Podcast: Alumni @ RopesTalk: Conversation with Jennifer Bealer, Progyny
In the latest installment of Ropes & Gray’s alumni podcast series, Alumni @ RopesTalk, health care partner Christine Moundas interviews her former colleague, Jennifer Bealer, who left Ropes & Gray in 2017 to become executive vice president and general counsel of Progyny, a leading fertility benefits management company. Within two years of joining Progyny, the company went public. In this engaging conversation, Jen shares her insights about the challenges and rewards of transitioning to an in-house position, executing an IPO and running the day-to-day legal operations of a mission-driven startup—all at the same time.
Christine Moundas: Thanks for joining us for the next installment of the Ropes & Gray alumni podcast. I'm Christine Moundas, a partner in the health care practice group in the New York office. Today I'm being joined by my friend, and Ropes & Gray alum, Jennifer Bealer. Jen and I worked together when she was with the firm from 2010 to 2017 in the health care group. And we continue to work together since she's left in 2017 to join Progyny as the general counsel. In October, Progyny went public, and I assisted with the health care regulatory portion of the IPO filings. So this has been an extraordinarily busy time for Jen, and we're really grateful she's taken time today to do this podcast with us. Jen, let's start with Progyny. Can you give us a brief summary of what the company's mission is all about?
Jennifer Bealer: Progyny is a leading fertility benefits management company. The mission of Progyny is really making dreams of parenthood come true. And as a new mom myself, that mission resonated with me. Progyny is redefining fertility and family-building benefits providing comprehensive and inclusive fertility solutions that could benefit employers, patients and physicians alike. Every member has their own concierge service, which provides access to a network of fertility specialists using the latest science and technologies. And we also reduce health care costs for the nation's leading employers and drive optimal, clinical outcomes. So we envision a world where anyone who wants to have a child can do so, and this means so much to many of our members, who can fulfill their dreams of parenthood.
Christine Moundas: I know our alumni audience will be fascinated to hear about your experience in taking Progyny public. Can you talk about your role, specifically, as well as any challenges you encountered in that process?
Jennifer Bealer: Coming in as general counsel of Progyny, I didn’t necessarily expect within two years to have an IPO under my belt, so the process itself was challenging. The number of meetings alone that we had with securities teams and underwriters meant that the schedule was very rigorous. And on top of that, as a trained health care attorney, that meant that I had to apply my knowledge base to a new body of law, which is securities. So the schedule, the rigor and the amount that we had to do, both taking the company public, but then also running the day-to-day legal functions meant that we had two jobs for a period of about a year. So that challenge was difficult, but Ropes trained me well.
Christine Moundas: How did your experience at Ropes prepare you for this job overall?
Jennifer Bealer: At Ropes, there was a lot of cross-functional staffing. We worked with different teams, and even throughout my role as a health care attorney, I did a lot of transactional work, working with securities teams and doing some of the regulatory functions related to securities. And some of the other functions, risk factors, etc. that we had to look at trained me for thinking through some of those elements and some of those factors. And then just the rigor we applied to the law was a very helpful experience because it taught me how to think about things and prepared me to think through a new body of law.
Christine Moundas: You were here at Ropes for seven years. Did you have any mentors who especially influenced your career?
Jennifer Bealer: Yes. I think what Ropes brings to the table is not just mentorship, both formal and informal, but having a structure whereby you're working with a number of partners who have different skill sets and a number of senior associates who also have different skill sets. So the value in that is you're learning different things, different elements of the law, in different styles. That said, there are two people in particular who were very instrumental in my career-- Tim McCrystal and Stephen Warnke. Stephen was always there as a sounding board for any of the associates, junior to more senior, and served as a formal mentor to a number of associates. And Tim McCrystal was the head of the group for a number of years while I was an associate. And he still is, along with Debbie Gersh. Tim and I worked on many, many private equity deals together – weekends, nights. And working with him was instrumental to understanding not just the law, but understanding how to communicate with clients, which I think is a critical learning experience.
Christine Moundas: Turning back to Progyny, what drew you there in the first place?
Jennifer Bealer: As I mentioned, Progyny's mission really resonated with me. I left Ropes after my second maternity leave and went right to Progyny, so I had a newborn at the time. It meant a lot to me to believe in the mission of a company. And similar to Ropes, the culture at Progyny was very collegial and it's a lot of very smart, very motivated people, and I think that type of culture is rare in in a company. So being able to translate some of the values from Ropes to Progyny, and retaining that in my day-to-day life was very important.
Christine Moundas: What do you find to be the most challenging and also the most rewarding aspects about transitioning from big law to in-house?
