Point By Point: Abbey Ruby Talks Industry Trends and Working At Waller
This episode of Point By Point was produced prior to the combination of Waller and Holland & Knight.
Morgan Ribeiro: Abbey Ruby, a partner in our commercial finance group. Thanks for joining me today.
Abbey Ruby: Happy to be here.
Morgan Ribeiro: To get started, one of the things that we're going to talk about today, is just trends happening across your practice area and things that you're seeing with your clients: either challenges, big issues that are popping up, big opportunities as well, in the spaces and where you practice. But, I also want to talk about Waller and the culture here. You're somewhat new to the firm. I want to hear about your experience coming in as a lateral as well as some of the initiatives that we have underway with our diversity committee and our women's leadership council. To get started, I'd love to just first hear about your practice and your background.
Abbey Ruby: Sure. I'm a member of our finance and restructuring group, focused primarily on financial transactions, representing both lenders and borrowers. But, I'd say in the last couple of years, my practice has been really focused on lender-side representation for commercial finance transactions. Focus a lot in the healthcare space, in particular.
Morgan Ribeiro: Awesome. So, how did you get into that space? It seems like a very specialized area.
Abbey Ruby: It is. It is, and it isn't. First of all, I think it's a huge segment of the economy and so, there's a lot of deals out there that touch healthcare. I went to law school thinking I would be a litigator, because that's what you see on TV, and they don't really put the work that we do on television, because it's not particularly exciting. I find it very exciting.
Abbey Ruby: But, I worked at a law firm in New York that I, as a summer associate, practiced in four different practice groups, and really fell in love with financial transactions. And, in joining that group, did things at all levels of the market, some healthcare transactions. And then, as I became more senior, really specialized into the healthcare work. I enjoy it because it has this additional regulatory overlay on top of the standard commercial finance terms.
Morgan Ribeiro: Right. So, you mentioned your specialization within healthcare, a lot of work in the sort of senior housing, skilled nursing sectors. Are there particular trends that you're seeing in those spaces right now?
Abbey Ruby: So, there are, and I think that there's trends that we've been seeing for a few years, but they have obviously been hugely overshadowed by, number one with a bullet, COVID. There were things that were impacting the industry like census, boomers maybe not moving into senior housing facilities, in the way that people would have maybe predicted, changes in reimbursement models, especially with government payer programs, but COVID has just really underscored all of those issues and also been a huge focus for the last year and a half, and I think is going to be something that we just continue to focus on. I wish it would be for months, but I think it's going to be for years.
Morgan Ribeiro: So, you mentioned the regulatory overlay, of course, in the work that you do. Are there certain regulations or regulatory changes that are on the horizon, or are being implemented that are affecting your practice?
Abbey Ruby: So, I think that senior housing is always going to be a focus of regulators, and of government legislation, and for good reason. I think that there is always room for improvement in the way that we care for seniors in this country and there's always going to be a focus on improving that and making it better. There have been changes in the last couple of years that have had an impact on the industry. But again, everyone's focus has been on COVID.
Abbey Ruby: I think right now, the biggest thing that has helped keep a lot of facilities going, and we haven't seen the level of distressed facilities that maybe two years ago prior to COVID we would've thought was maybe coming, is because some of the government funds that have come into facilities to support them through the last period with COVID. That, I think, is also going to come with some government oversight and providers need to be ready for investigations or looks into how they spent some of those funds, and also be prepared when those funds don't flow as readily as they have.
Morgan Ribeiro: So, if I'm a prospective client and I'm talking to Waller, I'm talking to a number of other firms, what do I need to know, just kind of bigger picture, About the firm's financial services industry team?
Abbey Ruby: Sure. So I would say we do everything. We do everything really well, and we especially do healthcare really well. That was part of what attracted me to Waller, is when my clients who are specializing in healthcare lending have a question about a very complicated regulatory healthcare matter, they don't want someone that has to spend 20 hours doing research and writing a memo and looking it up. They want that one of our colleagues here knows the answer off the top of their head. I think that starting your practice with finance transactions plus the added complication of the healthcare overlay makes it so then, it's just easier once you remove the healthcare complication from the matter, to really do anything. So while we certainly specialize in healthcare, we truly do any aspect of the economy.
