April 11, 2023

Alumni Spotlight: Fatema Zanzi

Fatema Zanzi

Name: Fatema Zanzi
Title: Senior Vice President, Chief Legal Officer and Board Secretary at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
Firm Background: Summer Associate: 2005; Associate: 2006-15; Partner: 2015-18; Health Care Group, Chicago

Faegre Drinker alum Fatema Zanzi always knew that health care would be the main focus of her career path — even as a child!

“I have these early drawings of me in a white lab coat and stethoscope with little kids. I actually wanted to be a pediatrician so much so that when I was at Northwestern undergrad I interned as a research assistant and a child life therapist assistant for Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, which is now Lurie Children’s Hospital. It was a very full circle moment when I joined Lurie Children’s as the chief legal officer.”

Fatema grew up in upstate New York, then came to Chicago for college. She had her eye on pediatrics and started off her undergraduate studies with pre-med and history majors at Northwestern University. After Northwestern, Fatema spent a few years working for a health care consulting company and became very familiar with the ins and outs of hospital operations and regulations.

“I remember in my last year consulting, I took the MCATs and the LSATs,” she said. She even considered taking the GMAT for business school. “I talked to somebody who basically said a lawyer can do business work, but a businessperson can't be a lawyer. So I thought maybe I should go into law, since it is more versatile. I can still do business and not necessarily be pigeonholed in that way, if the law doesn't work out, so that's why I ended up going to law school. I chose Loyola in Chicago because it had a top health law program.”

When Fatema began applying for summer associate programs at firms with large health care practices, she met Ed Bryant at Faegre Drinker predecessor firm Gardner Carton.

“He was like the grandfather of Health Law,” she recalled, “and I was just so amazed at the career that he had — and really felt like it was more than a career. It was a calling for him, and I was really inspired by that.”

While the initial plan was to “do the firm thing” for three to five years before figuring out her next steps, Fatema wasn’t ready to leave. Her tenure with the firm kept getting extended until she became a partner and had spent more than 12 years here. At that point, she began to think an in-house career would never be in the cards for her ¬— she was perfectly happy to continue serving in the practice she enjoyed so much, but then the phone rang…

“I got a call from a recruiter who was seeing if I was interested in the Lurie Children's job,” Fatema said, “and I considered a very long pros and cons list. I was really enjoying being a partner at a law firm. I really enjoyed the work. I got to work with a ton of different clients all around the country doing really interesting things and working on once-in-a-lifetime deals for some of these clients, so it was really exciting for me to continue to do that work. Honestly, I wasn't really looking to go in-house when Lurie Children’s came looking, but I think when I got the opportunity presented to me, it was one of those things where I couldn't not look at it.”

“Listening to the new Lurie Children’s CEO's vision of what he wanted to do to transform health care for children in Illinois and in Chicago was really inspirational,” she added, “and frankly brought back the memories of me wanting to do pediatric health care and got me thinking about whether I could make an impact in a different way with my law degree that I hadn't been able to yet. I worked with clients around the country, but I hadn't worked with clients that much in Chicago at that point in my career. This was an opportunity for me to … really make an impact in the city in which I lived, for the kids.”

When Fatema joined Lurie Children’s, the title for the in-house role was changed from “General Counsel” to “Chief Legal Officer.” This was important to note the role’s shift to a strategic member of the C-suite — and a perfect fit for Fatema’s love of business strategy. She’ll be the first to tell you she only spends 15-20% of her time strictly being a lawyer for the organization. Fatema’s team does a lot of the lawyering while she focuses her energy on risk mitigation and business strategy.

When she began leading legal operations at Lurie Children’s, Fatema learned other colleagues viewed legal services as “where ideas go to die,” and she was determined to shift the image of her department. Fatema and her team created a new framework for their operations, guided by a mission-driven vision. Their client-centered approach has changed the game for the team’s internal clients, and Fatema couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.

Something else she is proud of in her role at Lurie Children’s is building a strong team — as 75% of the current legal services team has joined since she took on the role. Notably, she brought on fellow Faegre Drinker alum Kendra Allaband to handle the hospital’s Labor & Employment matters. Fatema is proud of the legal superstars who have assembled to dedicate their talent to the mission of Lurie Children’s.

When she’s not in the office, you’ll often find Fatema baking. Since business strategy and risk management doesn’t allow much room to flex her creative muscles, she loves channeling that energy into her baking and decorating her famous sugar cookies! She also enjoys cheering on her son’s baseball team (and making cookies for the league) and traveling. In fact, she’s committed to going on yearly international trips with her family as she recognizes the importance of taking time to decompress and step away from the work.

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