The client is taking charge -- in health and in law

By Edward Poll

The Daily Record Newswire

For the last few months, I've been dealing with medical issues. To me, it's remarkable when two doctors have the same policy -- namely, that they have no openings to see a patient sooner than six weeks out. Of course, during that time, one could die.

It must be nice to be so busy that you cannot make an appointment with a new patient/client for weeks. Yes, I know that ER doctors and others will see patients in a true emergency. But how do patients know if it's a real emergency?

It would seem that physicians could use something like the lawyers' Rule of Professional Conduct 1.3: One should "act with reasonable diligence and promptness" in representing a client or in treating a patient.

If doctors don't resemble lawyers in promptness, they too often resemble carpenters in approach. There is an old expression: "Give a carpenter a nail and he'll immediately want to hammer it." With doctors the rule seems to be: "Give a surgeon a knife and he'll immediately want to cut."

The U.S. has a far higher proportion of surgeons to doctors, and a far higher rate of surgery than in other nations. A recent Harvard study compared our approach to Canada's. Because the Canadians don't have so many surgeons, they choose homeopathic approaches rather than surgical approaches.

The study's remarkable conclusion was that there is less than a 1-percent difference between the two approaches when it comes to assessing the increase in the longevity of life.

If that is true, one should look first to the homeopathic remedies before jumping into the hospital for surgery (the No. 3 cause of death in this country).

During my health issue, I rejected surgery and chose to work with a doctor in a different direction. I am pleased to report that my focus on supplements, diet and meditation has produced remarkable results for me. The symptoms that caused me to start on this journey of medical examination have literally recessed as inexplicably as they first arose. Although the underlying problem is still there, I no longer have the symptoms and am working to address the problem at the root of the cause.

I believe that the start of my road back to health came from the decision to take charge of my situation and, rather than blindly follow a suggestion for surgery, work in partnership with the doctor for a treatment that was appropriate, effective and not so costly.

That is a spreading phenomenon. Patients are beginning to do their own research on the Internet, are better prepared when first going to the doctor of their choice, and are insisting on being part of the team deciding what treatment they should begin.

That is a lesson that the marketplace is increasingly teaching to lawyers, partly through clients' insistence that attorneys create budgets for their matters.

Too many lawyers still dismiss the importance or practicality of involving clients in preparing a budget for their own cases. Lawyers typically feel that too many contingencies crop up that a budget can't anticipate, or that a budget would constrain their quality of service, or that a budget is just a client ploy for a lower fee.

If clients, and especially corporate clients, ever accepted such reasoning, they certainly don't today. Every general counsel reports to a CEO whose life is governed by budgets and requires the same of GCs and the matters they handle. That includes every major litigation and transaction.

Outside counsel must understand that requirement or the general counsel will get someone who does.

Just as doctors can benefit from patient involvement in planning a treatment, so can lawyers benefit from accepting informed client judgment for effective budgeting in their matters. The result will be lower costs and a successful engagement -- a win-win situation in medicine and law.


Edward Poll is a speaker, author and board-approved coach to the legal profession. He can be contacted at Also visit his interactive community for lawyers at

Published: Wed, Jul 11, 2012