What I Wish I Had Known
By C. Joyce Hall Chair-Elect, 2015-2016 ABA Health Law Section
The YLD Health Law committee asked senior healthcare lawyers what they wished they had known as a younger attorney. In Part Three of this series, Joyce C. Hall summarizes the lessons she has learned practicing as a healthcare lawyer and explains her daily mantra.
"Never let them see you sweat." With that famous quote (from the '80s) I have affirmatively defined myself as an "older" lawyer and explained the reason I was asked to share my thoughts with you on "what I wish I had known" as a younger lawyer. The quote was the tagline for the advertising campaign launched by The Gillette Company for Dry Idea antiperspirant in 1984, the year I entered law school. Picture an appropriate emoji in this spot. The ad campaign featured celebrities who grabbed the audiences' attention with advice on three "Nevers" to being _______ (fill in the blank - a fashion designer, a famous comedian, a winning coach, etc.). You can view the ads on YouTube for the celebrities' sage advice. As I began my law career this quote quickly became my motto. Keeping with that tradition, permit me share with you three "Nevers" I wish I had known as a young lawyer.
- Never pass on an opportunity to learn from a lawyer you admire. In today's fastpaced world, we tend to prioritize those things that are tugging hardest or screaming loudest for our immediate attention and we don't take the time to study how a lawyer with more experience handled a difficult situation, responded to a delicate subject, or explained a complex legal concept. Take the time to watch, ask questions, and study why someone took a particular approach. Sometimes the best teacher is sitting in the office next door. Never forget to appropriately appreciate the team that helps you achieve your best each day-your family, your assistants, and your fellow associates. Your best advice on how to practically accomplish a task may come from the legal assistant who has been doing it for 20 years or the clerk in the filing office. Get to know these folks and, more importantly, appreciate the assistance they give. One day you may be in a pinch and need some extra assistance. The people you have treated with respect will most likely be happy to assist in the crisis.
- Never assume you can "wing it." Always be overly-prepared so you can speak from the overflow, respond to unexpected situations from a position of knowledge instead of defensiveness, and demonstrate to your client that you care about their particular situation because you have spent the time to learn their business. Clients want a lawyer who will work hard to accomplish the task and give sound advice. Laziness has no place in the attorney-client relationship. Practicing in a highly regulated field like health law makes it especially challenging to stay current on the latest regulations and guidance from the government agencies. Establish a routine early in your career for keeping abreast of the latest developments. Don't rely simply on someone else's evaluation of the regulations or guidance. Read the regulations for yourself. You might catch a nuance that is the key to the answer for your client's problem.
- Everyone feels pressure, but "never let them see you sweat." So what does that mean? All lawyers get at least a little nervous at times. In fact, a few butterflies keep you on your toes. But don't let this profession rob you of your joy in serving your clients. Find a work/life balance that helps you relieve the stress and find fulfillment in your job and your family. Keep your priorities in the proper order. Remember no one ever says on their death bed that they wished they had spent more time at the office. We are "healthcare lawyers" but making sure that we keep ourselves healthy - including physical, mental and emotional health - is as important to our clients as knowing the law. Some of the best business development you will do for your firm will come from the relationships you forge outside of your law school friends and the legal circles you travel during working hours. Another lesson from this "Never" is to be careful not to let this profession go to your head. "Never let them see you sweat" doesn't mean that you are the only one with the right answers or the only one who can do the job. Clients want a confident lawyer but not an over-confident lawyer. There is a distinction. Being a healthcare lawyer can lead to a very rewarding career. The law is challenging, but the importance of the work that our clients seek to accomplish in helping to keep our communities healthy cannot be overstated. Providing advice to assist a healthcare client pursue his or her mission of building a healthier society is an honorable profession indeed. I wish you all the best in your health law careers.
About the Author: Ms. Hall is a member of Watkins & Eager, PLLC, where she practices in the areas of commercial transactions, public finance, corporate and health care law. Ms. Hall currently serves as the ABA Health Law Section Chair-Elect.