Elizabeth G. Litten, Partner, Fox Rothschild LLP
How long have you been working for your current company?
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I began my career in health law directly out of law school, after a law firm interview in which the interviewing partner convinced me that I should change my focus from tax to health law (at the time I was participating in the Tax Honours program offered by my law school). What had been an affinity for Internal Revenue Code regulations and rulings became a fascination with the vast, ever-changing regulations and rulings affecting health care providers (primarily hospitals). After spending four years on hospital reimbursement and licensing issues, I joined a Trenton, New Jersey firm where I had the opportunity to work on regulatory approval and compliance issues affecting health plans, as well as to continue my hospital-oriented practice. At this time, I began working on task forces and commissions focused on improving the health care payment and delivery system in New Jersey, and became a registered lobbyist. I moved to Fox Rothschild as a way to supplement my health care practice and client base through the health care and health care-related experience of Fox attorneys located within and outside New Jersey.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Working with Jeff Brenner, MD (President and Chief Medical Officer of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers) to structure a New Jersey Medicaid model for Accountable Care Organizations (“ACOs”). Jeff’s work as an inner-city primary care physician and his ability to collect and analyze data related to the use of local emergency rooms for primary care services inspired me to work with him and a small and diverse group of health care attorneys on a pro bono legal team. We conceived an ACO structure, drafted legislation, and modified the language as we worked with New Jersey stakeholders to achieve a breadth and depth of support for the bill that surpassed anything I had seen in Trenton. We gained support from the business community, health plans, hospitals, primary care providers, federally qualified health centers, religious and civic organizations, and state Medicaid program, to name a few. The bill was enacted into law, and the team met again this past fall (again pro bono), at the request of Medicaid, to draft regulations for Medicaid’s review and consideration. Publication of the proposed regulations is anticipated this spring.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
My field is constantly evolving and is extremely complex. I find the greatest challenge is to identify which laws, regulations, guidance documents, and court decisions are or will be the most relevant to my clients’ success. I need to stay abreast of federal and state laws and regulations dealing with health care reform and privacy and security of health information, but also need to keep tabs on market changes, including employer plan changes, shared savings models between payers and providers, provider affiliations, etc.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
I accept the fact that I will not be able to bill as many hours as some attorneys can bill and stay sane! I make sure I’m doing whatever I need to do to meet my kids’ needs and to enjoy them. I exercise almost every day to relieve stress. I count on friends who understand my frenetic schedule and sporadic contact. I read good novels to give my brain a break from 600-page regulatory proposals. Finally, I remind myself that I actually like my work – I genuinely enjoy my clients, colleagues and projects, and never get bored with my work. I also try to engage in charitable or pro bono activities that relate to health care so as to benefit others while continuing to grow in my knowledge and experience.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
I’ve had a few mentors and role models, but the mentor I think of often is Michael Kline, a partner in my firm who was also a partner in the firm I joined right out of law school. Michael practices corporate law and is an extremely detail-oriented, careful and talented lawyer, but it is his enthusiasm and interest in the world (legal and otherwise) that inspires me. As a first-year associate, I recall his having come to my office to give me a hospital-related assignment, and I was dutifully taking notes as he began pacing in my office and gesturing excitedly as he described the issue. He began pacing in and out of my office and I eventually had to jump up and follow him when his pacing put him out of earshot in the hall outside my office!
Now, 20+ years later, we discuss issues ranging from breaches of protected health information to the Madoff scandal, and Michael researches, reads, and blogs about these and many other issues. Michael is passionate about his practice, cares about the other attorneys in the firm, has extremely high standards for legal analysis and a strong commitment to clients.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
I think these initiatives are extremely important, though I am not yet certain which initiatives are most effective. I hope to be able to say, a year or so from now, that the diversity initiatives at my firm have been effective in attracting, retaining and promoting female and minority attorneys and to be able to detail the methods we employed that were most effective. I serve on the Steering Committee for the firm’s Women’s Initiative, and a key goal of the Initiative is to determine how to most effectively achieve these goals. My firm seems to already be making strides in its corporate diversity initiatives, as evidenced by the fact that 50 lawyers attended the firm’s recent Diverse Attorneys Retreat and two of our offices now have women serving as Office Managing Partners. The firm has also been recognized by the National Association for Female Executives and Flex-Time Lawyers as being among the best law firms for women for support of work-life balance, women-friendly policies, and standards that retain and promote top female legal talent.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
I’ve felt disadvantaged at some times and advantaged at others for having characteristics that are often associated with being female. For example, I tend to work well when I’m collaborating and brainstorming, but there have been times when those with whom I’m collaborating will take credit for my ideas (those less likely to share idea or client origination credit tend to be male in my experience). However, I think that having the ability to collaborate, to listen to others’ ideas and build upon them, and to share credit is more of an advantage overall. I’ve felt disadvantaged (typically, from a billable hour scoring standpoint) by the fact that (by my own choice) I will put my kids’ needs ahead of my clients’ needs (for example, if they need to go to the doctor or have an important event). Although this “disadvantage” relates more to my being a parent than to my being a female, I have observed more females than males prioritizing their time in this manner.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
The apparent increase in the numbers of female in-house counsel and the increasing sensitivity (as evidenced by the number of law firms, such as mine, that have Women’s Initiatives) to ensuring that female lawyers achieve leadership roles within law firms.