Don’t be like Elon Musk. Get a lawyer for your clinic.

Employers need lawyers. This doesn’t just apply to medicine – it’s true everywhere. For a recent high-profile example, let’s consider Twitter. If massive layoffs are made without adequate notice as required by California law, they could face millions of dollars in damages.

However, medicine likes to consider itself different from other businesses. It’s a wonderful idea, this fantasy of a country doctor who delivers babies in a farmhouse and pays in chickens. But the modern medical-industrial complex has made it completely obsolete in the United States

Many clinics are run by doctors. While this has a lot of merit, as it at least nominally maintains administration with the experience of providers who create financial value to the business, it has pitfalls.

How confident are you that your administrators are complying with all local and national laws?

Are you in a voluntary employment situation? I am.

I had something called an “employment agreement” instead of a contract – is that actually a meaningful difference? How strictly must my employers and I adhere to a contract? What are the legal effects of oral contracts?

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The thing about law is that it’s complicated. Attorneys spend many years of their lives studying law — three years for law school versus four for med school.

There are people out there who have both MDs and JDs, but they are few and far between and, I would argue, probably bananas.

Law is a profession. This is a specialty. It’s not something the average layperson would be able to figure out with some googling.

You’d think doctors would understand the importance of seeing a professional. Still, many don’t, apparently laboring under the delusion that being smart enough to be a doctor gives them an innate understanding of labor law. (We see a similar problem with doctors trying to repair their own plumbing.)

Hiring anyone raises many questions that only an attorney is equipped to answer.

They tend to negotiate in the most benevolent and benevolent terms at work. But the reality is that medicine in the US is, as far as I’m concerned, a business.

We need to consider who will pay for each element of business operations. Contract with many insurance companies. Any time a contract is signed, an attorney should review it because contract law is a very complex specialty that involves a large amount of non-intuitive logic. For example, an “employment agreement” is effectively a contract. A contract is not some special document that says “agreement” in capital letters at the top – it is, legally, an agreement entered into by two or more parties. That’s it.

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Agreements may be written, or they may be oral. Your workplace may have more contracts than they admit they have, any of which could present legal liability. Contracts can be written in a way that makes them unenforceable. For example, a contract that specifies one party to provide an illegal service is unenforceable, which is why drug dealers don’t bother with them.

I’m biased. I am married to a lawyer. I’ve spent the better part of the last 15 years listening to the law being discussed, and confused. What it taught me is that I don’t understand the law. And if I don’t, despite my intelligence and long exposure to it, I can guarantee that clinical administrators won’t either.

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This is why it is so important for clinical administrators to have an attorney they can talk to. An attorney who specializes in medicolegal matters because medicine presents unique challenges, and any clinic with more than three doctors is almost guaranteed a malpractice lawsuit at some point. Like medicine, law has countless sub-specialties.

I often tell people, “Run it by a lawyer,” and I don’t do that to drum up business for my husband. (He’s a public defender; he has enough business all the time.) I do this for the same reason I tell people to take their medical questions to their own doctor — because a professional’s advice needs to be precise and specific, and the professional recommends a knowledgeable specialist. All background information is required.

Value law the way you value medicine, or you may find yourself in hot water, like Elon Musk, who seems to be boiling over.

Christine Puhl is a family physician and can be reached on Twitter @ChristinePuhl.


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