What does your attorney need?

You should ask this question at the start of each new attorney-client relationship. I am not referring to the attorney’s area of specialization or their orientation towards defense or plaintiff work. I am speaking about their business and personal preferences, their personality, their desires. Despite having your own (no doubt strong) personality, you must adapt yourself to the communication and business style of the attorney.

I have a good rapport with some attorneys who like to share personal information and do not bother to begin and end emails with salutations. They encourage independent thought, brainstorming of theories; we have a mutually respectful and somewhat casual relationship.

There are also very formal attorneys, recognized immediately by their communication style. Respond to them in the same manner they address you. Begin your emails formally, pay close attention to your grammar and do not try to woo them with your witty asides. These attorneys may have a sense of humor but they do not know you well enough to share it.

Most attorneys have a very specific idea of what they need. They may want a detailed chronology and your personal opinion, but they will keep your opinion in-house. They may ask for a second chronology that does not have your name on the report, or your opinion in that optional column. You are their private resource and they need the opinions of experts to be based on clinical facts, not your intuition or experience. Your value is in your invisibility even though/because they are relying heavily upon you.

Some attorneys simply do not know what they want. They may have a case that falls outside their comfort zone. They may ask you how to proceed with experts, and dependently seek input. While this may be flattering, it is the trickiest case to manage because you cannot cross the line between nursing and the law. You are never responsible for their legal decision-making and you certainly don’t want to be responsible for the wrong opinion.

Be comfortable with yourself. Never accept demeaning or verbally abusive behavior even when putting your ego on the back shelf. This is a challenge for most nurses. We are an opinionated bunch and our opinion is what gives us value. Nonetheless, remember that no matter how close your affiliation with an attorney may become, it is first and foremost a business relationship. Their chief goal is to advise and satisfy their client. You will be most helpful if you ask them what kind of report, what kind of information, and what type of presentation they need from you. Then deliver a product that is unequivocal and fact-based, because the one thing all attorneys need is the truth.

2 Comments   |   Posted in Blog June 11, 2010

2 Comments for this entry

  • Claire Hull, RN,CCM,MSCC, CLNC June 13th, 2010 on 2:39 am

    Great blog post Alice! I think it's important to be comfortable with yourself. Comfortable in your own skin. Then, voicing your opinion or making comments seems natural and without hesitation. My favorite is the next -to last paragraph. The attorney who doesn't know what he wants. That is funny! but it is also sad. Especially if you have done this for any amount of time and know that taking on an injury claim can be very expensive. It's a good idea to know what you want and where you are going at all times lest money start to fly out the window. I to think that is where we come in and lend a helping hand though. I don't really find that they point fingers at me. Usually, they know the mistake is theirs because they are the manager of that case. I think it's just difficult for them when an error is recognized because it is a reflection on them.
    Loved this topic.
    thanks for sharing!

  • Kay S. Hill, RN, BC, CPN, CLNC June 13th, 2010 on 3:33 am

    Love this post. All very good advice. I especially like your comment about nurses being an opinionated bunch! That we are. I think most of us are brilliant chameleons as well. We deal with so many personalities in a day: doctors, ancillary departments, patients, patient families, and most importantly, other opinionated nurses!