Jennifer Bealer: I think the challenges and rewards go hand in hand. What I found is that working at a law firm, oftentimes you're dealing with questions somewhat in a vacuum, whereby at a company, you have to deal with the business components of many issues. So you're dealing with communicating some of the implications of your decisions, and of the legal regulatory factors that impact individuals at the company and impact the company itself. That sort of thinking not just as a lawyer but as management, as a business lead, is very rewarding for me. And then you also see the real-time impact of your decisions, which is something that you wouldn't necessarily see in the law firm setting, and it's both rewarding and also challenging at the same time.
Christine Moundas: Can you describe a day in the life of Jen Bealer at Progyny? What's that look like?
Jennifer Bealer: The day in the life starts with me wrangling a couple of toddlers and getting ready in the morning. But once I actually get to Progyny, the day continues thinking about babies, but from a legal perspective. So oftentimes, what this means is I have a schedule and a number of items that I'd like to complete for the day, but what actually happens with my day is I'm dealing with the different business leads about issues that may come up, or solving problems that individuals need to be addressed on a real-time basis. We have a number of functions within the legal group, including licensure, credentialing client and provider agreements. But we're also a resource for everyone at the company for any issues or problems that they may need to think through in a meaningful way. So this goes back to being both challenging and rewarding. You have to put your business hat on along with your legal hat, and we serve as a resource for anyone who needs to have some critical thinking skills applied to questions that come up on their issues. So on a daily basis, we're doing a lot of problem solving, but also the day-to-day contracting, licensing, etc
Christine Moundas: Now that you're in-house, what advice do you have for outside counsel on how they can best serve their clients? What should they keep in mind?
Jennifer Bealer: This is something I've thought about a lot now that I’m on the other side of the table-- what could I have done better as a law firm associate and also what are the things that I'm looking for now that I'm the client? One of the things that I didn't fully appreciate while at Ropes is the amount of rigor and process that goes into communicating back to clients. Although there's a lot of work that goes into that, that work is worth it. Also timeliness and responsiveness is critical. Even if you don't have the right answer right away, it takes a lot of burden off of my shoulders knowing that I won't have to track down counsel about questions that I've asked, and knowing that they're always on top of things, even if I don't get a response immediately. And then, finally, transparency and composition of your team. Ensuring that your clients fully understand your pricing model and what that means for them, and also, who is going to be the point of contact on the team and communicating that out on a early basis is very important. Oftentimes, if you have a team of five or more people, knowing who to go to saves a lot of time and effort for the client, and probably for the firm, too.
Christine Moundas: What advice do you have for people who are considering a move from big law to in-house?
Jennifer Bealer: For anyone who's considering moving from a law firm or from big law into a company, what I would say is that you're not just a lawyer anymore. In big law, you can often answer questions somewhat in a vacuum and deal with precise issues or a very compact, wrapped-in-a-bow sort of question that your client comes up with for you. But when you're at a company, you're getting questions and issues that are presented by non-lawyers in a non-legal manner, so you have to figure out if that's even a legal question to begin with, and then understand what the legal ramifications may be and understand that you're communicating to the non-legal teams about what it means on a day-to-day basis and what it means from a legal perspective. You're not just a lawyer anymore – you're also management, you are also a business leader. Understanding how to combine those two elements is something that's very important – you should be ready for it before you leave big law.
Christine Moundas: Going back to your days at Ropes, when we were together in the health care group, do you have any favorite memories you'd like to share?
Jennifer Bealer: We had so many memories over seven some-odd years, but the ones that come to mind are all related to the health care group. Other groups poke fun a little bit at the health care group because we act as a boutique within the firm itself. Some memories include… our cheer committee, which appointed everyone with spirit animals, and also made sure that, if morale was dipping, that we did things like cupcake parties. We had a corny calendar – an exchange with page-a-day cat calendars. It’s the little things that are really important, and the people that we were working with in the health care group especially made sure that everyone's morale was as high as it could possibly be.
Christine Moundas: Do you actually remember your spirit animal and why you received it?
Jennifer Bealer: Oh, I do. My spirit animal was a killer whale, and it still is a killer whale. I kept my plush toy that everyone got for their spirit animal. And the reason I was appointed the killer whale is because we work in pods and we have our community of whales. So I very much see Ropes as one of my communities.
Christine Moundas: And I'd say you got it because you're very intelligent and you have killer instinct. On that note, let's sign off here. Jen, thank you so much for joining us today.
Jennifer Bealer: Thanks, Christine.
Christine Moundas: We consider our Ropes & Gray community to among our most valuable assets. And it's always great to see where people land, and how their careers develop. For all of our Ropes & Gray alumni out there, please visit our alumni website at alumni.ropesgray.com to stay up to date on our alumni and to get the latest news about the firm and our lawyers. You can also subscribe and listen to the series wherever you regularly listen to podcasts, including on Apple, Google, or Spotify. Thanks again for listening.