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July 28, 2021

Chair's Column: Happy 25th Birthday, ABA Health Law Section!

By Hal Katz, Husch Blackwell LLP, Austin, TX

It is time to celebrate 25 years of hard work and success. Thanks to the original vision and efforts of our Section’s founders, and those who have followed in their footsteps, the ABA Health Law Section has established itself as a professional home for lawyers desiring to develop expertise or build a full career in health law. It is a place for thought leadership, innovation, collegiality, inclusiveness, and support for all lawyers in every part of the country. Each of our Past Chairs has played a role in creating our identity, culture, and priorities, and it’s with great pleasure I share some of that history with you.

In writing this column, I decided to capture our Section’s story for those who will celebrate our next 25 years, and have tested my investigative reporter skills for the first time. This included digging through the Health Lawyer archives and collecting stories from Past Chairs. Some of the most helpful information I found came from notes kept by Sara Keller, who was the 2002-2003 Section Chair.

For context, before the Section was created, the ABA House of Delegates relied upon Forums to focus on specialized areas of law not served by other entities in the ABA. The Health Law Forum was the second such Forum developed and made its debut in 1976. The Forum focused on legal problems and interdependent relationships between providers and patients and the parties financially responsible.

Sara Keller included in her notes that when the Forum was created in 1976, the laws regulating healthcare had been reasonably stable for years. “By the mid-90s, concerns over rising healthcare costs were leading to antitrust allegations, criminal prosecutions, multi-million-dollar settlements, and even prison terms. The Stark laws, civil statutes unique to healthcare, were undergoing seemingly constant revision. The opportunity to comment on Stark was reason alone to seek Section status. The Forum took the position that healthcare was developing its own body of law, that the ABA should be able to influence that law and it could do so by making Health Law a ‘Section’.”

It was “the dawn of health law as a new discipline,” as Jay Christiansen described it, when he got involved in the Forum. Jay was one of a very few lawyers in his firm branching into the area and was asked to learn what other firms were doing to establish themselves as national health law practices. That’s how he met Lawrence Manson, who encouraged him to get involved in the Forum, which he did.

Lawrence Manson was the Chair of the ABA Health Law Forum in 1991. By 1995, the Forum had grown to 7,000 members. Its success with programs and publications brought financial viability and greater visibility. The Forum’s original leaders included Larry, Paul Herrington, Jay, Kathy Haddix, Jack Diamond, Anita Lee, Howard Wall, Patricia Meador, and Nina Novak.

The demands significantly increased with the success of the Forum, and the lack of staff and financial support was limiting its ability to grow. It became apparent to Larry, Jay, and Paul that it was time for the Forum to become a Section. Howard (who would serve as the 1999-2000 Section Chair) started his involvement in the Forum in 1994, when Jack Diamond asked him to serve as a speaker at a live program in Chicago. At the speaker’s dinner Howard met then Health Law Forum Chair-elect Paul Herrington. Over the next few months they got to know each other better. Paul shared with Howard his vision of converting the Forum on Health Law into a Section within the ABA and asked him to be a part of the Council that would lead this effort to become a Section. Howard did so.

The process was more complicated and controversial than they originally expected. Jay and Jill Pena (the Section’s first Director) explained that one of the most amusing voices of opposition came from the Antitrust Section, which was concerned over potential competition with their programing, ironically. They conditioned their support on the Section agreeing not to offer antitrust content at any Health Law Section program. While it’s not clear what was actually “agreed to,” soon after the creation of the Section, there was antitrust programming at a Health Law conference. “Let’s just say, they were not happy,” Jay explained.

Howard Wall still remembers the months of letters, phone calls, and personal contacts seeking support from the ABA House of Delegates. The leadership, advocacy, and persistence of the founders paid off when the ABA House of Delegates granted Section status at the ABA Annual Meeting in Orlando in August 1996. This moment was the launching point for raising the standards and expectations for lawyers focused on the practice of health law.

In the early days of the Section’s history, there were no interest groups (IGs), editorial boards, Section committees, or liaisons. Other than the Council itself, there were no Section groups of any kind. In fact, Section leadership was approximately 15 individuals. There was no Emerging Issues Conference (EMI), nor was there a Washington Healthcare Summit. Just putting on a teleconference was a major endeavor.

Essential to the success of the Section would become the selection of its first Director. In early 1998, with the guidance of Jay and Howard, she was hired - Jill Pena. (Jill served as Director until 2015.) Both Jay and Howard acknowledge that decision as their greatest accomplishment and most meaningful memory.

It’s hard to believe it was 25 years ago when I became the first Director of the Health Law Section,” Jill says. She was the Director for Public Utility, Communications, and Transportation Law when she saw the internal posting for the new position, and still remembers her interview with Jay and Howard.

One of the Council’s priorities in the early days was the creation of the IGs. Sara explained that “the Council viewed the IGs as crucial to the Section’s long-term agenda, as they would facilitate communication with Section members and encourage involvement in Section activities. Forming the IGs was a two-step process: determining the subject matters (the “interests” for each group) and finding experienced health lawyers who could plan programs, communicate with Section members, increase membership, and develop educational information for member benefits.” These individuals would be appointed Chairs and Vice Chairs of the IGs.

