“Figure out who you are and what makes you happy”

…Figure out who you are and what makes you happy. We all have lives outside of work and interests not related to our work. Having a happy and fulfilled life will make you a better, more well-rounded, interesting attorney with good perspective. Clients and others in your network will be drawn to that.

The legal field is known to be extremely competitive. Lawyers are often smart, ambitious, and highly educated. That being said, what does it take to stand out and become a “Top Lawyer” in your specific field of law? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law”, we are talking to top lawyers who share what it takes to excel and stand out in your industry.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Weber.

Emily Weber is a healthcare transactional and regulatory attorney with Foley & Lardner LLP, and also serves as the office managing partner for the firm’s Denver office. She focuses her practice on complex healthcare regulations and transactions, governance, fraud and abuse, and health innovation matters. Prior to joining Foley, Emily held in-house counsel roles with University of Colorado Health, Temple University Health System, and Vail Health.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law? Did you want to be an attorney “when you grew up”?

Never in my life — even through college — did I think about going to law school. I don’t think I knew any lawyers growing up. I grew up in a family of academics and my dad was acting Dean of Duke Medical School when I went to college, so I thought medicine was what I wanted to do. I majored in Biology (with a Japanese minor) at Washington University in St. Louis. After graduating, I worked at a biotech company in Boston while studying for the MCAT. It was in that role that I was exposed to the legal side of regulatory affairs and made the decision to start studying for the LSAT instead. From there, I went to Villanova University School of Law, during which time I worked for the district attorney’s office and clerked for a criminal judge.

My path after law school was a bit nontraditional. I graduated without a job and moved to Denver from Philadelphia. I ended up doing doc review assignments for a year because I just needed to make money. Then, after moving to Vail, Colorado, I decided to go out on a limb and write a letter to Vail Valley Medical Center, asking if they wanted to hire me as an up-and-coming legal professional — that bold step on my part landed me an in-house counsel job, which I still look back on now as an integral part of my story. I learned so much about how hospital systems work from my time there.

After Vail Valley Medical Center, I knew I needed more experience, so I continued my career path as an in-house associate counsel at Temple University Health System in Philadelphia. There I really feel like I became a better, tougher lawyer. My colleagues there didn’t pull punches, and I really learned a lot. After that, my family moved back to Colorado, and I assumed the role of associate general counsel at University of Colorado Health. It wasn’t until a former colleague of mine reached out to see if I would be interested in joining Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck LLP to help build out the firm’s healthcare practice that I even thought about making the transition to a law firm. I spent three years as a shareholder at Brownstein before joining Foley & Lardner in 2018.

Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?

I’m a health care transactional and regulatory attorney, so I represent hospitals, health care systems, academic medical centers, schools of medicine, physician groups, and health tech companies. My focus is on complex health care regulations and transactions, governance, and fraud and abuse. I also do a lot of work in health innovation related to new ways of providing health care.

Having advised in both in-house and outside counsel roles, I apply a hands-on, practical, experience of operations and regulatory compliance to my law practice. I’m not very formal but I really know how hospitals work. I know what the pain points are for most hospitals/providers, so I can help push through issues. My experience allows me to translate business requirements into legal solutions for my clients, including: affecting collaborations between universities and health systems for academic affiliations; intellectual property sharing between academic medical centers and for-profit entities; and innovative, collaborative relationships to change and allow for more efficient health care delivery, both in the health care innovation arena and in the traditional outpatient clinic and pharmacy clinic setting. I also have experience handling data security compliance and governance for personalized medicine programs.

Now 75% of my time is spent on traditional provider-specific work, representing health systems. The other 25% is used for advising on device remote patient monitoring and with health care financing clients.

You are a successful attorney. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? What unique qualities do you have that others may not? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Know how to sell yourself. Have tenacity and take initiative. My first few pitches were not the best. Actually, I had a potential client tell me I needed some work — he said although he loved talking to me, and that I was smart and knew my stuff, that my pitch was “the worst pitch he had ever heard.” A partner of mine at my former firm was gracious enough to point me to a contact that could help develop these skills in order to improve my business development strategy — and we ended up winning the client!

Then once you get the work, just be a normal person. Be kind, be responsive. I’ve found it to be true at many points in my career that it doesn’t matter how good you are at something if someone just really doesn’t like you. Being respected by the people you work with, and respecting those people in return, is really important.

Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?

As I mentioned, my path to joining Foley & Lardner was a bit different than many of my colleagues. That letter I wrote to Vail Valley Medical Center basically said “I am a young attorney and I’m cheap. Do you have a job?” Writing and sending the letter opened the door for me. The hospital created a new in-house associate counsel role and hired me three weeks later. That was part luck, part confidence, and it paid off in the end.

Do you think where you went to school has any bearing on your success? How important is it for a lawyer to go to a top-tier school?

I went to law school in Philadelphia, so if I’d stayed locally, I know I would have had an easier go finding my place after graduating. But because I’d relocated to Colorado, where Villanova didn’t have as much name recognition, it was extremely difficult to land a job. When I moved to Colorado, at least at that point in time, I quickly realized it didn’t matter where you went to law school if it wasn’t the University of Denver or CU Law School. I knew a guy in Colorado who was editor of Law Review at Yale and only got one offer — it was bananas. That being said, I think it depends on where you are. If you’re at a top-tier law school, then yes, it should be easier for you to get a job. But it’s not going to be the only factor, and there are so many really good lawyers who didn’t go to top-tier schools. So, does going to a top law school matter? My lawyerly response is, “It depends.”

