Chair's Column: Achieving Greater Diversity – It May Be Only a Hello Away!
by Paul R. DeMuro, Latham & Watkins LLP, San Francisco, CA
Welcome to the 2006-2007 Bar Year. We will continue to strive to add value to each one of our Health Law Section ("HLS") members and to our profession. This being my first Chair's column, I now truly appreciate Greg Pemberton's ability to consistently pen columns of wit and interest during the past bar year.
When the gavel was passed to me by Greg last month at our business meeting in Honolulu, I realized that I was too choked up to be able to articulate my prepared remarks thanking him for his many contributions to the HLS. All this often loquacious attorney was able to say was the grace, civility, warmth and leadership that Greg brought to the Chair’s position this past year has been phenomenal. It has truly been a privilege to work with him, and we all are looking forward to his tenure in the House of Delegates on our behalf.
Greg was instrumental in my becoming Chair. When one of our colleagues had to drop out of the rotation toward HLS Chair because of the challenges that he faced being promoted to CEO, Greg turned to me and asked me to step up and relinquish my position as the Section’s Budget Officer. For his encouragement and support, I will be eternally grateful.
Given my dedication to cultural diversity issues, including a number of years as the Vice-Chair of the HLS Coordinating Committee on Diversity (which Amos Carty has graciously agreed to Chair this year), it probably comes as no surprise that a majority of my appointments were women and that I have made the greatest number of appointments of individuals from culturally diverse backgrounds to our Section leadership. Some have said we are doing very well by ABA standards, and I concur, but we can do better.
Last year, when I attended an American Health Lawyers’ Association (“AHLA”) conference in Baltimore, which Peter Liebold was kind enough to ask me to present at, I met a fellow coming down the elevator to a cocktail reception by saying “hello”. (Yes, I am going to mention the AHLA, in my first column, including its fine work and how I would like both of our organizations to reach out to each other in the best interest of our respective memberships.)
Back to the fellow I met on the elevator --- He was different from me; he was a government lawyer working in the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (“MFCU”) of the New York State Attorney General’s office. I have only had one legal stint with a government and it was as a 1L in the DA’s office of a small town. He also lived on the East Coast, and of course, I lived in the West Coast.
The lawyer and I discussed what areas of the law we were both working in as we shared a cocktail. We chatted about our common interests, and the need for organizations of all kinds to be more inclusive. We parted ways at the party, but had a few conversations during the remainder of the conference. We corresponded by email and by phone for a number of months thereafter.
When the time for my appointments arrived, I asked this gentleman if he would mind if I appointed him as a Vice-Chair to one of our Interest Groups. He said he would be delighted to be included. Later, I asked him if he would be interested in moderating a teleconference I was speaking at with others. Questions arose as to whether he knew enough about the topic. Actually, his office had some experience in the area of the teleconference and he did a great job on it.
I relate this story because the fellow in the elevator was someone I never would have met, if I had not said “hello” to him in the elevator. My colleague happens to be an African American attorney named Glenn Jones who I now call one of my friends. You see, achieving greater diversity may be only a “hello” away.
I am asking our HLS leaders and also others in our section to reach out to everyone, not only culturally diverse lawyers, but law students, young lawyers, international lawyers, new HLS members and everyone in an attempt to be more inclusive, whether at a cocktail party, in speaking and interest group activities and the like. One of my predecessor chairs, Sara Keller, started an activity at our very popular Emerging Issues (“EMI”) Conference where each HLS leader was given a list of new attendees or attorneys we did not know, and we were told to contact these people before the conference, follow-up with them at the conference, make them feel comfortable and include them. It sounded kind of corny at the time, but it was a wonderful idea, and it worked.
I challenge each of you to reach out and make a new friend or friends, being particularly cognizant of those who may be some what hesitant to get involved. Inclusion is key, and maybe you too will also make a new friend … he or she may even have a different practice area as yours or come from a different state.
Thoughts, concerns, observations .... My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org ... next month International Initiatives ...
My best regards and thanks for reading!
Paul R. DeMuro