Chair's Column: Youth and Experience
by Paul R. DeMuro, Latham & Watkins LLP, San Francisco, CA
Many, many years ago, when I was a young lawyer, I was struck by how much younger I was than the others in the Board Room or at key meetings. My stomach would tie into so many knots before a presentation that I thought I might have to seek another career—becoming a Buddhist monk came to mind.
Today, if I am not the oldest person in the Board Room or meeting, I am on the older side. My stomach does not seem to tie into knots any more, but I do recognize the occasional younger lawyer who might participate in these meetings, and often wonder, is she as scared as I was?, or is she as confident as I hope I am today?
A number of weeks ago, I was at a meeting where all of us older folks thought that something should be addressed or done in a particular way. One of the younger folks had a new and fresh idea which seemed to be initially dismissed. Then I thought, could this be a fresh idea that we might not have thought of? Could it actually be useful? Well, it might be. It certainly needed to be vetted.
I cannot really remember when the butterflies went away. Perhaps it was a gradual shift. I think that I might have developed ulcers if I had not conquered the problem. I also know that delivering many many presentations helped. But I then had to think back . . . just how did I get to give so many presentations? Certainly, there were a few local presentations in the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles areas that I gave at the start of my career, but my first "real break" was when I was asked by mentor, Len Homer, now of Paris, France, to present at the Medicare and Medicaid Reimbursement Conference for what is now the American Health Lawyers Association ("AHLA") in about 1984 and 1985.
Interestingly, I do not recall what the specific topic was that I presented on, but I believe it had something to do with joint ventures. I do recall spending hundreds (yes, hundreds) of hours preparing my paper and practicing my presentation. I was going to get this right no matter what. But I thought what if someone asked me a question that I could not answer. Of course, AHLA would not let me speak through the question and answer period, otherwise, I would not be asked back, or not at least not based on that reason.
I guess everything went well for that presentation. At least, I think it did. I was honored to have been asked to present at the next 18 Medicare and Medicaid Reimbursement Conferences. I some times wondered how bad that nineteenth presentation was, or hopefully, some youngster with butterflies replaced me. I also sometimes wonder whether her preparation for a hundred or so hours made the difference.
On occasion, I will tell the newer lawyers that I know who have spent more than a hundred hours or so preparing a legal memorandum to consider turning it into an article or even consider proposing to deliver a presentation on the topic. Questions arise, such as "Can I really do this?" "Will I get any credit for this?" And there are observations like: "I have never done this before." All of these may be good concerns/observations. However, as healthcare lawyers, many of us need to start somewhere. Starting may involve submitting a proposal to speak at the ABA HLS Washington Summit or another ABA event, the Health Care Compliance Association, AHLA, American College of Healthcare Executives ("ACHE"), the American Health Information Management Association ("AHIMA") or other Association Conference, or someone asking the young lawyer to be on a panel.
Fears may set in. Youth often faces different challenges from Experience in preparing for and delivering presentations. Youth may prepare too much, while Experience may prepare too little. Youth may be anxious about the presentation and in fielding questions, while Experience may be a bit too confident. Often, a good combination is Youth and Experience at presentations and meetings.
I recently received comments on a presentation I was privileged to deliver for the AHLA in Las Vegas on Joint Ventures earlier this year. The comments ranged from this was the best presentation at the conference, to it was one of the worse, and I mumbled. I doubt my presentation was the best, and I hope it was not the worse. I know it could not have been both. I hope this is not what Experience begets one, such a polarizing effect, although it is good to have the thick skin of Experience. Had I received those comments as Youth, I may still be paralyzed about presenting. I also wondered if I was mumbling, why did someone not raise their hand and ask if I speak more clearly. I know that when I cannot hear a presenter, I speak up. Well maybe it was merely someone who coveted my speaking spot. (Actually, it was a great speaking spot. Thank you, Peter Leibold and Ann Hoover).
An increasingly unfortunate trend seems to be the reluctance of many in-house counsel to have a younger and/or less experienced lawyers attend meetings and work on matters, and for boutique or smaller law firms not to even hire younger and/or less experienced lawyers. This reluctance is often based on the quite understandable desire and need to contain costs in the former instance, and maximize profits in the latter, both of which are quite laudable goals. Where such is the case, however, and the new and fresh ideas of Youth often are not introduced into the matter, helping to facilitate a transaction, solve a problem or resolve a dispute, all can be losers. In addition, much can be lost in the translation – that is, when meetings are summarized, contracts are drafted, motions drafted, etc. Experience may see things not seen by Youth, but Youth may see things and add value that Experience may not.
A common refrain is that some firms and/or companies do not want to train new lawyers, and most particularly to pay for the training. One might posit that young/relatively inexperienced lawyers have more to offer than just their eagerness to learn their trade. They may come with new ideas, a different and/or technical background. They may even be quick learners who can add value very quickly to a transaction, regulatory matter or dispute. Whatever, Youth may be, it needs a start somewhere.
I was negotiating a matter with the in-house counsel of a large Group Purchasing Organization ("GPO") a few weeks ago and was delighted to be introduced to a summer legal intern that the GPO had hired. This is a great opportunity for both the GPO and the legal intern. The more all of us can help to open up our practices, whether as in-house or outside counsel, the bigger the impact we will have on our profession.
One remarkable fact seems to be true with all lawyers of experience — they were inexperienced at one point in their career. New and/or developing regulations followed by Youth can help make them early experts in a particular body of law. For example, a lawyer who learned about the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation promulgated early in this decade could presumably know as much as anyone else, since that lawyer started with or grew up with the legislation.
The HLS has been trying to include more Youth as presenters at its conferences, more Youth as authors of publications and in various leadership positions, while mentoring such lawyers to assist them in succeeding. Youth can be an advantage in an approach to a matter or dispute, for a presentation, an article or in leadership.
Many folks with experience forget the breaks that came their way which led to their no longer being Youth, but Experience. Not only should Experience reach out and assist Youth, Youth needs to seek out Experience and mentors. Youth needs to give that first or tenth presentation, pen that first or tenth article, assist in taking a larger role, and seek out mentors.
And before Youth knows it, Youth will be Experience. One might not be able to identify the time in her life when Youth became Experience, but on the far ends, it is easy to tell.
Let us embrace Youth and Experience for all they bring to the body of health law, and take a moment to recognize their respective contributions and nurture those contributions in the course of the enhanced development of our practices. And, we all will be the better for it.
Thoughts, concerns, observations … My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
My best regards and thanks for reading.
Paul R. DeMuro