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What Doctors and Lawyers Have In Common (It’s Not Always Something to be Proud Of)

Recently I have been dealing with a grave family illness.  My beloved Uncle Frank, 80 years young but with multiple serious medical issues, was facing the prospect of open heart surgery to save his life.  After a stay at a Long Island hospital, he was transferred to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City in order to access a wider range of possible surgical alternatives.  Without question, he was a high-risk surgical candidate.  A significant percentage of patients with his physical infirmities do not fare well.  But the doctors at this hospital were reputed to be among the most skilled for situations of this type, and we wanted only the best for Uncle Frank.  Nervous himself about the risks, Uncle Frank asked the surgeon to contact me, as his health care proxy, prior to the surgery.  Rather than an in-depth consultation, the surgeon offered only a brief call just prior to starting the procedure.  I provided all my phone numbers and, expressing both my great concern and appreciation, asked him for a status update upon finishing the surgery.  Then all the members of the family crossed our fingers and waited to hear the outcome.

But the call never came.  Hours after the 5 hour surgery should have been over we had heard nothing from the surgeon or the hospital.  The pessimists in the family feared the worst.  More time elapsed.  It was only after family members began calling the surgeon’s office demanding answers that he finally called back.  In a brief conversation, he said the surgery went well and offered little more.  His explanation for keeping us all on pins and needles was that he had gone on to another surgery.  He didn’t say he had been unable to call or had been waiting to call later; he expressed nothing to suggest that he ever planned to call at all.

An air of arrogance seems to surround some professionals, and lawyers can be just as guilty of it as doctors. Neither course of professional training includes schooling on empathy or compassion.  Instead, the focus is on competently handling the work itself.  Without question, professional skills are essential.  If you have a serious medical problem, you want a physician whose knowledge and abilities are exceptional.  If you have a serious legal problem, such as a criminal accusation against you, you want a criminal defense lawyer of the highest caliber.  Being a solid criminal defense attorney requires a matrix of characteristics and assets, including expertise in the statutory law, familiarity with relevant case law, intimate grasp of court rules and procedures, superior negotiation and persuasion skills, verbal and written dexterity, and the ability to strategize quickly on your feet (and to think “outside the box”).

But to be a truly great criminal defense lawyer, you also need to recognize that the people who come to you often do so under the most difficult and stressful times of their lives.  They may be nervous and fearful; they are in the “gun sights” and facing the power and resources of the state or federal government.  Often, their loved ones are equally fearful and alarmed.  A great criminal defense lawyer must not only do a terrific job in court, but must also pay attention to the reality that clients and their families are emotional human beings facing difficult circumstances with a lesser understanding and familiarity with “the system.”  Offering only brief client interactions outside of court or acting as if questions from family are an imposition on a lawyer’s busy schedule is no way to conduct oneself.  Frankly, whether you’re a doctor or a lawyer, if you don’t really care about your clients then it doesn’t matter how good you are in court – you’re selling yourself, and your clients, short.  And that’s nothing to be proud of.

If you or a loved one needs legal representation, feel free to call us.

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