The early days of the Section were an exciting and special time. We had a blank slate in terms of deciding who we wanted to be, what we wanted to do, and how we wanted to do things. The leaders answered those questions based on who they were as individuals, not because what anyone was telling them to be,” Jill passionately explained. A great example of this was the decision to make diversity and inclusion a priority. There was no ABA initiative at the time. “The Section did it, because it was what was important to them as individuals.” Jill elaborated how the success as a Section meant rarely, if ever, were they told “no” by the “big” ABA. “It was energizing for the leaders and fostered a great deal of innovation.”

The spirit of innovation is what made possible the whole concept behind EMI. In the CLE world, conferences were mostly structured around “how-to” sessions. The approach for EMI was to talk about trends and what was happening across the country in the healthcare industry to help lawyers best prepare how to represent their clients. “The speakers would be experts in their specialties, with law firm, in-house and government perspectives, who could make informed predictions about health law developments in the coming year, and their anticipated effect,” Sara recorded in her notes. From the very beginning, the program was organized by IG leaders and depended upon their willingness and ability to organize presentations on their subject matters. Even back then, IGs hosted a luncheon meeting for their members, which might include a presentation by one of the program’s speakers. It was always important to give this time to IG members so they could get to know each other and the IG leaders, and a chance to interact with and address questions related to their interests. Establishing EMI was one of Howard’s greatest contributions to the ABA and the Health Law Section. EMI continues to be the “Flagship Program” for the Section.

Fun fact, it turns out there’s a story as to why we call EMI “EMI.” As Sara explained, “Anyone with a health lawyer’s ear for acronyms will note that if the program is entitled ‘Emerging Issues in Healthcare Law’ then EMI is not an accurate acronym. It turns out, when staff was first planning the program, they referred to it as ‘Emerging Issues’ which they would write down as ‘Em I’ and which eventually became ‘EMI’ which looks a lot better than EIHL!” Who knew?!

While we’re on the topic of fun facts, did you ever wonder why we call the golf scramble at EMI the “Margarita Cup?” Sara and Howard both recall the Section Council dinner during EMI 2000 in Old Town San Diego, where a margarita was served in a huge fishbowl, and allowed to be taken home if consumed in its entirety. This was the inspiration for the name!

In looking at the Section today, you can still find the first’s Council vision in place, from Jay Christiansen’s recommendation for the IG organizational structure, to Howard Wall’s recommendation to hold the Section’s annual meeting (EMI) separate and apart from the ABA’s annual meeting. But most importantly our culture and guiding principles are the same. And it’s not just how we interact and treat our members. It is how we interact and treat staff. Jill was quick to point out, “The leaders, speakers, and conference attendees were good people, who always made me feel a part of the team, and an equal. I created wonderful relationships that I still have today.”

So that’s a little bit about our early days as a Section. Since then, each Chair has contributed to our history and success. I’ve invited them to share their reflections and words of wisdom, and have included those I received at the end of my Column.

As for me, my first experience with the Section was as an attendee of EMI some 22 years ago. I was so impressed with the “Who’s Who in Health Law” list of presenters, and how approachable and welcoming everyone was to me – including my family who I had brought as guests! From that first experience, I knew the Health Law Section was where I wanted to contribute.

For those throughout the Bar year who have expressed their sympathies for the limited experience in serving as Chair during the pandemic, I appreciate the sentiment. It has been challenging being virtual and keeping everyone engaged at a time when many have been experiencing serious financial and health hardships and losses.

While I did not get the experience of our in-person traditions, meetings, and conferences this year, I am full of special memories from 20 years of incredible experiences at past Council meetings all over the country and Berlin, Germany, during policy-making trips to Washington, DC, in New Orleans with public health officials after Hurricane Katrina, and onsite at the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia. I feel very fortunate and fulfilled having been a part of the Health Law Section. Nobody should feel bad for me about this past year.

I’m very proud of how the Section improvised, persevered, and supported one another during one of the most uncertain and stressful times in our Nation’s history. We advanced the Section’s role as a thought leader with the launch of its podcast series (Voices in Health Law), dedicated time to diversity, equity, and inclusion at every Council meeting, offered free well-being content every month, and raised roughly $40,000 to support our non-profit initiatives. These successes were only possible with the tireless efforts of my partner at every turn (and “my” Jill Pena) Simeon Carson, thoughtfulness and commitment of my officers (especially Past Chair Jay McEniry who I could always count on as a reliable sounding board), and the wisdom from our Past Chairs Michael Clark, Alexandria Hien McCombs, David Douglass, Joyce Hall, Bill Horton, David Hilgers (who has been there for me at every stage of my career), and Hilary Young who helped me with some of my most difficult decisions throughout the year.

