Vice President, Advocacy and General Counsel, American Association of Orthodontists
“As you might imagine,” Sean Murphy said, “there are not a lot of attorneys out there that on their bio or CV say that they practice dental law.”
As vice president for advocacy and general counsel of the American Association of Orthodontists, that’s what Murphy does every day. It might be a niche legal field, but it covers a huge amount of ground.
Murphy’s role includes compliance and lobbying efforts involving the federal and state laws and regulations that impact orthodontists and their practices. Also, as the in-house lawyer for a 119-year-old organization with more than 18,000 members in the United States, Canada and abroad, he handles issues ranging from contract negotiation to governance.
“It’s monitoring the landscape for the industry and definitely being a unified voice for the profession when it comes to some of those changes within the industry,” he said. “It’s also the day-to-day stuff that any organization would experience.”
Murphy, a native of the Quad Cities area, attended Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, for his undergraduate studies before earning his law degree at Saint Louis University in 2008. He stayed in St. Louis and joined Thompson Coburn, spending seven years in its business litigation practice before seeing an opening for an associate general counsel position with the Creve Coeur-based AAO.
Murphy’s father and brother are dentists. As he puts it, “You could kind of say dentistry runs in the family.”
“When this opportunity was posted, a friend reached out to me and said, ‘You know more about dentistry than any non-dentist I know. This would seem to be a perfect fit,’” he said.
Murphy joined the association in January 2016 and was promoted to general counsel last November. Like many in-house attorneys, Murphy likes being able to view the association’s issues from the inside out and knowing how legal issues will effect the organization or the profession.
“Orthodontists are great at doing orthodontics,” he said. “But a lot of them aren’t lawyers. A lot of them have limited experience in terms of governmental affairs, in terms of drafting legislation or regulations. To be able to help with that aspect is really rewarding.”
Sometimes, Murphy also serves as a spokesman for the profession, particularly on issues where regulatory measures and orthodontists’ business interests intersect with issues of patient safety. He’s been quoted, for instance, in several news stories about consumers who try and straighten their own teeth using information gleaned from internet videos or with kits purchased at drug stores.
“Orthodontics is the movement of biological material, and it’s best done under the supervision of a licensed orthodontist,” he told USA Today last year.
And, yes: Murphy has had his teeth straightened, both as a child and as an adult. He said his adult procedure, undertaken after he joined the AAO to correct a gap in his teeth, gave him a new understanding of the profession he serves.
“It definitely allowed me to appreciate more the orthodontic journey,” he said.