Based on the lessons you have learned from your experience, if you could go back in time and speak to your twenty-year-old self, what would you say? Would you do anything differently?

It’s always easier to get a job when you have a job. Don’t go for perfection right now. You don’t have to stick with the most traditional career path and way of working. Also, just because someone doesn’t have a job posted doesn’t mean they won’t hire you. Take a risk. Keep your options open. Raise your hand. Learn a lot.

Throughout the business development process, it’s important to remain true to who you are as an attorney and as a person. It’s about figuring out who you are and what your pitching style is — remaining authentic to that will help you succeed. As young lawyers, we tend to sometimes fall into the trap of trying to make everyone like us; however, that approach tends to fall short as it can stifle your personality and not showcase who you are and how your work will benefit a potential client. In my experience, the best attorney-client relationships are forged when each party has a clear understanding of one another so that transparency and authenticity are continually fostered in the relationship.

Diversify your experience and your skill set as much as you can. Today’s job market is tough, but this scenario also creates a pathway for versatility and resilience. While your initial plan to get a certain job may have been derailed this past year, keep in mind that being able to adapt to change is a skill any lawyer will need to have. Identifying new ways to solve particular issues or to diversify your skills can showcase your aptitude and ability to take on that next role.

This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?

I would never give up my time in house, but working at a law firm has really allowed me to become a specialist at the things I like. I really like what I do — healthcare is a really meaningful sector to be working in. And it’s an exciting time for the Foley Denver office — we’re growing our team and moving into a new office space soon. All of this invigorates the work that we do and the culture we’re building as a team of lawyers. That’s motivating to me.

My family — my husband and my kids — are ultimately my primary motivation. I work really hard because I want to do things with my family and for us to have really fun enriching experiences together.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

The behavioral health work is meaningful and exciting. Changes to reimbursement for behavioral health is ever-changing and that keeps me on my toes. Also, it’s an area of medicine that has been overlooked by payors and the general population for a long time.

Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?

I have been fortunate to have a number of jobs, all where a learned a tremendous amount, became an expert in something, and worked with fantastic people. However, I anticipate my move to Foley to be my last move for a long period of time.

Without sharing anything confidential, can you please share your most successful “war story”? Can you share the funniest?

Funniest is when a regent at Nevada System of Higher Education told me the story I shared earlier, that the pitch I gave him was the worst pitch he’d ever heard. With practice and some fine tuning, we ended up getting the work. It’s pretty unusual to have such a 180. It’s a good reminder to not take yourself too seriously, and it’s okay to have room for improvement in the work that you do.

Ok, fantastic. Let’s now shift to discussing some advice for aspiring lawyers. Do you work remotely? Onsite? Or Hybrid? What do you think will be the future of how law offices operate? What do you prefer? Can you please explain what you mean?

I think that aspiring lawyers should not aspire to work remote. It’s virtually impossible to create meaningful relationships and get to know people when you’re not in the office. So much of what we do is based off judgment, making the hard calls. That is so hard to learn at home in front of a computer. You need people in your life to back you up, and it’s hard to get to know people through a screen.

How has the legal world changed since COVID? How do you think it might change in the near future? Can you explain what you mean?

Attorneys and staff are definitely working more from home. And despite my answer directly above, I do think COVID-19 has showed us that when used with discretion, it’s good to work from home from time to time. We all have our real lives outside work, and COVID has been a perspective-shifting time that of how critically important our at-home lives are. So, if you need to work from home to get stuff done, do laundry, or take care of kids from time to time, that’s valid, and it should not be tracked or counted as a demerit.

We often hear about the importance of networking and getting referrals. Is this still true today? Has the nature of networking changed or has its importance changed? Can you explain what you mean?

I have found that networking is how I get most of my work, not through RFPs. Also, you don’t have to pretend to be an expert; reach out to others in your firm or network when you need input on a topic. I’ll get very odd and specific questions from clients or prospects, and 100% of the time someone I know knows the exact right answer — not only that, but it’s also what they do, and they’ve even written firm opinions on it.

Based on your experience, how can attorneys effectively leverage social media to build their practice?

There are people at Foley that have built their practice over social media, sharing concise and thoughtful content online that positions them with expertise. LinkedIn is a powerful tool, as are short blogs or other informative posts to help others in their day-to-day work.

Excellent. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law?” Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Become an expert in something. This may sound obvious, but if you aren’t a master of something, you are a master of nothing.
  2. Give yourself time to become that master. It could take decades, but provide thought leadership on the topic through speaking or writing, and find others who are interested in the same topic.
  3. Take feedback seriously. Don’t be afraid to seek out feedback and make meaningful changes to become better. It’s okay — no one wakes up knowing everything.
  4. Find your network of colleagues. You’ll need them to bounce ideas off of, and it can be a great referral network.
  5. Figure out who you are and what makes you happy. We all have lives outside of work and interests not related to our work. Having a happy and fulfilled life will make you a better, more well-rounded, interesting attorney with good perspective. Clients and others in your network will be drawn to that.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Michael Jordan, which is weird because I grew up in Durham, North Carolina, as a huge Duke basketball fan. But it would be totally fascinating to have a meal with him!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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