A special thank you to all those who believed in me over the years, and put me in the position to be the leader of our great organization, and thank you to all our leaders for your contributions to the Section!' And now let’s hear from some of our past Chairs.

Jay Christiansen 1997 - 1999

My involvement in the Health Law Section began before it was a Section, at the dawn of health law as a new discipline. I was one of a very few lawyers in my firm branching into the area, and my firm tasked me with learning what other firms were doing to establish themselves as having a national health law practice. That’s how I met Lawrence Manson, the Chair of the ABA Health Law Forum from 1991-1995. Larry encouraged me to get involved in the Forum, which I did.

Demands significantly increased with the success of the Forum. It became apparent to Larry, Paul Herrington, and I that it was time for the Forum to become a Section. Becoming a Section meant greater financial support, which translated to being able to have its own staff. The process was not an easy or quick one. Opposition came from some surprising places.

A combination of my greatest accomplishment and most meaningful memory is being a part of the hiring of our first Section Director – Jill Pena. It was great luck, and a major win for ensuring the successful launch of our Section.

Being involved in the Section was wonderful personally and professionally. I created lifelong friendships, and always had someone to reach out to when dealing with an issue in any part of the country.

Howard Wall 1999 - 2000

My first involvement with the ABA Health Law Section (then the Forum on Health Law) was in 1994, when Jack Diamond asked me to serve as a speaker at a program in Chicago. At the speaker’s dinner I met Health Law Forum Chair-elect Paul Herrington. In the months to follow, I got to know Paul better. He shared his vision of converting the Forum on Health Law into a Section within the ABA. Paul convinced me that health lawyers needed to have a home within the ABA, and he asked me to be a part of the Council that would lead this effort to become a Section. I joined the Council in 1995 and then, after many months of letters, phone calls, and personal contacts seeking support from the ABA House of Delegates, we achieved Section status at the ABA Annual Meeting in Orlando in August 1996. Twenty-five years later I still believe in that vision and I am glad that I can still be a part of making it a reality.

During my term as Chair, we launched the Emerging Issues in Healthcare Conference. Establishing EMI is one of the great accomplishments of my service to the ABA and the Health Law Section. EMI continues to be the “Flagship Program” for the Section. In retrospect, I would also point to the Section’s commitment, along with a couple of larger, more established Sections, to make a $25,000 donation to the then newly established ABA Minority Opportunity Scholarship Program, as a very important accomplishment. Our leadership within the ABA back in 2000 is something we can all be proud of, especially today as our nation comes to grip with racial inequities, and as the Health Law Section continues to lead with its diversity and inclusion initiatives.

My year as Section Chair is full of many wonderful memories, especially surrounding the first EMI in February 2000 and the ABA Annual Meeting in London in August 2000. If I had to pick a single memory that was both fun and meaningful, however, it would be the Section Council dinner during EMI 2000 in Old Town San Diego. Without going into tremendous detail, the Section's Interest Group leader and future Chair ordered a margarita that was presented in a huge “fishbowl” configuration. Apparently, if the margarita was consumed, then the guest was permitted to keep the huge margarita glass (or Cup one might say). This is how the annual EMI golf scramble got its name! On the following evening of the “Margarita Cup,” the Cup was presented to the winning team. After several years of painstaking packing and shipping of the original “Margarita Cup,” the glass cup finally met its demise and was replaced with a pewter cup. The Margarita Cup has continued to be presented to the winning team of the EMI golf scramble over two decades later.

As for my words of wisdom, I am tempted to offer a deep philosophical thought (which I will be happy to do in a conversation at our next EMI), but instead let me offer something very practical. Never use email as a substitute for a conversation, especially for a difficult conversation. If you compose an email and you think that there is any chance the email could be construed as criticism or disagreement with the recipient, do not send it. Pick up the phone and call the person if possible, or if that can’t be done, send an email (without copying others) and suggest that you schedule a time to talk. Email is a wonderful tool, but it is no substitute for civil, respectful conversations among colleagues.

Patricia Meador 2000 – 2001 (Deceased)

Bob Roth 2001 - 2002

I will never forget my first few weeks as Chair. After all the hard work and excitement around the formal creation of the Section, immediately after becoming Chair the World Trade Centers were bombed, and I had to cancel the Interest Groups Meeting. This was particularly disappointing because I had worked for several years to make the Interest Groups the focus of my Chair year. My vision was to have them be the voice for health policy issues in the context of the practice of health law. I believed that it was important to the success of the Section to (1) become a platform for health lawyers to educate policymakers at the intersection of health policy and health law, and (2) help the nascent IGs find their identity. I was quite proud of how the IGs persevered and made progress on both fronts throughout my Chair year.

My nugget of wisdom I would share about being a healthcare lawyer is to develop the ability to move seamlessly and instantly from discussing the minutiae of the most technical aspects of health law and policy to addressing the practical effect of these technical details on healthcare operations, including the impact on consumers themselves – the patients. Whether trying to advise a client through a difficult decision, advocating a complex issue to a court, or explaining to a regulator how a proposed policy will impact patient access to care, being nimble in this way is the hallmark of the best a lawyer has to offer.

