This week I participated in a roundtable discussion with young lawyers about what it is like to be a medical malpractice lawyer. Their interest, and those of other lawyers I have spoken with, have a recurring theme. How does a lawyer interested in medical malpractice get into this area of law? Whether the transition is from a similar background of litigation or personal injury practice or from an unrelated practice area, there are some key questions you should ask yourself.
1. Do I enjoy litigation? Medical malpractice law needs lawyers who enjoy the entire litigation process from initial investigation through to trial. If having the other side disagree with your position is invigorating, this may be the practice for you.
2. Does health and medicine interest me? The typical day will see you more often working to understand medical concepts than legal ones. This practice area offers a nice balance of law and medicine.
3. Am I prepared to work closely with people facing significant challenges to their health and daily function? Plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases need your sound legal advice, but they also need your patience and understanding as they adapt to the impact of their injuries and navigate their way through feelings of breach of trust by those to whom they entrusted their care.
4. Can I tolerate a degree of risk? Not every medical malpractice case is a winner. Even those that are can be very risky. Although you will learn how to assess and manage risks to a great extent, you must be comfortable guiding your clients and assuming some of the risk of loss.
5. Can I find support and mentorship as I learn? Like many other areas of law, medical malpractice requires a degree of expertise. Given its high risk nature, you should ensure you have a good mentor to whom you can look for guidance. The good news is that the medical malpractice bar is a welcoming group of lawyers who are more than happy to help.
The best advice I can give is to reach out to someone who is practicing in this area. A short coffee chat can give you insights that no amount of online research will provide. Go ahead – take the risk.