Member and Co-Chair of the Healthcare Practice Area, Bass Berry & Sims PLC
Growing up in rural Virginia near the Blue Ridge Mountains, Leigh Walton was always attracted to law. After graduating from Randolph-Macon Woman's College, she moved to Nashville to earn her degree from Vanderbilt Law School.
Upon graduation, Walton joined Bass, Berry & Sims PLC and was named Member five years later. Today, she co-chairs the firm's healthcare practice area and possesses a depth of expertise in healthcare mergers and acquisitions. In addition to her work for the firm, Walton began a three-year term last August as the first female chair of the American Bar Association's Mergers & Acquisitions Committee, leading more than 4,000 lawyers from 40 countries and five continents.
"I decided to become involved with healthcare law because it represents such a substantial portion of the U.S. economy and is highly regulated. The law constantly changes, which makes the area exciting and evolving," Walton said of her focus. "I think, in some small way, lawyers play a role in allowing healthcare providers to operate efficiently and effectively," she noted, adding this function ultimately has an impact on the quality of care.
She relishes the fact that healthcare law is a continuously moving target. "This phenomenon forces you to stay energized and current." Ironically, Walton continued, "The most challenging aspect of practicing healthcare law is also the most exciting part … both stemming from the fact healthcare law changes constantly." It can be difficult to offer bright line guidance to clients when so many facets of the laws and regulations impacting the industry are untested and still evolving, she explained.
"In the next decade," Walton continued, "I'd like to witness the rationalization of the healthcare delivery system in the U.S., transforming it to a system that affords quality care to all our citizens for a much lower percentage of our GDP." With so much uncertainty tied to industry reform, Walton said Bass, Berry & Sims has begun a regular newsletter, Healthcare Reform Impact, to help break down the myriad stipulations of the more than 2,000-page law passed in March. "It is such a comprehensive piece of legislation that really affects every industry sector, not just healthcare."
Knowing the twists and turns of healthcare law, Walton is happy to share expertise with those coming up the ranks just as her mentors, Jim Cheek and Brad Reed, did for her. "Each was … and continues to be … instrumental in sharing lessons on gaining substantive competence and instilling the self-confidence required to become a lawyer who can effectively counsel clients," she said of her colleagues. Now, she continued, "I am passionate about mentoring young lawyers, particularly young women, to enable them to become effective, confident lawyers while maintaining balance in their lives."
It's advice Walton takes herself as she spends time with her two children — Margaret and Will Knowles. Margaret is graduating from New York University this month, and Will is finishing up his junior year at University School. Over Christmas, the three of them embarked on a bicycle tour of Thailand and Laos. The active family also loves skiing and being outdoors.
Another way Walton finds balance is by taking an active role in Nashville and helping shape the city's future. In addition to working on political campaigns, she is a board commissioner for the Metropolitan Development & Housing Authority and has been instrumental in helping create more affordable housing in the community. "I just love Nashville and think it's a fabulous place," she said of the driving factor behind her volunteer duties.
As for the city's international reputation as a healthcare center, Walton is proud to play her part in keeping the industry moving and growing.