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August 30, 2021

Chair's Column: They Were Right: It’s a Journey, Not a Destination!

By Hal Katz, Husch Blackwell LLP, Austin, TX

As I come to the end of my year as Chair of the Health Law Section, I’ve been reflecting on both the past 12 months as Chair, and the past 26 years as a lawyer. As I look back, I could not have predicted or planned for how either would turn out. It has undoubtedly been a journey.

I started my career in health law right out of law school, in 1995, when David Hilgers bravely offered me a position as a “health lawyer.” It was not what I originally planned, and I had no clue what “health law” entailed. I was as green as green could be, and I knew it! I was overwhelmed by the complexity and breadth of the issues, and desperately wanted and needed to develop my knowledge and expertise as quickly as possible. For the first few years of law practice, I attended my local and State Bar health law conferences, trying to learn as much as I could. Soon thereafter, I started attending national health law conferences.

My first encounter with the ABA Health Law Section was at the first Emerging Issues in Healthcare Law Conference in 2000. I will never forget how warmly I was greeted at the registration desk, and how approachable the leaders and presenters were to all the attendees. I recognized the presenters from publications I had followed, and conferences I had attended. I knew at that moment that the Health Law Section was where I wanted to develop my knowledge and my network. With no idea where it would lead, I started my journey with the Section, that first EMI, volunteering to assist the Managed Care and Insurance Interest Group.

My involvement in the Section has never been with the expectation of holding a specific position. Over the years, I focused on developing my knowledge and expertise, and meaningful professional and personal relationships. I ended up serving in almost every type of leadership position within the Section before finding myself on the officer track. Here I am, almost 22 years later, completing my term as Chair of the Section. It was one of the best decisions and investments of time I have ever made, and still would have been, even if I had not become Chair.

The past 12 months have been one of the most stressful times in our Nation’s history - working from home, protecting our physical and mental health, assessing personal financial risks, navigating political conflict, and witnessing racial injustices. It’s made personal life and work life very challenging. We’ve all been outside our comfort zone and have wanted to get back to life as we’ve known it, have been frustrated it has taken so long, have asked how much longer before things are back to “normal,” and have wondered how much more we can endure. The only way through it has been to keep pushing forward, one day at a time.

With this as our backdrop this year, each of our Section leaders and staff members still showed up to the best of their ability and made important and long-lasting contributions to the Section. We had some good days and some bad days, some successes, and some failures. Some days we were our best selves, and some days we may have wished for a redo. How did we manage? We improvised, persevered, and supported one another. What did we accomplish? We advanced the Section’s role as a thought leader with the launch of a podcast series (Voices in Health Law); we dedicated time to diversity, equity, and inclusion at every Council meeting; we offered free well-being content every month; and we raised a record $40,000 to support our non-profit initiatives. In the end, our most challenging year produced some of our best results.

What are the lessons I’ve taken away from my journey, both through this past year, and all my years as a health lawyer? I’ve learned that great gains and growth can come from the hardest times; that unexpected events make us stronger, wiser, and better positioned for the challenges we faced prior; that respect, collegiality, and the extra effort to be inclusive will always produce better results than contempt, being crass, and relying only on those who volunteer to participate; that there are very few things in life we can control, but we can control how we interact with others; that no one is perfect, and we all make mistakes; that forgiveness is the most powerful gift we can give ourselves and others, even when it is not requested; that we can disagree on major issues and still be collegial and good friends; and that every day is a new day, and an opportunity to start over. What are the lessons from your journey?

We’re still recovering, adjusting, and working through uncertain times, but thanks to all of you, the Section is well prepared for what lies ahead. You are in good hands, as I pass the gavel to our new Chair, Clay Countryman.

Before I bid adieu, I express all my gratitude to Simeon Carson, our Director, for being by my side this year. I could not have done it without his experienced, thoughtful, direct, honest, and creative counsel, nor without his friendship.  And 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.

Be well!

2020 Section Chair Jay McEniry (middle row, left) virtually passes the gavel to 2021 Chair Hal Katz (bottom right).

2020 Section Chair Jay McEniry (middle row, left) virtually passes the gavel to 2021 Chair Hal Katz (bottom right).

2021-2022 Annual Meeting

2021-2022 Annual Meeting

From left to right, Tracy Powell, Tammy Woffenden, Jay McEniry, Kathy Poppitt, Emely Sanchez, Jessica Gustafson, Adrienne Dresevic, Hal Katz, Michelle Apodaca, Clay Countryman, Denise Glass, Bill Horton, Simeon Carson, Don Romano and Lisa Taylor.

Hal Katz meditates before beginning a virtual yoga class, led by Gioconda Parker

Hal Katz meditates before beginning a virtual yoga class, led by Gioconda Parker