This special series highlights AHLA leaders who discuss key moments in their careers, current and future trends in health law, and AHLA’s role in their professional development. In this episode, Chip Hutzler, Director, Horne LLP, interviews Tom Shorter, Partner, Husch Blackwell, who is AHLA President Elect Designate for the 2020-2021 year (President for the 2022-2023 year). Tom talks about his career in health law and how the industry has continued to become more specialized.
Tom also tells Chip:
Sponsored by Horne LLP.
To learn more about AHLA and the educational resources available to the health law community, visit americanhealthlaw.org.
In this special series, A H L A, leaders discuss key moments in their careers, current and future trends in health law and a H L a's role in their professional development support for A H L A. And this series is provided by horn, which provides proactive guidance and strategies to enhance efficiency, improve patient experience, increase market share, and position you for greater success. Horn Healthcare serves over 600 clients across 31 states. For more information, visit horn lp.com.Speaker 2:
This is Chip Husler. I'm a director with the firm Horn in the healthcare team.Speaker 3:
Today my guest is Tom Shorter. Tom is a partner at Hush Blackwell in Madison, Wisconsin, and many of you know him well as the president-elect designated of H L A. He's going to be the president in the 20 22 20 23 program year for A H L A. And we're here really today to find out a little bit about Tom and how he got to where he got. So let me start it off, Tom, by throwing it at you. Tell us how you got into health law.Speaker 4:
Yeah, a great question. Uh, and it's good to talk to you Chip. Uh, um, as always. Um, so like I think a lot of people, um, who enter into to healthcare, it didn't exactly happen in a planned and, and pre-ordained sort of way for me. It began with a, uh, assignment and work where I was doing employment and, uh, employment work and, and defense work. And I got asked to get involved in a physician, um, essentially a physician termination case. And I was so naive to think that how could this termination be any different than any other termination that you handle in an employment context? And I learned very quickly that this is a whole different world and a whole bunch of issues kept coming up. And people were talking about medical staff bylaws and the regulatory scheme that involved and compliance issues that were coming up. And of course my head was exploding cuz I was thinking, wow, I just thought I had a termination case on my hands. And that was really the beginning. Um, and, and got to work through on that case with a, with a, a fine healthcare lawyer and, and mentor a partner that I was working for at the time. And I do remember to this day as we're going through this and I keep asking this questions like, what are, what are they talking about when they say this or that about the context of this physician's employment? And he finally said to me, you know, Tom, I think it'd be a really good idea for you to go to the A H L A Fundamentals program,<laugh>. And there from there has been a phenomenal journey since, uh,Speaker 3:
March. I was gonna say, if your head wasn't already exploding on the first employment termination, when you get to the fundamentals program, kaboom. Right. It's like a fire hose. Yeah. That's, um, well, it's funny you mentioned something that I was gonna ask you, which is, is there someone in health law that sort of inspired you, uh, to, to do this or that inspired you to keep doing it? And what made them so special?Speaker 4:
Uh, for sure there is and, and, uh, uh, a fantastic individual, a very good friend and to this day, someone I get to, to continue to work with. Um, uh, he's gone in-house as a, as a general counsel, but, but, um, get to work with him, uh, regularly. And, and he was a, a partner doing healthcare law work. And, um, it, it was a really, was a great experience. I mean, I think he, what he really inspired in, in me was to understand both the complexity of the, of the healthcare, you know, industry and, and then also the complexity of the issues. Not just the legal issues, but sort of the ethical issues and the bigger picture around the provision of healthcare. And, um, I, again, I just have a whole series of, of memories of, of, as a young lawyer being very influenced, uh, by his style and his approach, how he had a lot of focus on listening to clients. Um, I, a lot of fun memories of having been in a conference room with him and he giving me a signal, basically, keep your mouth shut and let's listen to the client<laugh>. But he was right. And it was, it was, uh, it was great teaching. And, and again, he's to this day a very good personal friend and a client that I get to work with as well.Speaker 3:
Yeah. I get that signal regularly under the table from my wife,Speaker 4:
<laugh>. Right, exactly. Lifetime, as long as you can see it and know when you're getting that signal.Speaker 3:
That's that's right. Get that nudge, Hey, zip it. Um, but no, sometimes that is really key for sure. Was there any moment in your health law career where you said, this is, this is the key moment. You could look back and say, this is a key moment when I really realized I'd found my calling and, and, and I'm good at this and that's why, and and I like doing it,Speaker 4:
You know, you know, it's, I I think there's a sort of a period of time that probably captures that chip, you know, uh, I think it, and it has a, it has a very close tie for me to A H L A because it, it was that moment in time where you, like many of the folks who I think practice in this area go to fundamentals and chip, you capture it well. You sort of walk out like a deer in headlights, like, oh my gosh, I had no idea of the breadth of issues here. And then you start to see how those concepts and issues get applied in the practice that you do. And then you start to get intrigued in some cases in particular areas. And that's where A H L A does such a great job of having content at conferences where you're like, I really enjoyed this aspect of health law in particular. And that starts to actually feed on, uh, the development of, in some cases, you know, expertise that you may have or you, you, you really take that di you know, that deeper dive into a particular area. And that's where it started happening for me. So I started attending, uh, initially the Physicians and Hospitals Institute because I had some connections and ties of course, to dealing with and, and working on physician matters, but also working with a number of healthcare systems and, and, uh, health system clients. And then it just keeps going. And from then it was transactions. And I think Chip, you and I have been going to Transactions conference together for really since, I think probably since they started the, the Transactions Conference. Um, absolutely just, it, it spurred interest and desire and sort of a, a really like, boy, I really, I really love what I get to do.Speaker 3:
What's a favorite location you've ever had to go to for health law, whether it's a conference like a H L A or a client, or you have any favorite places you just love to go back to?Speaker 4:
Oh, Nashville is just, is high on the list for me. It's always, it, it always is a great fun as you know, chip, we, we've all, I think enjoyed being in Nashville together, um, for the conference and friendships and, and dinners and socializing and all the, all the great things that come with a H L A, um, that said, uh, San Diego's pretty high up there too. Um, you know, chip, you know that about me. I have a little wrench for golf. I haven't desired to try to fit that in everywhere I can and hard to beat San Diego in that regardSpeaker 3:
That it really is. Um, and nothing wrong with Nashville, obviously. We have the healthcare industry to thank for parking some of their most well-known companies there. And it is a fun place to go back to. I, it's a place I'd make my office when I can. How, um, how do you think you see health law going forward? What do you, what, how do you think you can contribute to it? What do you think is gonna happen as we move forward? You know, there's been all this stuff with the pandemic of course. So what, what do you think will, as we come out of the pandemic, will be kind of the defining things that happened maybe as you kind of go into your president year and so on?Speaker 4:
Yeah, there's a lot of interesting things that are happening. I mean, there were things that were obviously interesting happening even before we got to the pandemic. I think in some ways the pandemic has caused some acceleration of certain things that were starting to happen in healthcare. I mean, I, I'll, you know, pick on the obvious one. I mean, just, you know, we all, were talking with clients and those who are in-house, were talking with their in, you know, in their organizations. And, and the government was talking about, well, what do we do with telehealth? You know, and it was this sort of, it's a good example of how an event like the Pandemic can cause out a necessity and acceleration of, um, you know, uh, uh, an area both from a legal perspective and like, how do we regulate this? Like what do we do? And at the same time, understanding that it's really not something we can go backwards on. And I, you know, what I think is gonna continue to happen, and, and again, the pandemic, I think just accelerated, is that there's gonna be even more of a growing, you know, specialty around those health law practitioners who think and, and are able to guide clients in those sort of specific areas. So what, so I, if I look back in my, you know, 25 years of practice, um, we've moved slowly and methodically in health law away from the sort of the general healthcare lawyer, which really, you know, that there was a time that people were kind of a general healthcare lawyer, and it's moving to, okay, I'm a, I do HIPAA compliance work, or I'm doing Stark and Ana kickback work, or I'm doing specific kinds of healthcare transactions or reimbursement. It's starting to become very specialized in many ways. I guess you could analogize it to medicine, you know, the, the idea of it just kind of developed a bunch of developing subspecialties. And, um, I don't see that changing. I mean, I see that continuing to propel down the path and telehealth is just an example of circumstances that have caused that kind of a, a, a legal issue to become more, um, more focused. And for people who are doing that kind of work, you actually have to have the support of expertise and knowledge in, you know, h l A is a great example of that, you know, where you have a network of people that are similarly interested and equally deep dive and you can learn from your colleagues and peers that are, you know, practicing in an area that, that you have interest in. And so I think that's where it'll continue toSpeaker 3:
Go. Yeah, it's hard. Some, I think it's getting harder to tell people who don't know what you do, what you do. Right. What do you tell people you do now just to say you're a health lawyer, doesn't really describe it anymore. Mm-hmm.<affirmative>, what, what do you tell people you do when you people ask you?Speaker 4:
Yeah, you know, I, I've, I've, um, I, I'm probably because I've go back, uh, far enough to, to be able to remember some of the more general healthcare lawyer, um, aspect of it. Uh, I've had my, you know, toes in the water in a lot of different spaces in, in health law, um, and have helped build up a team of people that are very sub-specialized, you know, so a lot of folks on our team have come up in that era of more sub-specialization, which is great. Um, I, my work in terms of what I do is a lot of work, um, at the strategic level with clients looking at, uh, joint venturing, mergers and acquisitions, large scale strategy, um, that, that sometimes takes me back to the employment roots from, you know, from when I came. Um, and, um, that that's really a lot of the, the kind of strategy work that I get to do with clients and then work with across our teams with, um, with younger lawyers that are developing those, those subspecialty expertise because those clients that I work with come, come with those questions. And, um, it's so niche, uh, now that I, a lot of times, and I've kind of gotten to that point in the career where I can say to my client, I don't personally know the answer to your question<laugh>, but, uh, we, we we're now in a stage of the industry that there are folks that do, and I'm fortunate enough to be at a firm that's got that sort of depth too, and we can answer those questions.Speaker 3:
Yeah. What would you say is a big challenge you faced in health law that you were able to, to solve or overcome? What, do you have any instances where you had a, a major challenge, could have been with a client, it could have been at a H L A that you said, Hey, I have, I think I found a way, and it may not have been easy, but that you were able to overcome.Speaker 4:
Yeah, there's a, there's probably some, you know, a number of different, uh, things that that come to mind. Um, for me, I, I actually think some of the hardest, some of the hardest challenges, um, actually come in that, um, that stage, and it probably varies for everybody, um, but at the stage in their career where they're, uh, developed that comfort to be talking to clients and understand that you don't have to have all the answers all the time.<laugh>, um, you know, lawyers don't like to have be in a position where they don't feel like they've got an answer to the, to the question that's being posed. And, and sometimes it takes someone with a different expertise and, and you know, that that's a, that's actually from a career standpoint, um, and that's probably not unique to health law, but is a, is a challenge to overcome when, where you get to that point of, of comfort and, and being able to talk to clients that way. I think Jeff, that was one of those moments for me where I was like, okay, you know what? I'm gonna be okay under, you know, understanding that I can tell clients I don't have that answer, but here's, I'm gonna help you figure out how to get that answer, um, so that you can move forward whatever business initiatives or, or issues that, that you have. So I think from a career standpoint, that's certainly hard. Um, you know, boy, I have another one that stands out in my mind, which was, uh, having to struggle with what I think every lawyer doesn't ever want to have to really do. And that is to end a client relationship where you're realize you're just not the right lawyer for somebody. And that recognition, that's hard to, that's hard to wrestle with.Speaker 3:
Um, they appreciate it though, when you te when you're able to be honest with them, I imagine and tell'em, Hey, I, you know, I'm not the right guy, but let's find the right guy forSpeaker 4:
You for this. Absolutely right Chip, I, I'm glad you point that out cause it's absolutely true and actually have some clients that I've know that I will tell them the straight scoop on that if I don't think that I've got the right expertise. But it's, again, a good example of one of the amazing upside benefits you get through getting deeply involved with a H L A is you get to know people that know these things. So I've, you know, as you know, chip, I've known you for many years and so I know what you know, and so it's easy for me to say I don't know the answer to that, but I know Chip Hustler knows the answer to that. And so, or you know, you know, any of the other folks Yeah. That I've known in the H L A. And so it's, it's a, it's really good to be, I guess in a spot where you feel comfortable being able to share that, you know, network and where there are others that can solve those problems.Speaker 3:
That that is so true. Um, so we'll kind of head to what I think will probably be the last question just to kind of get your view. So when they induct you into the Health Lawyer Hall of Fame as a rockstar, of course,<laugh> Health Lawyer, what's your plaque gonna say?Speaker 4:
Uh, good, good question. It'll, it'll really depend on whether it's the, the, the people writing the plaque or the people that were at the conference sessions with me or the people that were at the evenings<laugh> when we we're out having a good time together as friends. Um, I think for the, the folks that, um, I get a chance to work with and I'm blessed to be able to work with on the board of directors of A H L A and and working with amazing staff members, I would like it to say that he was all about the team. That it's an opportunity to work together, um, with colleagues, peers who bring expertise and knowledge and, um, really just facilitating a group to be able to work together towards a common goal. And not everybody always agrees on outcomes or how to get from A to B, but um, where you can help facilitate everybody feeling like they're all working together to the same goal. It's, um, it's something that I strive to do both in my work professionally and you know, quite frankly in in my personal life as well.Speaker 3:
Well, all about the team would be a great thing to put on on there. No doubt about it. I would like personifies. You wanna thank you, Tom, for joining us and being part of this. Really appreciate having you on. It was a real pleasure to chat with you for a few minutes. Thanks so much.Speaker 4:
Likewise. Thanks Jeff.Speaker 1:
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