Roger O’Sullivan had a very global childhood. Born in New York to Australian parents, he spent the first six years of his life in the U.S. while his father earned a Ph.D. in geology. Then, the family moved to Iran, where his father had taken a teaching position at the Abadan Institute of Technology. They stayed there for four years until political unrest prompted them to uproot again — this time, heading to his parents’ homeland of Australia.
O’Sullivan lived in Australia with his family for the next 16 years. He completed primary school and high school there, then decided to put off college for a bit while he taught scuba diving and pursued an inspiring side hustle — standup comedy.
In 1994, O’Sullivan made his way back to the Big Apple. For the next few years, he waited tables and continued to dabble in standup comedy, all while shedding his Australian accent. But when his interest in performing fizzled, he enrolled in Hunter College in New York City, where he studied philosophy and economics.
Recognizing the trouble he may face trying to earn a comfortable living with a philosophy degree, O’Sullivan set his sights on grad school. He thought about a Ph.D. in philosophy, but needed a career that would provide both financial stability and intellectual stimulation. He landed on law.
Immediately after graduating from Hunter, O’Sullivan headed to the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law. In his third year of law school, he took a class called Health Care Law and Ethics and loved it. He realized then that, if he were going to be a lawyer, he wanted to practice in the life sciences and health care space.
O’Sullivan followed that path from the start of his law career and hasn’t looked back. Today, he serves as general counsel, secretary and compliance officer at CDx Diagnostics, a New York-based medtech company.
Where did your law career take you right after graduating from Cardoza?
During law school, I was working two or three nights a week at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom as a legal assistant. One night, I noticed on the law firm’s intranet that they were looking for associates for their office in Sydney. I reached out to a senior M&A partner that was familiar with the position and said, “Even though I’m not a lawyer yet, I’m familiar with Sydney and would love to go and help out if they are looking for an extra pair of hands.” He made a phone call and I went.
This was the summer of 2001, so the dot-com bust was in full effect. Skadden’s Sydney office was slow, so they had me researching Australian life science companies. I discovered that American law firms weren’t really doing the work these companies wanted or needed them to do. There was a real opportunity here for me — a soon-to-be lawyer who was very familiar with Australian culture and interested in life sciences — to start my own practice.
So after graduating and working for at a few litigation shops, that’s what I did. I started my own life sciences law practice and did that for four years.
How did you end up landing your first in-house position at Cogstate?
My own practice required me to do a lot of networking. I wasn’t home a lot. I had two young daughters at the time and that busy lifestyle was just getting to be too much. I decided finding an in-house job in a life sciences company would be ideal because it would keep me close to the business.
As part of my networking, I put together a group of life sciences professionals for a panel discussion at the 2008 BIO Convention in San Diego. One of the people I reached out to was the CEO of Cogstate, an Australian computerized cognitive testing company. He couldn’t make it to the panel, but we were able to meet for coffee in NYC beforehand. I must have told him I was considering going in-house, and he said that Cogstate had an office in New Haven, Conn., and it needed a general manager. He thought it would be really helpful to have someone with a law degree in that position because they dealt with a lot of contracts.
Within a month or two, he offered me a job as general manager and general counsel and I worked there from 2008 to 2018.
How did you end up at CDx?
I interviewed at CDx while I was finishing up at Cogstate and was offered the job as general counsel, secretary and compliance officer. I started in July 2019.
CDx is a true health care provider. It’s a medical device company with an anatomic pathology lab — very specialized. We have an improved way of extracting tissue to test for pre-cancer and cancer of the esophagus. Our founder came up with a device and method whereby gastroenterologists can extract a deeper, richer pool of cells from the esophagus. The docs then send the tissue samples to our lab where we have AI and machine learning that aid our pathologists in providing diagnoses.
How would you describe your role at CDx within your greater legal career?
Professionally, it’s probably the most interesting and challenging experience I have had as an attorney. The range and complexity of the legal subject matter is just extraordinary. We have done a lot of corporate work — working with private equity, doing clinical research, and conducting more sophisticated research and development.
But the richest part for me is the pure health care law. We’re subject to the various healthcare regulations, including the federal and state anti-kickback statutes and the Stark or physician self-referral law, amongst others.
Given the range of activities, the complexity of interpreting the law in this context has been very challenging and very, very interesting. Also getting to understand the American health care system at this level is fascinating, but also a bit of a nightmare.
What are some of your biggest priorities in your current role?
My priorities are broken out into categories.
1. Contracts. We have contracts with hospitals, health care systems, insurance companies, government payers, universities or anyone participating in one of our studies.
2. Compliance. I have to make sure we’re complying with HIPAA and various data privacy and security regulations, and I am often called on to answer questions from colleagues regarding compliance with the healthcare fraud, waste and abuse laws. If we retain key opinion leaders as consultants, for example, we have to ensure those arrangements comply with health care regulations.
3. Developing and maintaining our IP portfolios. CDx has a number of patents and trademarks and I need to make sure they’re secure and moving forward. They’re significant assets for the company.
4. Corporate governance. I provide legal advice to directors and committee members, maintain minutes for the company, and draft resolutions and consents.
5. Legal disputes. I am also responsible for handling any legal disputes that arise.
What do you love most about being an in-house lawyer?
I like being vested in the company. Its success is my success. It’s not just another client. I love the diversity of people and their interests. Whether it’s the pathologists or researchers or finance or HR or sales, people stop in my office all day everyday with questions, and because they all have different responsibilities, their questions are very different.
Please tell me about the mentors you had growing up in your legal career.
I’m the first lawyer CDx has ever had, and I was the first at Cogstate, so at least in-house I have never had anyone I directly reported to that mentored me in a traditional sense. There is a lawyer that is my go-to for professional and legal advice. Her name is Margie Davino. She was the GC of St Vincent Hospital for years and is now a partner at Fox Rothschild. I haven’t worked with her directly, but I’ve known her for many years. She is a great sounding board and trusted advisor.
Tell me about your life outside of work. What are some of your hobbies?
My wife and I live on the Upper West Side in New York City, and we also have a house in the Hamptons. I love going out there and hanging out on the beach.
For the past few years, I’ve started collecting antiquarian books. I’ve picked up a number of interesting volumes – a few from Josephine Bonaparte’s library and some first editions of Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray. Most of my books are 19th century British and American literature. I post about them on Instagram at @shinne_books.
I also have two daughters — one just graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art and the younger one has one more year at University of New Hampshire and is majoring in environmental studies.
What advice would you give a young lawyer who wants to be a GC someday?
Be genuinely interested in what the company you work for is doing. There are a lot of small companies and entrepreneurs that need lawyers. Find a business you like and go after one of the small-company GC roles. When your interest is genuinely there, you start diving down deeper and throwing yourself into the work. It is genuinely a lot of fun.
Also, don’t just talk to lawyers. Talk to businesspeople and find ways to get to people who are doing really interesting things. They will all need lawyers at some point.