Bonnie Brier 2003 - 2004

I was very lucky to have my career path lead me to health law. I doubt there is any area of the law that is more interesting and rewarding. It is a subject we can all relate to as patients and as friends and family members of patients. This has been a far better path than what it had started to be. I was a tax lawyer who learned the law of nonprofits for a pro bono client, and it was very hard to earn a decent income. So, when hospitals began to explore and develop joint ventures, I was able to draw upon my expertise as a tax lawyer and move into health law.

Being involved in and a leader of the ABA Health Law Section was one of the great personal/professional experiences of my career. It has always been a fun, collaborative, and caring group. The Section was a huge help in keeping me up to date in a rapidly changing and complex area of the law and in helping me develop and refine my skills as a lawyer, not to mention I felt I had a friend in virtually every state in the country. My contributions were minor compared to what I gained, but my claim to fame is launching the Washington Health Law Summit. I always felt it was important to have an annual conference in Washington, DC to bring together private practice lawyers with federal policymakers and regulators to discuss trends and concerns facing the industry.

How amazing that this all started 25 years ago! To those who follow, my only advice is to have fun, enjoy your colleagues, and get involved – the more you are involved, the more you will gain from the experience. To the next 25 years!

Tony Patterson 2004 - 2005

My involvement in the Section began soon after it was formed. I was especially interested in making broader relationships within the health law Bar, expanding involvement in CLE, and expanding the Section’s membership and influence. I had no idea it would become the start of a fantastic experience.

There are two accomplishments that I believe were my greatest as Chair. The first was creating a more formal diversity and inclusion effort within the Section. The second was hiring Marla Hirsch as our publication’s editor.

I have so many wonderful memories from my year as Chair, that it is impossible to pick just one as my favorite. I remember and cherish the most the friendships I made and strengthened with some of the finest lawyers and people I have ever met. In particular, it was the privilege of working with our then Section Director, Jill Pena.

As for my nugget of wisdom, there is no greater privilege than to be of service professionally and personally to others, providing opportunities to others to grow and serve, and to do so with virtue.

Thank you to everyone with whom I had an opportunity to be associated during my Chair year and my entire tenure with the Section. It has been among the most meaningful experiences of my life.

Greg Pemberton 2005 – 2006

My year as Chair started with a surprise. It was actually supposed to be my Vice Chair year, but a career opportunity for one of the Section’s more senior leaders required him to vacate his position. That acceleration made for some amazing changes. My biggest goal was to be a non-Chair. Bonnie Brier had sat down with Tony Patterson, Paul DeMuro. and me during her year as Chair, and in no uncertain terms said, “There is no ‘your’ year, there is only what is best for the Section.” By that she meant that it was not about anyone’s ego, it was about building the Section to be an equal with all the other ABA Sections with their long histories. We were the “new kids” and had to establish our credibility, our competence, and our reputation within and beyond the ABA. In short, we needed as Chairs to be all about servant leaders and not worried about how big the rings were from our splash.

As a result, when I gave a speech, wrote an article, or made an appearance, it was all about the Section and not about me. I tried to do things that deflected personal praise and promoted those around me instead. My State of the Section remarks were peppered with statements like “if I were giving a normal speech, I would say this, but I am not. I am just thankful for all the hard work she or he did.” My Chair’s Columns were all about what was going on in life and not about the details or obvious aspects of Section operations. In all humility, I suspect that my Chair year had little to do with me and everything to do with those talented folks who volunteered, spoke, wrote, and sacrificed for the Section.

My greatest memory was the email I received from a Section member whose name I do not recall and who I never met. He shared that my Chair Columns read like Dave Barry Columns and not ABA Chair Columns. A little humor, some self-deprecating comments, and a view that the Section mattered and not me so much.

Paul DeMuro 2006 - 2007

I became a leader of the Section in the late 1990s when Howard Wall told me, when we were walking near the Embarcadero in San Francisco, that he needed me to lead the first Health Transactions Interest Group. He told me that I might have the opportunity to become Chair someday. I thought he was kidding, but I always admired Howard, and knew that it was important to follow his lead.

My greatest accomplishment was in the first month or so of my year as Chair when I asked Jill Pena if I could add Vice-Chair positions to the IGs to ensure that each one had a culturally diverse leader. She said I could, and I did. My most meaningful memory was when the ABA awarded us with an honorable mention for the Section’s diversity efforts made during my year.

As for the wisdom I would share, being a lawyer requires attention to detail, perseverance, and hard work. Being a healthcare lawyer requires being agile, adaptive, and creative, while still ensuring that your clients follow the law. Being a successful Section and Section leader requires a great number of talented and dedicated individuals. Fortunately, we have been privileged over the years to have such people.

When I was graduating from law school and I realized Exxon was not going to hire me, I had no idea what a healthcare lawyer was or what a career in health law might be. I stumbled upon this field and it has been an amazing journey, which continues to this day. I have gained far too many lifelong friends and colleagues to count through the Section, all of whom I can count on today.

