ABA Health eSource
September 2009 Volume 6 Number 1

Chair's Column
by David W. Hilgers, Brown McCarroll, L.L.P., Austin, TX

David HilgersFor those of you who were expecting to see the much more pleasant picture of Vickie Yates Brown at the head of this column, let me explain. Vickie’s term as Chair ended at the ABA annual meeting in August pursuant to our by-laws and she has earned the right to rest for a while. I have the very great honor and responsibility of succeeding Vickie as Chair of the Health Law Section for the coming ABA year from August, 2009 through July of 2010. Unfortunately, I also have to report to you that you will no longer be receiving the delicious recipes that Vickie included in every Chair’s column. We checked with the ABA’s insurance carrier and it indicated that it would cancel the coverage if I attempted to publish any Texas recipes in the column. The chance of food poisoning or serious indigestion was too great.

Aptitude at cooking is not the only talent of Vickie’s that I will have a hard time replacing. Likely, it was not apparent to many of you, but the last ABA year was quite tumultuous—the recession and healthcare reform hit at the same time. The recession required the Health Section to adjust its budget in the middle of the year, and healthcare reform necessitated a shift in the Section’s focus to encompass the enormity of what is being contemplated by Congress. These events occurred on top of what is already an arduous responsibility for any working lawyer. Of course, the reason that you weren’t aware of the difficulties encountered by the Section this year is Vickie. She handled all of these unanticipated responsibilities with grace and certainty. Luckily, she will remain on the Council for the coming year as Immediate Past Chair so that I can run to her for help when I need it. She already has been very helpful in my transition to Chair and I look forward to availing myself of her sage wisdom in my term. Congratulations Vickie on a great year and I promise to do my best to continue your steady leadership.

I actually am writing this first column on a plane flying from Ulaambaator (or “UB City” to the natives) to Hvod in Mongolia. My family and some friends decided that we should see this part of Central Asia before we got too old. It has been a fascinating trip so far. As usual, these sojourns away from the BlackBerry and instant communications give me a chance to view my world from a slightly more objective perspective. In contemplating my responsibilities as Chair of the Section I have even more fully recognized responsibility that it brings. This Section is still relatively new by ABA standards and was only recognized as a section by the ABA 14 years ago. Despite this limited existence, it has become an important organization for healthcare lawyers providing outstanding legal education, publications and information. The Section's live programs create an opportunity for healthcare lawyers to communicate and network in a manageable and relaxed atmosphere conducive to the development of useful professional relationships. Our teleconferences and podcasts bring up-to-date information on the latest changes to healthcare regulations. The Section has been able to provide objective information and perspective to government regulators as they try to develop refinements in the complex health care regulatory scheme. We have developed a breast cancer task force that brings legal information to victims of that disease. The Section now provides numerous vehicles for outstanding lawyers to disseminate their knowledge and advice to the healthcare bar. Now we are developing the infrastructure to provide even more input into the policy decisions of the state and federal governments as they consider changes to the healthcare system. Further, these activities have been accomplished in an atmosphere of collegiality and camaraderie that is unequaled in my professional experience.

This success did not just happen by good fortune. The Section was created and nurtured by many outstanding people who invested their valuable time, resources and expertise to its development because of their belief in the importance of professional sharing of experience and expertise. Many of them have preceded me as Chair. It is because of this heritage that the Chair’s position entails such responsibility. It is the new Chair’s responsibility to first do no harm to what already exists. Then, hopefully, each Chair can bring some added benefit that will accrete to the already existing value of the Section. The Chair’s term is very short. One year provides little time to make much of a footprint. Fortunately, the consistency of leadership and the continuity of vision provided by my predecessors eliminate the need for monumental achievements. Instead, if I can maintain this course and make some incremental advancement the Section will be well served.

However, the Chair cannot do this alone. You, the volunteers of the Section, are the true engine of this progress. Many of you have committed your time and expertise as interest group leaders, committee members, task force participants, program committee members, section liaisons, speakers, and Council members. It is through your efforts that we will make progress in this coming year. I can serve as the Section Chair, but without your active participation and commitment the Section will achieve nothing. I thank you for your willingness to carry out the important business of the Section and I will do my best to facilitate your efforts this year.

There is one more group of people without whom we would be doomed to failure and that is our outstanding staff. My ability to be writing this from Mongolia and visiting my daughter in Asia can only happen because of the marvelous expertise of the Section staff. They can definitely manage while I am only intermittently in contact for these weeks. Jill Peña, Sena Leach, Abbey Palagi, and Simeon Carson are without parallel in their steady, calm and competent commitment to making this Section work. Each year they take on the different idiosyncrasies (and we are idiosyncratic) of each new Chair and quietly make sure that we don’t do anything stupid. I thank them ahead of time for all of the work they will be doing to make this year a success. So remember, when they call and ask for your help that they have to deal with people like me on an ongoing basis they deserve your sympathy and assistance.

I hope that you can tolerate my Mongolian thought meandering in this column. I know that all of you are believers in the power of professional collegiality and cooperation. The relationships and knowledge we build through the Section can be the most rewarding of your career. However, the Section can only provide that reward if we participate and continue to create the platform that allows for that collegiality and cooperation. This year will undoubtedly bring some very significant changes to the practice of healthcare law. The Section will be doing its best to keep you apprised of these changes. Additionally, as the year progresses I will be bringing you more information on the activities of the Section and its members as well as some of the ways that you can become a participant in those activities. Hopefully, at the end of this year we can look back and see that the continuity of the Section’s vision has been maintained and that we, together, have made some incremental progress on both the Section’s and your personal goals.

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