NJ Bar Health Law Section Announces Programs For 2012-2013

     I am honored to serve as Chair of the New Jersey State Bar Association's Health Law Section for the upcoming year. The Section includes 446 members of the Bar who represent healthcare providers and other clients relating to the health care field. The Section's Board recently approved a schedule of meetings and programs that I'd like to share with you.

  • September 11, 2012 : The aftermath of the SCOTUS decision on the Affordable Care Act (Law Center)
  • October 19, 2012: Annual Health Law Symposium (Seton Hall Law School)
  • November 13, 2012: The View From Trenton After Election Day - NJ Commissioner of Health (invited) (Law Center)
  • December 11, 2012: Holiday reception and roundtable on in-house/outside counsel relationships and alternative fee arrangements (Law Center)
  • January 8, 2013: Brown bag lunch program on Ethics For Health Lawyers (law firms throughout NJ, t/b/d)
  • February 5, 2013: Medical Staff Due Process v. Hospital's Duty As Employer And A Hostile Work Environment (Law Center)
  • March 12, 2013: Joint program with NJ Hospital Association In-House Counsel on Current Tax Exemption Issues (NJHA, Princeton)
  • April 16, 2013: Alternative Dispute Resolution in Healthcare (Law Center)

     These programs are open to all members of the NJSBA. If you are not a member, please consider joining, or request to attend as a guest. In most cases, CLE credits and dinner are provided, and you will not be disappointed. Contact me directly if you have any questions.

Why Not More Corporate ADR?

     A fundamental premise of the alternative dispute resolution ("ADR") movement is that when properly applied, ADR can resolve most disputes faster, cheaper and better than conventional litigation. I'm convinced this is true, as are most ADR practitioners. When asked, most lawyers will say something positive about ADR, but fall short of endorsing its universal application (e.g., "I think ADR is great for the right case").

     This week I noticed two articles that brought home just how far ADR has to go in penetrating the world of corporate and commercial disputes. Writing in Corporate Counsel at LAW.COM, Craig Bleifer listed 10 Questions CEOs Should Ask GCs About the Legal Business Plan. It's a thorough list that attempts to remind GCs that in-house legal operations should make sense from a business standpoint, just like every other major department of the corporation. Notably absent from the article are the words "alternative dispute resolution" or anything else to suggest a rethinking of how the company handles disputes.

     I also noticed an article by Jennifer Smith on the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog entitled Getting More for Less. It covers an announcement by the Association of Corporate Counsel recognizing its 2012 Value Champions, "a handful of business and law firms who came up with innovative ways to boost efficiency and cut legal spending." The focus of the article is on alternative fee arrangements, and does not mention the use of ADR. It also ends by noting that smaller companies (under $5 billion in revenue) can't seem to benefit from alternative fee arrangements, which require "lawyers to predict outcomes and set the appropriate fees." (To be fair, in reviewing the actual ACC list, two of the firm's honored, Whirlpool and Wheeler Trigg, did emphasize an effort to seek "early resolution" of lawsuits, although not necessarily via ADR.)

     Why the devotion to "efficiency" in using law firms but no mention of ADR? The forces that are pushing towards "efficiency" should be having the same effect on increasing the use of ADR in the corporate setting. I think this is not occurring because in-house counsel are still lawyers. They have been trained to think like their outside counsel, are often former outside counsel themselves, and spend much of their time talking with their outside counsel about their corporations' disputes. As for the outside counsel, litigators do what they know best: litigate. In addition, there are more of them now than ever before, all looking for the same work.

     There are ways to bring the forces for efficiency and the value of ADR together. Success fee billing and ADR are made for each other. But more fundamentally, those who run corporations and manage their legal disputes need to be better "sold" on the value of ADR  -  a notion that does not fit neatly within the customs, habits and organizational structures of the law firms these same corporate leaders have come to trust and depend upon.