Andrew Demetriou 2007 - 2008

My involvement in the Health Law Section began in the late 1990s when I was encouraged to get active by several long-time friends, particularly Howard Wall and Tony Patterson, who encouraged me to become the first Chair of the Managed Care and Insurance IG, supported by another great friend and collaborator, David Hilgers.

I am very proud of my accomplishments as Chair. It took a lot of work, but we successfully implemented the plan for restructuring Section governance developed in my Chair-Elect year, which created the architecture of the Section which still largely exists (although it is much more robust these days). The Section was also able to continue expanding its influence within the ABA, by forging deeper relationships with Sections like Individual Rights and Responsibilities (now Civil Rights and Social Justice), International Law, Business Law, and the Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section, and was an active participant in both ABA Day in Washington and ABA Day at the UN. I am particularly proud to have negotiated the arrangement with the Commission on Women in the Profession in which the Section assumed responsibility for the Breast Cancer Task Force, which has provided wonderful education programs for advocates, and our work with Montrece Ransom in furthering our relationship with the CDC.

Some of my most memorable memories include introducing Pete Stark as keynote speaker at the Washington Summit, and participating in a Presidential Showcase Program on the evolution of healthcare in America along with Sara Collins of the Commonwealth Foundation and Ezekiel Emanuel at the 2008 Annual Meeting. Of course, I have to include the wonderful hotel suite at the Omni in San Diego for EMI, with the facsimile of Babe Ruth’s 1930 contract with the Yankees!

As for my nugget of wisdom, I believe that health lawyers have an opportunity to make important social contributions by advising government, organizations, and individuals whose mission is central to the improvement of public health. Counseling clients on how to comply with the law, creating innovative structures for delivery and financing of care, protecting the legitimate interests of participants in the industry and the public, and developing sound regulatory policies to govern the industry and protect patients has been incredibly fulfilling in all respects.

Vickie Yates Brown 2008 - 2009

My involvement in the Section began through Paul Herrington, just as the Health Law Forum became formally recognized as a Section. I worked with Paul on numerous legal issues and we were good friends. Also, I knew or had worked with several of the lawyers who were active in the Section and were attorneys I respected. These were individuals I could discuss thorny health law issues with, but also enjoyed their camaraderie and friendship. My first role with the Section was as the first Chair of the Government Affairs Committee, an area I enjoyed and that was part of my law practice.

During my tenure as Chair, the Section grew and matured by continuing to reach out to potential members, cultivating a welcoming and inclusive culture, and by building and strengthening relationships within the “Big ABA.” A growing number of members of the Section were appointed to leadership roles within the ABA and were influencing policy within the House of Delegates. This included the approval of our first Resolution before the House of Delegates during my year as Chair.

My favorite memory as Chair was when I hosted a Section Council meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, my hometown, during the weekend before the Kentucky Derby. There is a tradition within the Section that the Chair hosts the Council to their city or state for one of the Council meetings during their year as Chair. I hosted the Council for our Spring Council meeting in 2009 in Louisville on the weekend before the Kentucky Derby with the capable guidance of Jill Pena, the former Director of the Section. It was thrilling to arrange for the Council’s stay in Louisville during this special time of the year. We enjoyed a beautiful, sunny spring day at Churchill Downs drinking mint juleps made with Kentucky bourbon and watching the horse races from suites near the finish line. No wonder our Governor made every member of the Council an honorary Kentucky Colonel!

My words of wisdom are to pick a specialty in health law that you find rewarding, and build your practice around it. For me, those areas have been health policy and health insurance. I find satisfaction in working in an area where public policy is still being formed and established. I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the debate and the quest for solutions in an area of the law that impacts every American.

David Hilgers 2009 - 2010

When Hal asked me to produce my remembrances of my Chair year, I had an immediate reaction: Who cares? Only a historian could care about my dim memory of what occurred in 2009-2010. After all, at that time BlackBerries were still the dominant phone! The ACA had just been passed! Trump was only a guy who showed up on the Howard Stern show! Nevertheless, Hal assures me that some geeky souls or old people will care, so here I go.

The legacy I inherited as Chair made things easy. The preceding Chairs had taken a fledgling organization that planned conferences at Council meetings to a robust operation that functioned as a mature institution. The previous Chairs had long ago agreed that there had to be continuity in functioning from Chair year to Chair year. There was little room for ego-driven, peripatetic programs that changed annually. This clarity from prior Chairs kept me on track and from doing much harm.

The other factor that made my Chair year much easier was our Section director, Jill Pena. She had long since mastered the art of quietly guiding the self-assured Chairs toward careful and comprehensive choices. She did so with me as well. In fact, one of the few obstacles we had to face was Jill’s success. She had been promoted within the ABA, but we were not allowed to replace her position because of some arcane ABA restriction. This required Jill to do two jobs. Of course, she did them well with help from the great staff. I barely felt a bump.

