Following the COVID-19 outbreak, U.S. businesses have been making substantial changes to the way they conduct business. GC Insights is an ongoing series of interviews that shares, in part, how GCs and their teams are demonstrating flexibility during these unprecedented times.
Latitude Tennessee President, Candice Reed, recently spoke with Leslie Newman, Managing Counsel of Nashville-based Parallon Business Performance Group, an HCA Healthcare (NYSE: HCA) subsidiary and industry leader in healthcare revenue cycle management with more than 18,100 employees serving more than 4,300 hospitals and physician practices. Leslie has practiced law in both the public and private sectors for over thirty-five years with a focus on governmental and administrative law. She previously served as the Commissioner of Commerce and Insurance for four years under Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, with whom she had also served for seven years as Associate Metropolitan Attorney during both his mayoral terms in Nashville. Her experience in the private sector includes three years with Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP on the government relations team and three years with Farmer and Luna, a boutique government relations and litigation firm.
Candice: Please describe your company and your legal department.
Leslie: Parallon is a revenue cycle vendor to HCA and third-party hospitals and physician practices. This means that we perform all the front- and back-office operations of a hospital through shared service centers around the country, including patient registration, coding, billing, collections, electronic health record management and physician credentialing (for both hospitals and physician practices). Parallon’s legal department is comprised primarily of transactional and regulatory attorneys, in addition to one attorney who manages the company’s litigation. We also have paralegals, contract managers, legal assistants and a licensing director (because embedded within the company are three collection agencies) on our team.
Candice: What is your primary role as Managing Counsel?
Leslie: My primary role is to coordinate the handling of our company’s legal work. I have my own niche responsibilities including special projects and policy development. I field requests for legal advice from various divisions and departments within HCA and advise our company’s leaders on how to mitigate risk and remain compliant with the variety of regulatory requirements applicable to the health care industry. And I work closely with our litigation attorney because it’s critical for risk management to be strategic in managing and resolving litigation.
I am fortunate that our in-house attorneys are very experienced and professional, so they will advise me of what’s going on or where I may need to get involved. I can take a hands-off approach to leading the department, because they are so good at what they do.
Candice: Do your attorneys work directly with any of the businesspeople in your organization?
Leslie: Yes, absolutely! That is one of the amazingly great things about working at Parallon. We routinely work one-on-one with the company’s business leaders and SMEs [subject matter experts], which helps inform how we approach legal issues, negotiate agreements and help mitigate risks (on the regulatory side). This collaboration helps focus our attention on trying to accomplish the goals of the company and its leadership.
Candice: Has your or your team’s work changed significantly in the last three months in light of the current pandemic?
Leslie: Everyone is working from home right now (at least through June), and because COVID19 numbers are continuing to rise in Tennessee, I suspect this directive may be extended. As a company, we have been very pleased with our employees’ productivity at home. In fact, for the last several years nearly 70 percent of Parallon’s work force has permanently been working from home. There are so many logistical and health considerations involved in returning to the office, getting people in and out of the elevators safely or negotiating common areas. Many will continue to work from home because of childcare concerns. I just think it makes sense to continue to work from home.
Personally, I feel that I have gotten remarkably productive working from home, which I didn’t think would happen at first. Initially, many of the spontaneous, just-dropped-by-to-ask-a-quick-question conversations dropped off, which I missed a lot. Responding to those questions was a rewarding part of my job. But in the last six weeks, even those conversations have picked back up. Instead of dropping by my office, someone is likely to IM or call me to ask, “I just got this matter. How do we need to get involved?”
I miss the camaraderie of my teammates – my legal colleagues and our businesspeople. But I think this pandemic is transforming how in-house counsel operate. The lack of face-to-face interaction certainly hasn’t seemed to lessen the need for in-house counsel’s insight or the amount of work we’re doing. What normally would have been an informal conversation becomes a little more formal (a scheduled Zoom conference or WebEx meeting, which isn’t a bad thing – it’s just different). And we’re succeeding at adapting and working from home effectively, even those of us who never thought it would work. We’re seeing that as long as everyone feels like they can be productive, it doesn’t matter where the work is getting done.
Candice: What do you like about practicing law in your current position?
Leslie: I most enjoy my interaction with our businesspeople, SMEs, our leadership team and my co-counsel. I enjoy and think I am good at mentoring lesser experienced attorneys. I like working with a team where everybody contributes. I think our leadership and business folks are incredibly knowledgeable, professional and accomplished. I’m always learning something new about the business or new ways to approach a desired outcome. I consider myself lucky to be in the position I’m in and I like what I do.
Candice: How do you ensure that your team continues to thrive during a pandemic (or other periods of big change)?
Leslie: Do the same things you would do if you were all working together in the same office, but recognize that you have to be a little more attentive on a one-on-one basis when everyone is working remotely. Try to communicate effectively in different ways. Big Zoom meetings are tough for some, so don’t forget to talk to your team members individually too. Practice your mentoring skills. Have trust in your folks that they’re doing a good job, working hard and being professional. Have and show respect for their abilities to handle matters and reach out to you if they need help. And learn technology, so you can use it effectively to help you do these things – don’t screw it up. I’m often not successful but I keep trying to figure it all out, because I know that my use of technology impacts how I communicate with my team and clients right now. It’s not sufficient to say, “Well, I’ll just never get the hang of this new thing.” You have to adapt.
Candice: How do you anticipate the legal profession will change as a result of the pandemic?
Leslie: I think a remote legal practice will gain greater acceptance, which will result in people not going back into their offices or only on an as-needed basis for meetings (particularly if you have a long commute). I think working remotely will become a more permanent way to practice rather than the exception.
Candice: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
Leslie: I used to enjoy traveling a lot! We are lucky to have the technology to be able to communicate with grandchildren and family and friends, but I miss seeing and interacting with everyone – particularly the grandkids. I’m trying to be outside and exercise a little more; read and listen to podcasts a little more. I like socially distanced get-togethers. I greatly miss all of my art and theater and symphony gatherings – it’s really, really hard not to be in those spaces anymore. Our magnificent symphony has had to postpone live performances until July of 2021. A lot of arts groups are streaming dance and musical performances and museum tours, but it’s certainly not the same as experiencing them live and as part of a shared experience.
Candice: What books are you currently reading?
Leslie: I’m listening to Breathe: The New Science of a Lost Art by journalist James Nestor, who writes about the right way to breathe and how important it is to your health and psyche. I’m also reading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, which is powerful.
Candice: Please describe a time when you “bucked the system” or did something contrary to popular opinion or practice among the legal profession? Any lessons learned that have informed or guided your decision-making since?
Leslie: Over the years, I have represented clients in contentious matters. As Commissioner of Commerce and Insurance there were often decisions that I was asked to make that weren’t particularly popular, but that I knew to be in the public interest. You have to learn to handle criticism as best you can, trust in your decision-making and rely on others with more experience for guidance.
Candice: What advice would you share with young attorneys who are struggling with the stressors of legal practice or questioning whether they still want to be lawyers?
Leslie: I guess to try to find aspects of the profession that you like. Definitely take advantage of opportunities that come your way even if they don’t seem to fit into the plan you may have had for yourself. Try to find mentors to learn from. Find ways to give back to your community. Pretty standard advice for all of us.
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