From Doctor to Defendant: Trusting Our Attorney (Part 4 of 4)

FOLLOW THE ATTORNEY'S ADVICE. We all appreciate being heard and agree that listening is an art practiced by two. Because our case is played out in the unfamiliar territory of the court, we must sharpen our listening skills and keep our minds open to what our defense attorneys advise about the strategies, approaches, and timing necessary for a successful defense. We have an obligation to ask questions if we do not understand their advice or if it seems inappropriate or in conflict with common sense.

Just as we expect our lawyers to answer our telephone calls and to keep us in the loop regarding progress in our medical malpractice lawsuit, so we should answer their calls and correspondence in a timely manner. Ignoring reminders that we are currently defendants may seem to relieve us of stress but it can harm our case. Open lines of communication with our lawyer guarantee that they will accept and be forthright with us as team members.

Our initial responsibility may be limited to gathering the information necessary for the lawyers to begin to prepare our defense. We must read over carefully every document we copy and forward to them. Do chart notes exist that we were supposed to, but did not, countersign? Do nurses' or house-staff notes exist that we failed to review? Do laboratory results or radiology reports exist that we over-looked or skimmed over at the time of the incident? Neither we, nor our lawyers, want to be surprised about unexpected future testimony on such issues by other participants in the case. We need to prepare for our depositions in ways specified by our attorneys.

We may be asked to help them choose our experts but will be warned to refrain from contacting them ourselves. We may be asked to help lawyers prepare for the depositions of both the defense and plaintiff experts by researching and formulating appropriate questions. We can also obtain useful background material on the reputations, credentials, and publications of potential experts. Our careful objective review of all depositions—our own and those of the experts—is essential. Our extensive training, experience, and familiarity with the vocabulary and the processes of medicine prepare us to identify and note any errors or omissions in these case documents.

Our attorney may recommend that we engage in formal instruction or coaching, if we go to trial, to prepare us for the experience. We may also be asked to help in the development of visual aids for the education of the jury. Our attorneys relying on our familiarity with all the relevant documentation may require our reviewing hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pages of testimony and records. By working closely with our attorneys, we can anticipate the amount of work and time that our involvement will require at each of these different phases and to plan our work schedule accordingly.

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