My time in Health Law Section leadership was the most rewarding of my professional career. The friends I have made. The things I have learned. The good times we had. All are irreplaceable. However, the best of all has been the opportunity to watch a group enthusiastically adopt and grow and espouse diversity as a core value. In these crazy times that doesn’t happen often.

Hal asked me to leave a nugget of wisdom, but I am not very wise and no good at aphorisms. So, I am stealing two that, although you have heard, seem wise to me.

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and “life is a marathon, not a sprint.

My only regret is that Bill Horton did not achieve his life’s wish to see the emergence of the Congress Avenue bats during my Chair Council meeting in Austin, Texas.

David Johnson 2011 - 2012

When I joined the Section/Forum back in the mid-90s there were only a small number of health law attorneys. After attending the first EMI, I was hooked on the Section and wanted to be part of the team. Greg Pemberton and Sara Keller made a point of inviting me to become involved in the Section. Since then, I continue to be amazed at the open and inviting nature of the Section members and the leadership, in particular. The Section has made significant contributions to the practice of health law; however, in my mind, the openness to new people and new ideas, which is inextricably tied to diversity and inclusion, is perhaps our greatest accomplishment.

I would have to say one of my greatest achievements as Chair was organizing my Chair’s spring Council meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The pinnacle of the meeting was our trip to the Acoma Pueblo which was settled by indigenous people over a thousand years ago. We heard presentations on Native American healthcare issues by an Indian Health Services physician and related legal issues faced by the Pueblo’s general counsel. I still get comments from attendees as to how much they enjoyed and were moved by the experience.

Maybe unlike other Chairs, one of my most meaningful memory as Chair was being able to write my Chair’s Columns. It was a wonderful way to stay connected with Section members.

As for my words of wisdom, two thoughts that I have carried with me for many years come to mind. “Be patient with all that is unsettled in your heart, and learn to love the questions themselves.” Rainer Maria Rilke. And, “The river runs in both directions.” African proverb.

David Douglass 2012 -2013

I joined the Section during a time of rapid growth. As I became more involved I became very invested in the potential for the Section and wanted to contribute my skills and ideas. As important, however, was the camaraderie I experienced and came to deeply appreciate. I decided to pursue Section leadership to continue the great work that had been done building the Section in fellowship with the friends and mentors I had gained through my involvement in the Section.

My greatest accomplishment was institution of the leadership retreat for Section leaders. Building on David Hilgers’ efforts to educate Section leaders about the Big ABA, I felt that bringing Section leaders together would strengthen their bonds and help them understand the Section's goals and needs. I know that some doubted the need for such a program but I believe over time they have come to recognize its value.

As lawyers, we “have a special responsibility for the quality of Justice,” to quote from the Preamble to the ABA’s Model Rules. That special responsibility extends to our clients, our colleagues, our adversaries even and, more broadly to society as a whole. I have found that being guided by awareness of that special responsibility has contributed to my professional successes, such as they are, and my overall satisfaction in my career. Do not let the constant pressures we are under as lawyers allow us to forget the nature of our responsibility to preserving and defending justice.

Each Spring Council Meeting ends with a Council Dinner. The dinner concludes with a tradition of offering toasts, which invariably were heartfelt, witty, teasing, sometimes hilarious, and occasionally all of those combined (in rough correlation to the amount of alcohol that had been consumed to that point). Ultimately, as any good toast should be they were a tribute to the respect and admiration we all held for each other and the bonds we had formed through the years. They were always a highlight of the year for me. In my Chair year, as I enjoyed the toasts (and endured my share of the teasing), I realized how much a part of me the Section had become. The Section had truly become my professional home.

Kathleen Scully-Hayes 2013 - 2014

I became involved in the Health Law Section back in the 1990s after I was asked to be a speaker at a few conferences. Being a government attorney, I was thrilled with the opportunity to interact with people in private practice to discuss the impact of the various Medicare rules and regulations I was helping to enforce as an attorney with CMS. I found the Health Law Section to be welcoming to everyone involved in health law, whether they were in private practice, academia, or government, and I especially appreciated the many opportunities offered by the Section to present differing viewpoints.

As for the accomplishments that I am most proud of, although I am not sure how much credit I can take for it, is that during my year as Chair, membership in the Section topped 10,000 for the first time. It was a testament to the great work of the entire Section leadership. I am also very proud of my efforts supporting the Breast Cancer Walk at EMI.

Being active in the Section for so many years certainly helped to enrich my legal career and I continue to encourage government healthcare attorneys to become involved.

Bill Horton 2015 - 2016

I decided to become a leader in the Health Law Section for a pretty simple reason: someone asked me to. I decided to try to continue to be a leader, and ultimately to try to be Chair, because I loved the people I got to work with and because I saw it as a chance to give back to the health law community, which had been so supportive of me.

Hal asked me to reflect on my greatest accomplishment during my Chair year. That doesn’t take a lot of effort, because I really didn’t have any accomplishments during that year. The Section, though, had a bunch of accomplishments. I’m particularly proud of two things: the several high-quality comment letters we filed on government regulations, and the degree to which we enhanced our profile within the larger ABA through our members’ work with other ABA entities.

