Katherine Benesch ’64 never dreamed of becoming a lawyer when she headed off to college. Like many of her peers, she had other ideas in mind.
“It was a different world in 1964 when I graduated from Friends. Many women went to college to find a husband,” she told an Upper School audience during a recent visit to campus.
Fortunately for Benesch, life had other plans. Rather than become a homemaker, she opted instead for graduate school, applying and gaining admission to Yale School of Public Health.
“At the time, Yale [College] was all men. I got in [graduate school] because I knew how to write and how to think quickly in an interview,” skills, she says, she gained during her 14 years at Friends School.
After graduate school, Benesch worked with the General Counsel at Yale Medical School, where her knowledge of health systems offered a unique advantage. “We were always doing legal work, and paying lawyers who knew nothing about healthcare,” she recalled. A colleague had suggested law school, an idea that Benesch, who had since married, put off at first.
“I didn’t know if I would like law or be good at it but no one was doing healthcare and law in those days so I decided to give it a try. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this turned out to be an excellent choice…I had the luck to be at the right place at the right time,” she said.
From that fateful decision, a seemingly endless series of doors opened, propelling the many-lettered alumna into the largely uncharted (and largely male) field of healthcare law. In a career spanning four decades, she has served as a litigator, counselor, mediator and arbiter, establishing healthcare law practices at major U.S. and international firms, including Duane Morris, before opening her own practice, Benesch & Associates, LLC, in Princeton, N.J., in 2011.
Among her notable accomplishments, she served as sole arbitrator in the successful resolution of a $200 million healthcare contract dispute and mediated a lawsuit in federal court over Grammy award-winning hip-hop music. She was recently named to the Panel of Arbitrators of the International Centre for Dispute Resolution, the world’s leading provider of dispute resolution services to businesses in matters involving cross-border transactions.
Through it all, Benesch views the preparation she received at Friends as central to her success.
“At Friends, I began to learn how to think. Throughout my career in healthcare and law, it has been essential to be constantly absorbing new areas that did not exist, even five years ago. I also learned the value in trying new things. And not being afraid to fail.”