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Alumni Spotlight: Terri Keville, Health Care Law Expert
USC Gould School of Law

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Keville, JD 1992, discusses her unique path to starting at USC Gould, her interest in health care law and the faculty who mentored her
By Margaret Kean
The majority of USC Gould School of Law students matriculate within three years of completing their undergraduate degree.  For Terri Keville, JD 1992, health care law expert and partner at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, 17 years passed between completing her BA in philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania and starting at USC Gould. 
“I was 38 when I started law school,” she recalls. “I was one of the few married students, and the only one with four children.  Only two of my classmates were older than I was, both women.  Many of us who were returning after a time away from school got to know each other, and all of us were highly focused.”
Keville grew up in Philadelphia in a family that valued education.  She followed in the family tradition of attending the University of Pennsylvania, as the third generation to do so, and graduated after only three years. 
“Initially I was interested in medicine and was going to major in biochemistry, but that changed, in part because I became aware of discrimination against women in the sciences at that time,” she says. “When I graduated with my degree in philosophy, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be a college professor or go into law, so I got a clerical job to tide me over while I made up my mind.  Instead, I met my husband, who was selling the company’s data processing services.
“We got married and wanted children right away, because we already had one; my husband had a four-year-old son from his prior marriage.  Soon we had three more boys.  I stayed home and cared for them until they were all in school all day, and I don’t regret that for a minute.  We moved a lot due to my husband’s job, but finally settled in Los Angeles.”
Keville recalls the specific day she decided to go back to school.  She was working for a real estate investor who was not an easy boss.  After he questioned something she had done, she started to explain her thinking.  His response was: “I’m not paying you to think.”  That spurred her to register for the LSAT almost immediately.  She wanted a job that paid her to think.
“By that point, my husband had changed careers and was a headhunter doing legal recruiting,” she says.  “With his own business, his schedule was more flexible, and he could drive the boys to activities like soccer practice.  Since we lived close to the schools, the boys could walk there. The youngest was nine when I entered law school in 1989.  They were all old enough to understand what I was doing, not just for myself but also for our family, and they were proud of me. Returning to school at that age, I was determined to do well.  I knew that if I wanted to get a top job, I needed to be an editor of the Southern California Law Review and an Order of the Coif member.  I achieved both,” she says. 
Discovering an interest in health care law

Early in law school, Keville discovered health care law.  The summer after her 1L year, she was a summer associate at Horvitz & Levy LLP, a premier appellate firm that was representing a client in a health care case before the California Supreme Court.  The plaintiff was claiming property rights to his spleen, which a surgeon had removed to treat the plaintiff’s medical condition.  Researchers then used his spleen cells to create a marketable cell line.  The Supreme Court ruled the patient didn’t have property rights to the excised tissue, but the surgeon might be liable for not telling him about the subsequent use of his organ.  Keville found the case fascinating, and saw a merging of her original interest in medicine with her interest in the law. 
For her 2L summer, she worked for the Manatt LLP firm, which had an active health care practice and hired her following graduation.  Keville worked at Manatt for 16 years, becoming a partner with a health care litigation and operations practice focused on credentialing, peer review and other medical staff concerns (including physician substance use disorders and other impairment issues); health care privacy (HIPAA and the California Confidentiality of Medical Information Act); emergency care (EMTALA), Joint Commission accreditation standards, patient consent (including end of life issues) and clinical research.
Keville joined Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in late 2008 as a partner and built a new practice, continuing her work as a health care legal expert.  Over the years, she has written and lectured extensively on health care law topics.  She is involved in pro bono projects, including one to alleviate legal impediments to medical decision-making for incapacitated patients who lack surrogate decision-makers.  She also participates on the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Gun Violence.
From her days at USC Gould, she remembers particularly two professors:  Professor Elyn Saks, from whom she took a mental health law class, and Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, now dean of UC Berkeley Law, from whom she took four classes.  He also helped her with a law review article she wrote and published on private involuntary civil commitment as state action.  Both Professor Chemerinsky and Professor Saks mentored and encouraged her, and she has stayed in touch with them over the nearly 30 years since graduation.
Besides her professional career and her family, Keville has a deep love of classical music, initially instilled by her mother.  She is a great fan and supporter of Classical KUSC. She and her family enjoy attending performances of the Pasadena Symphony, the Los Angeles Opera, and chamber music groups such as Con Gioia.
Keville intends to continue practicing law for some time.  She is training a new set of health care litigators, and working closely with an attorney who eventually will assume responsibility for the operations side of her practice.  Combining her writing, the law, and her interest in health care has led to a very fulfilling career.  “Starting later,” she reflects, “I had a focus that helped me move quickly into a career that continues to interest and challenge me intellectually.  Not only that, but my work helps my health care provider clients, and ultimately the many thousands of patients they serve.”



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