When I thought I might get to be Chair, I talked with Past Chair David Hilgers and asked him if he thought that would be a good idea. He looked at me with an amused smile and said, “Why do you think we’ve been giving you all this stuff to do?” To me, that’s the Health Law Section: a place where the most collegial of colleagues are given opportunities, and where they try to give opportunities to folks coming up. I am, and will always be, grateful to be part of that.

Joyce Hall 2016 – 2017

Joining the Health Law Section in the early part of my health law career was the best decision I ever made, for many reasons. It provided me a community of lawyers who were trying to guide their clients through a maze of complicated healthcare laws and regulations with the common goal of providing the best and most up-to-date advice possible. Through the continued encouragement and inspiration of other leaders of the Section, I continued as a leader in the Section. They were servant-leaders and led by example – something I believe in wholeheartedly, not only for my professional life but also for life in general. If I could continue that type of leadership in the Section for others coming after me, I wanted to do so.

As for my greatest accomplishment during my year as Chair – let me be quick to say that “I” had no accomplishments in my Chair year. The work of the Section that year was a true team effort, and I was honored to sit in the position of Chair, but I can take no credit. The year was a strategic year from a financial standpoint because the ABA was losing membership and that affected the dollars available to the Section. Through the tireless work of Simeon Carson, the Section staff, and leaders, we weathered the storm. We had the opportunity to present to the ABA leadership the great work of the Section during a transition time in the nation for health lawyers and helped further our presence and importance in the larger ABA. We also created a Past Chairs’ Advisory Board to assist the Section Director and Chair when called upon for their wisdom and historical perspective on important or sensitive Section matters.

My favorite memory from my Chair year was EMI in New Orleans. Growing up in New Orleans, it is my favorite city in the United States; therefore, having the Section’s premier event in the City I love was so special. Two special moments from EMI were: (1) hosting the sponsors for a reception and having Section leader Don Romano entertain the group on the piano, and (2) holding an alligator on a swamp tour!

My nugget to share - always start each day with the goal of making the world around you better for those who are coming after you.

Hilary Young 2017 – 2018

I loved the opportunity to be the Chair of the Section and to be so involved with our wonderful Section leaders. My reflections include:

  • Following Joyce Hall as Chair and having Alexandria McCombs follow me, and getting to work closely with them both;
  • Having weekly calls with Simeon Carson to review everything going on, including his building the staff and navigating the major staff reorganization in April 2018;
  • Writing a monthly Chair’s Column, even though I often pushed the deadline;
  • Supporting Alexandria McCombs, Sidney Welch, and Lisa Genecov in their development of the Committee on Health and Well-Being;
  • Facilitating generative discussion during Council meetings rather than just reporting;
  • Getting to speak to the attendees and sponsors at our conferences;
  • Making a few appointments that were dream fits and watching those leaders blossom;
  • Going to Cuba with David Johnson, Paul DeMuro, and several other Section members; and
  • Getting invited to the Oldtimers (Past Chairs) Dinner at EMI with the mentors who went before me.

I also had great opportunities to connect with the larger ABA and advance the visibility of the Section. These included:

  • Accompanying Joyce Hall to the Board of Governors meeting in June 2017 to appeal cuts to the Section’s budget (we’ll always have Detroit!);
  • Being the Chairs representative to the Section Officers Conference Executive Committee; and
  • Serving as a Section representative to the OneABA / New Membership Model Working Group and getting to know leaders in other Sections Divisions and Forums, and in particular Jim Dimos.

Alexandria Hien McCombs 2018 – 2019

Throughout my academic and professional career, I was a reluctant leader. Imposter syndrome afflicted me based on my youth, and the model minority myth hindered my ability to speak up. Thanks to the mentors and sponsors who saw potential in me before I did, I found myself serving an increasing number of leadership roles within the Health Law Section. Ultimately, becoming Chair of this 10,000+ member organization became an attainable goal for a former refugee toddler on a sinking ship at the fall of Saigon. I changed my personal narrative from whether I could become Chair to when I would become Chair.

My greatest accomplishment during my Chair year was hardwiring servant leadership in our Section leaders’ thinking. As leaders in our organizations, communities, and professions, a mindset of serving others first and building up the team over traditional leadership methodologies of acquiring power enhanced volunteer and member engagement. Servant leadership also inspired stories of gratitude, resilience, diversity, and inclusion beyond the practice of health law.

My favorite memory during my Chair year is hearing law students and young lawyers express interest in becoming servant leaders in the Health Law Section!

My best advice is to network responsibly. Seek out potential colleagues, mentors, and sponsors who may one day serve as your trusted circle or personal board of directors. Treat each individual as a scarce resource whom you would call upon for a specific purpose. One individual should not serve in a multi-purpose role as confidant, job lead, reference, etc. Engage them and diversify.

