efforts of the Legal Department. This includes a two-year effort to obtain Mansfield Certification (by the Diversity Lab), and making Mansfield Certification a requirement for Atrium Health’s outside legal counsel. Mansfield certification is a measure of whether firms have considered affirmatively at least 30% women and attorneys of color for senior positions, equity partner promotions and formal client pitches.

What made you want to be a lawyer in the first place? My mother worked as a paralegal in a Zebulon, North Carolina solo practitioner, and I was impressed by the way her firm helped clients solve their problems. I liked the intellectual challenges of the job.

What made you decide to become corporate counsel instead of a solo practitioner or a lawyer at a law firm? Robinson Bradshaw was the firm I worked for for just over six years. It was a great experience. Carolinas HealthCare System, now Atrium Health, a client of mine, offered me a position in their legal department. At the time, my father, a hospital administrator who worked at Wilson Memorial Hospital was dying from brain cancer. I thought that this job would be a great way to continue his legacy in the health care field. I was also drawn to the "for all" mission, which treats all God's Children regardless of their ability to pay.

What skills are required for your role as an in-house lawyer compared to private practice? In-house counsels must have a good understanding of the business both financially and operationally.

What is the best advice you have ever received about your career, or would you recommend to students who are considering a legal career? Early in your career, find good mentors and sponsors and depend on them. Do not limit or specialize yourself too early in your professional career. Don't be afraid to take some risks. Most career growth happens during challenging times. Develop your critical thinking skills and problem solving abilities. Teamwork is important. My leadership philosophy is based on Coach Dean Smith’s teamwork principles, "play hard, smart, and play together." I would also add his unspoken fourth principle, "play by the rules."