Eye-opening internship leads lawyer back to St. Jude

Anna Cox Thompson

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Kaleigh Davis always knew she wanted to make a difference, but it took some divine intervention to change her course. “I’ve always wanted to do the cliché of ‘helping people’ and not just work to make money but to make a difference, however that may be,” she says. As Associate Counsel at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Davis is tasked with duties typical of any attorney, but her client is more than unique.

“When I was in my first year of law school, my brother was diagnosed with a brain tumor and came to St. Jude,” Davis explains. “He’s doing really well. But I didn’t really know what exactly I wanted to do in law school until I learned that St. Jude offered internships to second and third year law students.”

This internship opened her eyes to a new sector of law, and a new opportunity to help others through her work. “Watching my brother go through everything, I was intrigued by health law. I came to Memphis (for the internship) and spent the summer here and absolutely loved it. So to find out that health law was something I really liked and was full of so many opportunities was an added bonus,” she says with a smile.

Kaleigh Davis

“I loved everyone I worked with inside the legal department, the institution as a whole, and the city. After I graduated, I was a prosecutor for a year and a half and then I was able to come to St. Jude full-time. It was a dream come true to be able to come back after being an intern. I learned a lot as a prosecutor, but I think where I am now is a good fit for my interests and passions.”

For Davis this includes work in the areas of health care regulatory law, medical legal issues that might affect patients, policy drafting research and employment law. “My client is St. Jude, so I represent the institute only,” she explains. “An example might be that I’m called upon to say who is the appropriate consenter for a patient looking at legal documents.”

Davis was hired on as a Staff Attorney in 2014 and became Associate Counsel in the fall of 2017. Along with the promotion came new opportunities to hone her leadership skills and influence the environment of her colleagues. She’s already learned a few things that make any experience more meaningful — how to listen well, communicate clearly, learn to laugh at yourself and always follow through.

“Most of what I do is problem solving, so having an open environment for people to express ideas is key. The best way to have a horrible brainstorming session is for people to not feel comfortable talking,” she says with a laugh. “Likewise, follow-through is always important, especially as a younger person in my role. People have a variety of expectations of you based on your age — some good, some bad — one of the best ways to show people that you’re dependable is to follow through in a timely manner. I’ve found that to go a long way with colleagues. Dependability speaks volumes of your work ethic.”

As a transplant to the city, Davis cites volunteerism and getting involved as the best ways to make a new city feel like home. She’s the current Chair of the Outreach Committee for the Memphis Bar Association Health Law Section and serves as a board member for the organization. Additionally, she’s active in her local church. Striking a balance between personal and professional activities allows for a more “well-rounded” experience. This is something that’s been helpful when dealing with the ups and downs of working at an organization that toes the line between illness and innovation.

“On one hand it’s amazing to be here and watch the kind of care that we provide,” she says. “The environment we create for patients to come here and get treatment is an experience unlike any other. Conversely, it’s very difficult to see children fighting for their lives (on a daily basis). We’re not off-site somewhere, so when I go to the cafeteria I see first-hand how hard this journey can be. It’s difficult. But when you’re having a hard day, it’s wonderful to be able to go down to watch the kindergarten graduation or prom and see the joy that we provide as well. I like to think I’m a piece of that even though I’m not administering care to anyone. I hope that joy is something I foster with others.”

Kaleigh Davis is a graduate of New Memphis’ Embark program. Learn more at newmemphis.org.