Jill Pena – Section Director 1998 - 2010

The early days of the Section were an exciting and special time. We had a blank slate in terms of deciding who we wanted to be, what we wanted to do, and how we wanted to do things. The leaders answered those questions based on who they were as individuals, not because what anyone was telling them to be. A great example of this was the decision to make diversity and inclusion a priority. There were no ABA initiatives at the time. The Section did it, because it was important to the leaders.

Our success as a Section meant rarely, if ever, were we told “no” by the “big” ABA. It was energizing for the leaders and fostered a great deal of innovation. One of the best examples of innovation was the whole concept behind the Emerging Issues in Health Law Conference. In the CLE world, conferences were mostly structured around “how-to” sessions. The approach for EMI was to talk about trends and what was happening across the country in the healthcare industry to help lawyers best prepare how to represent their clients.

The Section was unlike any other component of the ABA. Members joined not just because of their interest in the substantive area of the law, but because those involved were respected in the industry and fun. When people got together for meetings and conferences, it was an equal part for the substance and seeing good friends. And I felt that directed at me, too. The leaders, speakers, and conference attendees were always a great group of lawyers, who always made me feel a part of the team.

My time with the Section was a wonderful training ground, and where I created wonderful relationships that I still have today. I’m proud of the work we did and thrilled to see the Section maintain and continue the culture of collegiality and innovation we adopted 25 years again.

Simeon Carson – Section Director 2015 - present

When I first joined the ABA Health Law Section staff in January 2009, I had to pinch myself because I recognized I had a rare opportunity to support a growing and important group within the ABA. Next thing I knew, I was going to Disney World.

I still have the lanyard from that year’s Emerging Issues in Healthcare Conference, held at the Disney Yacht Club in Orlando. The ribbons, including “First EMI” and “Official Someone” were indicators of the character of the Section and its leaders. I immediately felt welcomed by Section staff and members.

Since joining the Section, my roles shifted from Membership, Publications and Technology Specialist to Associate Director, to my current role as Director. During that time, I’ve seen the Section transform and adapt itself while at the same time maintaining its priorities, values, and culture. There are many important examples that come to mind, but I will describe just a few.

Over the years, I’ve seen great dedication, commitment, and innovation come from our volunteer leaders in trying to solve some of the biggest challenges faced by the Section, and to make a difference in the profession. Some of the most meaningful initiatives have included the Section’s Law Firm Recognition Program to help tackle the ABA-wide decline in membership (which was tackled by Hal Katz, Jeff Calk, and Phil Brewster), the great work of the Cancer Rights Advocacy Interest Group (originally the Breast Cancer Task Force, and led by Jennifer Rangel, Hilary Young, Marlene Garvis, Eunice Aikins-Afful, among many others), the Section’s Stark and Anti-Kickback Toolkit (led by Adrienne Dresevic and Charles Key), as well as the work of the Section’s Substance Use Disorders and Mental Health Interest Group (led by Past Chair David H. Johnson and IG Chair Greg Fliszar), and the strategic vision and work to reverse the severe drop-off in distance-learning revenue (led by Past Chairs Howard Wall and David Hilgers, as well as current Sponsorship Chair and Council member Jeff Calk).

Some of the other most impressive examples of Section leadership and dedication include how the Section was one of the first during the pandemic to make the difficult but necessary decision to cancel EMI just days away from the event (led by then-Chair Jay McEniry), the Section- inspired ABA Resolution to encourage all attorneys to receive at least 20 hours of diversity and inclusion training (led by Past Chair David Douglass, a member of the ABA’s Diversity Center Council), and the important roles Section leaders have moved into within the larger ABA (three Past Chairs, Howard Wall, Andy Demetriou, and Vickie Yates Brown Glisson in their work on the Board of Governors and Past Chair Hilary Young serving as the Chair of the Section Officers Conference).

I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to work with and support members and leadership in such a vital area of law and look forward to many more years to come. 

Cheers to another 25 years! 

Tony Paterson and Mark McClellan at WHS 2004

Tony Paterson and Mark McClellan at WHS 2004

Past Chairs Bonnie Brier and Paul Herrington at ABA Annual Meeting 2003

Past Chairs Bonnie Brier and Paul Herrington at ABA Annual Meeting 2003

Howard Wall, Greg Pemberton, Sara Keller and Lawrence Manson in 1999

Howard Wall, Greg Pemberton, Sara Keller and Lawrence Manson in 1999

Hal Katz with Harrison Chicago at PLI 2007

Hal Katz with Harrison Chicago at PLI 2007

David Hilgers, Montrece Ransom, and Hal Katz at EMI 2006

David Hilgers, Montrece Ransom, and Hal Katz at EMI 2006

2005 Margarita Cup Golf Trophy

2005 Margarita Cup Golf Trophy

Greg Pemberton at 2004 WHS

Greg Pemberton at 2004 WHS

Jill Pena, Congressman Pete Stark and Andy Demetriou at 2007 WHS

Jill Pena, Congressman Pete Stark and Andy Demetriou at 2007 WHS

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