September 11, 2020

Chair's Column: Welcome to My "Oh, S@#*!" Moment

By Hal Katz, Husch Blackwell LLP, Austin, TX

When I imagined assuming the role as Chair of the ABA Health Law Section, I knew it was going to require a major commitment of time and energy. Fortunately, I’ve had the chance to learn from many wonderful Chairs before me (such as Howard Wall, Vickie Yates Brown Glisson, David Douglass, David Hilgers, and Hilary Young, just to name a few), but I confess that the idea of becoming Chair was daunting. And that was before COVID-19. Welcome to my “Oh, S@#*!” moment.

After spending some time processing and reflecting, I realize I am more excited about my Chair year than what I would have been during “normal” times. Ironic, I know. People, businesses and organizations don’t typically change until they must. The pressures and strains caused by COVID-19 have required all of us to be more open to new things, or perhaps embrace things we’ve previously resisted.  This openness provides opportunities for creativity and engagement, two things that excite me most in my life. In order to be open to such change, we must be willing to step outside our comfort zone – the place most of us work very hard to stay within. But as we’ve all heard over the years, true growth only occurs outside of our comfort zone. I’m optimistic that from these hard times we will come out stronger and more viable as a Section.

At the same time, while I see great opportunity this year, I’m sensitive to the reality that many are experiencing great adversity. Colleagues, friends and family members are experiencing significant financial hardships, at-home challenges, and health concerns. As we all work together throughout the year, I hope we can keep this in mind, and practice patience and compassion with one another in all interactions. This applies both within the Section, be it working with ABA staff on a particular project, a colleague on a work assignment, or during negotiations with an opposing lawyer or regulator.

Now, let me share with you my plan for the year. I don’t have a specific theme or one significant initiative as my focus. Instead, I will use and stress two guiding principles, and have four general priorities.

Guiding principle #1: Keep it simple and practical. Section leaders and staff are being stretched in all areas of their life. Bandwidth and financial resources are more limited than ever before. Our best chance for engagement, adoption, and completion is to keep requests, projects and initiatives as simple and practical as possible.

Guiding principle #2: The practice of no blaming, complaining or being defensive. Rarely will things go exactly as planned or hoped. We will all likely have lower patience levels as we experience disappointment and frustration throughout the year. There can be accountability without the negativity that comes from blaming, complaining and being defensive. I encourage each of us, myself included, to be aware that we are interacting with others during moments of disappointment and frustration.   

Priority #1: Maintain the Section’s role as the thought leader for health law related issues for lawyers, industry, and policy makers. We’ll continue to bring insights and guidance from nationally recognized health law specialists, touching on traditional health law related topics, and covering current issues and events.  We’ll be working to find new and additional ways to bring such content to members, in written, live and recorded formats.

Priority #2: Increase the Section’s awareness of racial, gender and ethnic inequities, and implement remediation initiatives. We’ve talked the talk, and now it’s time to walk the talk. Since we cannot solve what we don’t understand, every Council meeting will include on its agenda an educational item that focuses on understanding historic inequities. In addition, the Council and the Diversity & Inclusion Committee will work closely to increase awareness throughout the Section, and measurable targeted initiatives will be rolled out.

Priority #3: Create opportunities for meaningful and authentic connections to replace suspended in-person events. Some may view it as networking and business development, and others as the chance to meet new people and develop relationships. For me, it has been the most rewarding aspect of being a part of the Section for the past 20+ years. It’s the one constant in our careers. Jobs may change over time, but we can always be a part the Section. We will be working to recreate those in-person experiences virtually, but not merely by using Zoom or another virtual platform to bring us all together.

Priority #4: Promote the importance of well-being. To be a good lawyer, and to have a happy life, we must be healthy. Being healthy is a combination of physical, mental, emotional – and for some, spiritual - health. For some, it’s easy to measure our physical health, and usually easy to find ways on our own to maintain our physical health (e.g., walking, joking, and biking). Since there’s no objective way to measure well-being, we often take it for granted. For me personally, yoga has helped me greatly with my well-being, especially during the pandemic. It has helped me stay centered as I’ve had to navigate the stresses and changes that have come from our new work-life paradigm. This year, we will be launching a well-being page on the Section’s site, which will include access to live and recorded yoga, meditation, and other resources. My personal contribution to the Section will be a monthly all-levels live vinyasa flow class led by Gioconda Parker. Both new and experienced yogis are welcome!

If you’ve made it all the way through, thanks for reading! I invite your messages and calls if you have ideas, concerns, or would just like to connect. Lastly, this is the Section’s 25th Anniversary, and we’ll be celebrating throughout the year. Keep an eye out for my posts, as I plan to share pictures from memorable moments over the years.

Special shout-out to Brian Kight who helped me appreciate and embrace the coexistence of opportunity and adversity, and for shaping my guiding principles of keeping it simple, and no blaming, complaining or being defensive.

Be well!