There was a moment in 2018 when Timothy Gearin didn’t want to lead.
On Dec. 21, the much-loved managing partner of Armstrong Teasdale, John Beulick, lost his battle with melanoma. All Gearin wanted to do was shut his office door and grieve. But he was a new member of the executive committee. He knew it was time for him and other members to walk the halls and check on folks.
“I can’t tell you how many people — lawyers who you’d never believe would shed a tear — we walked in and closed the door, and they just lost it,” Gearin recalled. “It was very hard that day to be a leader, but people have to know that there’s a plan in place, that we’re gonna make it through and that it’s OK to be sad.”
Gearin knows how to navigate these delicate conversations: Before earning his J.D. at Saint Louis University School of Law in 1993, he worked as a registered nurse for about 12 years, mostly in intensive care units. That’s where he learned how to converse with people in severe crises.
It’s a skill that now comes in handy when he communicates with clients, including the doctors and nurses he defends against malpractice suits.
“When people are best educated about what to expect,” Gearin observed, “they’re the least nervous.”
Gearin sits at the head of Armstrong Teasdale’s mass tort and catastrophic loss practice area, which involves more than 40 other attorneys in the firm’s offices nationwide. He has tried upward of 50 cases throughout the country, advocating for large hospitals and health systems, Fortune 500 companies, physicians’ groups and agriculture and biotech companies.
About four years ago, Gearin said, as he and his colleagues were building up that practice area, Beulick approached him about expanding it to encompass many other health care-client needs. Thus they decided to create the overarching health care and life sciences industry team at the firm. As co-leader of that group, Gearin has counseled clients in compliance matters that include the Stark Law, HIPAA, the Unfair Merchandising Practices Act and electronic medical records. He also helps clients to minimize liability by advising them on how to structure their business operations.
From there, it was a natural progression for Gearin to be elected in June 2018 to Armstrong Teasdale’s 12-person executive committee, which steers the firm.
Gearin recently looked around and realized that he and his colleagues were aging. Some health advice might prove beneficial, he thought. So he invited a nationally known cardiologist who worked for a client to come in and talk to the firm about heart issues. The doctor spoke for about 45 minutes and fielded questions for another 45 — and the audience ate it up. Now Gearin wants to organize another one.
“That’s part of the old nurse in me,” he explained. “I may be doing things differently now, trying lawsuits, but there was a little bit missing.” At the next event, Gearin said, he plans to host an expert in internal medicine to talk to the firm about issues such as hypertension and diabetes.
His attachment to the world of medicine is so tight that he maintains his nursing license with the state to this day. In some situations, he said, his health care background is useful — for example, when he needs the perspective of providers, whether they be administrators or front-line practitioners. In other situations, it’s not really a leg up.
“But there are a lot of times I’m sitting across the table and people will say, ‘You’re a nurse, you understand,’” Gearin said. “And I say, ‘Yes. Your problem is different, but I understand.’”
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