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Caitlin Elizabeth O’Brien, 2019 Leaders in Law

Making a difference through law

Providing opportunity to change the world


Caitlin Elizabeth O'Brien profile

Caitlin Elizabeth O’Brien has risen through the ranks at Smith + Malek in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Photo byBrady Campbell, courtesy of Smith + Malek.

When Caitlin Elizabeth O’Brien began college at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, majoring in psychology, she hadn’t considered a career in law.

“I thought I wanted to be a clinical psychologist, and started down that path of wanting to get my Ph.D,” she says.

After graduating, she went to work in the psychology field, but quickly realized it was not the path she wanted for her life.

She began searching for a new job and applied to become a paralegal at a firm in Coeur d’Alene. She was hired, and though the job was only supposed to be a temporary position, the firm ended up hiring her as a full-time employee.

The job was fun, O’Brien says, and it led her to wanting a career in law.

“I thought: I can do this. It’s really fun, and I like the intellectual challenges,” O’Brien says.

2019 Leaders in Law magazine

Click here to read the full 2019 Leaders in Law magazine.

She went to law school at Gonzaga, clerked for a firm in Spokane and did an externship with the Washington State Office of Administrative Hearings, which familiarized her with the health practice from the administrative side. During her clerkship, O’Brien also worked on a lot of defense for insurance companies, something that left her feeling unfulfilled.

“I liked litigation, but I didn’t like only working for insurance companies,” she says. “I felt like I was selling my soul a little bit.”

When she joined her current firm, Smith + Malek, O’Brien was able to combine and use all the experience she had gained over the years.

“I realized I really like the practice of health care, and I felt like I could make a big difference, but on the front end, being proactive and preventing problems, and helping companies navigate risk management,” she says. “I work for a great fi rm that allows me to develop a practice of law that can change the world.”

At Smith + Malek, O’Brien works with federally qualified health centers, helping small health centers that often do not have in-house counsel.

“I went into law because I wanted to change the world,” she says. “I like working with health centers, and different health care organizations, because they’re also changing the world: they’re changing the practice of medicine for the better.”

O’Brien and her husband have two daughters, and she says one of the best things about her current position is the flexibly Smith + Malek offers.

“Not only do I have the flexibility to put my family first, but to focus on an area of law that is really changing the world,” O’Brien says.

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