Morgan Ribeiro: You mentioned earlier, just some of the other initiatives that you're involved with. I know that you're on our diversity committee, you're also on the women's leadership council. Great initiatives underway. Can you tell me more about Waller's approach to diversity, equity and inclusion?
Abbey Ruby: Absolutely. So, I don't think that there's a law firm right now in America that doesn't talk about these issues. But, I know because I've worked at a few law firms before Waller, and I also am just pretty keyed in on these issues, that I think that there are firms like Waller that talk about these issues with an intentionality, and that have buy-in from various constituencies and members of the firm, not just the diverse attorneys. And I think, that makes a real difference in how successful we are in being able to implement programming and true action items, some of which have economic cost behind them, successfully.
Abbey Ruby: Our board of directors is very committed to these efforts. The diversity committee includes non-diverse attorneys. And I think that those are really important things that go to show Waller's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. This year in particular, we decided to participate in Mansfield Certification, which is a process by which law firms help strengthen the pipeline to leadership and people in leadership, from historically underrepresented groups. So that includes women, but it also includes attorneys of color and other classifications of underrepresented attorneys. And the firm as a whole, in all departments in recruiting, in business development, in our chambers submissions, have been really intentional about inclusion there.
Morgan Ribeiro: Right. And I think that program is so unique, because it's not just about, "Did you meet all these criteria?", but part of it is just going through the certification process and having these conversations, and being more intentional as you said. And, being a more inclusive and diverse workplace.
Morgan Ribeiro: Is there anything from the women's leadership council, in particular, and issues? I think obviously, during COVID, I think you mentioned one of the silver linings of it was that more people are working remotely. There's more of an openness to that and having that flexibility. But I imagine there are also some challenges still to face for women, and being able to sort of advance through the ranks and making Partner, and sort of being part of the firm and developing within the firm.
Abbey Ruby: Sure. Industry-wide, it is still a challenge. And look, I will be the first to admit that balancing a busy practice and the responsibilities of the business of practicing law, with the business of raising a family is, it's hard. And, I think it does take some time to find your own personal balance. What I really value about Waller is, I think that there is a way for anyone to be an attorney here. There's different practices, there's different practice styles, there's different personality styles. There's not just one way to be successful at Waller. And I think that's huge. And I think that helps with diversity efforts. But, I do still think that there is a long way to go, as there is in all firms, in helping promote women, retain women, and ensure that we are being really inclusive.
Morgan Ribeiro: Yeah. And I think the more and more role models and examples of those who have done it, the better that we're going to be able to kind of have more in the future. What do you see in terms of, we talked about the practice of law and the future of that. In terms of your practice area, what do you sort of predict to come over the next 12 to 24 months? More transactions, continue at the same pace, or?
Abbey Ruby: It's hard to say. Two years ago I gave some predictions, and then COVID happened and I was totally wrong, right? Because, there are things that you just can't foresee coming. I do think that realistically, there's going to be a slowdown of some government support dollars. That is going to have an impact on the bottom line of some companies, especially in the healthcare space, who have maybe been getting by when there are underlying issues that need to be addressed. I think that our colleagues in our restructuring side of our finance and restructuring group are going to be busier. We work really closely with them and partner in helping our lenders, as well as our borrowers, have those situations be as painless as possible. And, I think that there's going to be more to come on that side, as well as probably increased government investigations and scrutiny.
Morgan Ribeiro: So, let's say there's an attorney and they're looking to make a move. They're looking at Waller, amongst a number of other options. Why make a move here? And, tell me more about not only the why, and the opportunity here, but also that lateral transition and integration.
Abbey Ruby: Sure. So that was something that was really important to me as a lateral partner. And I think there's two things that Waller is exceptional at. The first is, there is no waiting period to involvement. From the first day I joined in the firm, I chair our business development advisory committee, I sit on multiple other committees within the firm. There are some places that want you to be there for a couple of years and become steeped in the culture and tradition of the way they do things, before they sort of allow participation. And Waller takes the opposite approach. They say, "Tell us what you know from being at another place, and how can we improve what we're doing, based on that information that you have?" And I think that's been really great for me, and I would hope good for Waller, too.