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Enough Is Enough, I’m Calling a Lawyer

From: The Hospitalist, November 2008

Know what kind of attorney you need to save time and money

by Patrick T. O’Rourke and Kari M. Hershey

Physicians are no strangers to specialized careers. In narrowing the scope of their practice, specialists develop the expertise and experience to benefit patients and colleagues alike.

Specialization is common in the legal profession, as well, and some legal issues present the need to obtain specialized legal assistance. Just as a patient needing an appendectomy shouldn’t visit a psychiatrist, a medical malpractice client shouldn’t visit a tax attorney.

Before working with an attorney, pose the following questions:

  • How many times have you represented clients with my particular legal problem?
  • How many of those cases have gone to trial?
  • Have you received any specialized training in the area of my legal problem?
  • Have you written any articles or taught any courses in the area of my legal problem?
  • And, most importantly, what is your philosophy towards handling legal matters?

Some legal issues will require an aggressive attorney; others may need a softer touch, an attorney who will work toward resolving a matter amicably. You should feel comfortable your attorney has the experience to handle the claim and the right philosophy toward litigation. If you want confirmation, feel free to ask for the name of a prior client.

In the unfortunate event you are sued for medical malpractice, you want to make sure your insurance company assigns you an attorney who has substantial experience in defending medical malpractice.

Here are some brief descriptions of the different types of specialized legal services available. Choosing the right attorney will save you time, money and should maximize the possibility that you will have a successful outcome.

Medical Malpractice Defense Counsel

In the unfortunate event you are sued for medical malpractice, you want to make sure your insurance company assigns you an attorney who has substantial experience in defending medical malpractice. These lawsuits are very complex and require defense attorneys to understand not only the legal requirements of the claim, but also the medical conditions and interventions undertaken on the patients’ behalf.

Professional Licensure Defense Counsel

Some attorneys focus on defending health care professionals before licensing agencies, such as the Board of Medical Examiners or the Drug Enforcement Agency. These proceedings often involve issues that are non-medical in nature, such as fraud, sexual misconduct and substance abuse. Attorneys specialized in representing clients before licensing agencies will have a better understanding of how the agency views the issues and will be able to recommend prospective courses of action, such as peer assistance or continuing education programs, making formal disciplinary proceedings less likely.

Labor and Employment Litigator

There are numerous laws governing the workplace, so when an employment issue surfaces, it’s important to work with an experienced labor and employment attorney. Most attorneys further specialize and represent plaintiffs or defendants, so make sure that you consult with an attorney on the right side of your issue.

Personal Injury Litigator

Some personal injury attorneys work on a volume basis and defer much of the process to paralegals and staff members. Other counselors take on a smaller volume of cases and give each case more individual attention. If you are injured in the workplace and need to find a personal injury attorney, you might want to ask a medical malpractice defense lawyer or your insurance company for a referral.

Matrimonial

One of the most common reasons a physician needs to hire counsel is the dissolution of a marriage. These cases raise intense, personal issues dealing with the division of assets, sale of property, and the allocation of parental responsibilities. Many of these issues are the subject of state laws, which attempt to compel an equitable determination. Working with an experienced matrimonial attorney will keep the focus on the legal merits of the case.

Tax Counsel

Tax law is one of the areas in which law schools offer an advanced degree, known as an LLM. It is the equivalent of a post-doctoral training program. These professionals have tremendous experience in representing individuals and businesses in the formation of business entities and in dealing with federal and state taxing authorities.

Medical Entity Formation

Depending on the state you live in, you may have a choice of business entities for your practice, such as corporations, partnerships, limited liability partnerships (LLP), and professional corporations. In choosing and structuring a business entity, you should consult with an attorney who has experience in representing health care professionals. State and federal regulations may affect your choice of an entity. A good attorney also can help clients anticipate and avoid potential dissolution issues, such as disputes over non-compete provisions, distribution of accounts receivable, and transfer of patient files.

Real Property

When attorneys refer to “real property,” they are describing the purchase and development of land, which can raise complex legal issues related to zoning, easements, assessments, restrictive covenants, and leasing.

Intellectual Property

When lawyers refer to “intellectual property,” they are describing the protections provided to a person’s creative efforts, such as copyright, trademarks and patents. Attorneys can earn a formal advanced degree in this area through an LLM program. If you develop an invention or write a book, intellectual property attorneys are best suited to make sure you receive the benefits of your creative efforts.

Trust and Estate

When people die, they leave an estate, which can be the subject of extensive probate proceedings to determine the heirs’ rights. Even if there are no disputes between heirs, there can be probate proceedings to determine the value of the estate and the taxes that might be assessed against it. TH

Patrick O’Rourke works in the Office of University Counsel, Department of Litigation, University of Colorado, Denver.


This copy is for your personal, noncommercial use only. No part of this article can be reproduced without the written permission of the publisher. Order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients, or customers by contacting our reprints department at reprints@wiley.com. Copyright © 2009 Society of Hospital Medicine, administered by John Wiley & Sons Inc.

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The Hospitalist newsmagazine reports on issues and trends in hospital medicine. The Hospitalist reaches more than 25,000 hospitalists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, residents, and medical administrators interested in the practice and business of hospital medicine.

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