In 2012, several American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA) members and leaders expressed interest in developing informal networking and professional development opportunities for women members and program attendees. After receiving feedback from informal in-person networking events held at the 2012 Annual Meeting and the 2012 Fraud and Compliance Forum, an AHLA Women’s Network took shape and in January 2014, the Women’s Leadership Council formalized the operation of the Network.
This year’s quarterly series of interviews with some of AHLA’s women members was designed with the intent to give young professional members an opportunity to profile some of our more experienced or uniquely situated AHLA members and leaders, to learn more about their path to success, and challenges they have faced along the way.
Thanks to Young Professionals Council members Mollye Demosthenidy (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Amanda Robinson (email@example.com) for their work on this series, and to Council Chair Cori Turner (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Catherine L. Hanaway
Husch Blackwell LLP
St. Louis, Mo.
Interviewed by Cori Turner, Husch Blackwell LLP, St. Louis, Mo.
What is your current job? And how did you end up in your current role/ employment sector?
I am a partner and lead the Government Compliance, Investigations and Compliance Practice Specialty Center at the law firm of Husch Blackwell LLP. Interestingly, I began my career 24 years ago with one of the predecessor firms to Husch Blackwell LLP, then diverted for quite some time to public service. I served on the staff of U.S. Senator Kit Bond, then was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives, eventually becoming the first and, to date, the only woman to serve as Speaker of the House, and then I was appointed by the President to serve as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri.
What do you like most about what you do?
The clients I serve regularly face enterprise-threatening or even liberty-threatening inquiries or charges by the government. The best part of my job is navigating these vexing, scary and, often, uncharted waters. Based on my public service and private practice experiences, I can bring insight, some predictability and, in the best cases, tremendous relief for clients.
Did you have mentors or role models and how have they helped?
Most definitely, many teachers, colleagues and friends have mentored me throughout my career. They have taught me respect and even reverence for the law and lawyers, to carry out my duties with integrity and high professional standards, and the value of nurturing relationships. My mentors include people from every stage of my life such as my high school English teacher, the chair of the litigation department at my first law firm, U.S. Senator Kit Bond, my colleagues in the U.S. Attorney’s office and the women of Husch Blackwell LLP.
What was your first job coming out of law school?
I was an associate at a firm, called Peper Martin Jensen Maichel and Hetlage, that has since merged into Husch Blackwell LLP. When I began, I was assigned, at my request, to split my time between the corporate and litigation departments. After just six months, the firm came to me and said, “You’re a litigator,” and they were right.
Did you know you wanted to practice health law when you were in law school?
Not for sure, but I had an inkling. I was a staff member of the Journal of Contemporary Health Law and Policy at the Catholic University School of Law. My practice these days is much broader than just health law, but health law and health policy is a passion of mine that extends even beyond my legal practice.
What would you consider to be your greatest achievement in your professional career? And to what do you attribute this success?
This is a difficult question to answer. Serving as Speaker of the House and as U.S. Attorney were both mountain top experiences. In private practice, the greatest achievements are every time I am able to persuade the government to decline a potential criminal charge or to refuse to intervene in a qui tam case. I attribute these successes to my mentors providing me with opportunities and encouragement to develop my own professional style, to hard work, and to learning through those experiences where the levers of power reside.
Are there any non-law experiences that you have had that have ended up being surprisingly useful to
your legal career?
The business people that have had the foresight to build effective compliance programs and the medical professionals who have educated me have greatly, and in some ways surprisingly, enhanced my career.
If you could have dinner with any lawyer, real or fictional, living or dead, who would it be? And why?
Abraham Lincoln because he had the vision and courage to preserve our union. I believe his ability to lead our great nation through its darkest hour came largely from his ability to be a persuasive advocate in almost any context. His abilities to write and to speak undoubtedly were honed riding the circuit trying cases.
If you could give one piece of advice for a young attorney practicing health law what would it be?
Hone your craft, take the time to become a great lawyer, but don’t fall into the trap of grinding away at your desk to the exclusion of getting out and meeting people. Find a charity, a public service, even a sport that you love. Participate in it. This will allow you to not only develop a passion outside of work, but you will develop a network that will one day refer you business even if it is not a clear linear path today. But also, spend as much time as you can face-to-face, on-site with your firm’s clients. Educate yourself to their business and their challenges to the point where you can anticipate the next opportunity or challenge they will face. As more and more of what lawyers do is automated, serving as a trusted advisor and business partner will be one quality that remains of high value. Pick a good mentor [and] hitch yourself to them. In short–get out from behind your desk.
What do you determine to be key issues that impact women lawyers early in their career? And do you see new issues emerge with years of professional experience?
Candidly, children and the child-rearing years are some of the biggest issues women face. I have two wonderful children, 15 and 11. I am also very fortunate to have a husband who is very much a partner in all aspects of having a family. I wouldn’t trade our family life for any professional experience. But, there are opportunities I have missed because of these demands. Young women lawyers should constantly be re-evaluating this balance, be open to do things–both personally and professionally in unconventional ways, and be willing to make it all appear a bit more seamless than it really is.
A friend of mine became the CEO of a very large, publicly-traded health insurer. She said that when she first was promoted to that position she had a real problem with her team feeling they had to respond to emails whenever she sent them. She began her mornings early, but went home in time for dinner and homework with her children, and then she would return to answering and sending emails late at night. She found her team scrambling to respond immediately. Once she made it clear that her schedule did not need to be theirs, it all began to work. This is just one common example of the unconventional ways women can accommodate the demands of work and family. As I have become more experienced, I have noticed too many 50-something women lawyers being sidelined for the same reasons as women newscasters. This is such a short-sighted view by clients and partners. This is the moment when we are at our professional zenith and have the fewest family responsibilities. Men with a little snow on the roof are viewed as wise and learned while women are too often viewed as tired, old and intransigent. I don’t really have an answer for this yet, but we will find one together. The first step is women looking out for each other and continuing the dialogue on these issues. I commend AHLA for its commitment to diversity and its support of the newly formed Women’s Leadership Council. It is forums like these that will help women to navigate these issues.
Originally published in AHLA Connections magazine in June 2014.