[Image: Large herd of red deer on Borrobol Estate, Scotland, November 1991, by Evelyn Simak]

ADR Can Help Lawyers "Win Cheap"

     I've been on a mission to convince fellow lawyers that encouraging clients to use mediation, arbitration and other alternative dispute resolution methods is good for clients and their lawyers. According to Dan Hull:

          "Think like a client. The trick now is to win cheap.

For an experienced client, the cost of the lawsuit is part of the "victory" analysis. So is closure--or just getting it over with."

     I can't say it any better, so I won't. Read on at What About Paris?

[Image: $620 in 31 twenty dollar bills, August 14, 2007, by Merzperson]

Changes In Legal Practice And The Use Of ADR

       In case you haven't noticed, the law business - the way law is practiced - has been changing at a rate uncharacteristic of the profession. Financial pressure from the economic downturn is a major contributor to this development. But change was afoot long before the subprime meltdown and stock market nosedive. The viability of the "big law" pyramid model for most purchasers of legal services has been questioned since the starting salaries of newly minted associates crossed into six figures, but only with the disappearance of easy money has awareness of the issue entered the mainstream.

       I am writing about this here because of a fundamental premise of my decision to pursue a career in ADR: that the resolution of most business disputes through litigation waged by opposing traditional model law firms is not an economically viable option for the healthcare industry.  By "traditional model law firms" I mean firms organized under a pyramid structure, deploying all resources available to every aspect of litigating a dispute, and billing on the basis of hourly rates. Instead, I see a growing role for solos, practice groups and firms with no "leverage" imperative, an acceptance of alternatives to hourly rate billing, and a focus on the value of specific tactics rather than an automatic adherence to the traditional litigation roadmap.

       For some time, I have been following the ideas on these and related topics advanced by the bloggers linked on the left side bar of this post under the heading "Recommended Legal Practice Blogs." They each have a unique focus and style, but all are worth a look. Patrick Lamb at In Search Of Perfect Client Service and Dan Hull at What About Paris? (f/k/a What About Clients?) are consistent voices for a new, client centered approach to legal practice emphasizing service and value. I find myself agreeing with almost everything they say. Which brings me to the point of this post.

       Even among the most forward thinking voices in the legal blogosphere, the potentially expanded role of ADR in carrying out the lawyer's goals of improving client service and maximizing value is not given the attention it deserves. Almost all litigated cases are settled. The business of law is much more about settling disputes than it is about litigating cases. Yet most lawyers see it the other way around. Early case evaluations, pre-claim mediation, ad hoc arbitration and success fees tied to settlement (and litigation cost savings) need to be pursued along with the more commonly deployed pre-trial mediation. Indeed, I would expect this initiative to be at the very core of a value based approach to legal practice.

       Since entering the ADR field, I have wondered about the inherent conflict between the interests of the lawyer engaged on an hourly fee basis and the interests of the client in achieving the most economically efficient result. Conventional wisdom says that a good (and smart) lawyer will always forsake the opportunity to earn a larger fee in favor of achieving the best economic result for the client - because a well served client will be back for the next case and sing your praises to others. Unfortunately, I'm not sure this maxim is followed as often as we might think. It is not that most lawyers are consciously calculating their own benefit to the detriment of their clients. Instead, most lawyers are simply thinking in the way they were trained, and in the way they are encouraged to think by the traditional legal model they work within.

       Most lawyers operating in the traditional legal model are like most doctors practicing in a traditional, healthcare setting with fully insured patients. When a patient presents with a complaint, the doctor deploys whatever resources are at his or her disposal to diagnose and cure the problem. Whether it is consultations with specialists, diagnostic tests and procedures, medications, surgeries or other therapies, the limits of modern medicine are the only constraint. For lawyers, depositions are like CAT Scans. It seems you can never be faulted for doing one too many.

       But just as doctors have come to see the economic erosion of their traditional model of practice, so must lawyers embrace what Patrick Lamb, Dan Hull and others have been saying for years now. I'm just suggesting that the proactive use of ADR should be a bigger part of that story.

       [Image: Change, by Felix Burton, May 17, 2005]