Mary Daniel Finds Her Voice

How the health care attorney learned to speak up

Published in 2011 Missouri & Kansas Rising Stars — November 2011

Mary Daniel grew up as a member of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, where she was taught that brevity was the soul of wit. That’s good advice, surely, but it made law school a challenge.

“Culturally, I was taught that you don’t talk to be talking—you choose your words carefully,” Daniel says. “When I went to law school, it was completely different. So I had to learn to use my words a lot more. Now I’m much more comfortable. I have an affinity now for asking questions.”

After graduating from Oklahoma City University School of Law, then working a stint at another firm, Daniel joined Husch Blackwell in Kansas City, where she’s an associate in the firm’s health care practice. She helps hospitals and other health care providers keep from running afoul of regulations created by the Stark Law and the False Claims Act.

The strict liability of the Stark Law, which bars physicians from referring patients to medical facilities in which they have a financial interest, poses some challenges. “We find hospitals that have the best intentions of providing the best health care for their community,” Daniel says, “and through simple little mistakes like forgetting to sign the [professional services] agreement, they can break the law.”

When that happens, Daniel and her colleagues help clients own up to their mistakes. “We basically go to the government and say, ‘OK, we’re waving the white flag,’” she says. “The self-disclosure process allows the penalties to be a lot less than what they would otherwise be, which is significant—multimillion-dollar settlements.”

Even with that kind of money at stake, Daniel says she’s confident in her role. “I like being able to use my mind to craft arguments,” she says. “When I was a high school student, I naively thought that the world was black and white. I’ve since learned that there’s plenty of gray.”

Daniel remains connected to her roots and is now tasked with asking big questions. She serves as a special judge for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation in Kansas in criminal and Child in Need of Care cases. “That’s where I feel the pressure,” Daniel says. “If I’m making a decision about whether a child is going to be taken from a parent’s home, that’s a significant decision. … There are, of course, laws that you need to follow, but in some situations there is no answer in the law. You just have to go with your gut.”

Daniel hopes that Native American lawyers who practice outside tribal reservations will help shine a positive light on her culture. “There’s a lot of pressure for [adults] to come back and work for our tribe,” she says. “But I’ve always felt like I’m setting an example by not working for the tribe, but by being out in the community.” And by making her voice heard.

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