• How to Choose a Lawyer to Review Your Physician Employment Contract

    Choosing an attorney with health care and contracting experience to review your contract with you is the first step to success. Before hiring a lawyer, you need to know what to ask about their: 

    You should hire a lawyer as you begin your job search or when you know a contract renewal period is approaching. This will allow you to establish a relationship before you have a contract in hand.

    Asking About Experience

    Why ask about a lawyer's experience

    Much like physicians, attorneys specialize in certain areas of law. You’ll want to find a health care attorney with experience in physician employment contracts. Your lawyer must be able to ask the right questions on physician employment–specific topics and to inform you what may be missing or nonstandard in your contract compared with other physician contracts they have reviewed. 

    Although all contracts share common features, physician contracts have unique provisions that require expertise of counsel, just as real estate contracts require review by a real estate lawyer.

    Additionally, contract lawyers are generally used to making deals and seeking a win-win outcome. Sometimes using a lawyer with a litigation background can backfire on a physician because an overly aggressive or litigious approach does not always send the right message in a contract negotiation.

    Questions to ask

    • How long has the lawyer been practicing law?
    • What percentage of the lawyer's practice is composed of work related to health care and physician employment contracts?
    • Does the lawyer both review and draft physician contracts?
    • How many contracts does the lawyer draft or review monthly or annually?
    • Does the lawyer have experience drafting or reviewing contracts for the type of setting in which you’ll be working (e.g., hospital, independent practice, academic health center)?
    • Does the lawyer have experience representing physician practices, health systems, or other physician employers?
    • Can the lawyer provide references (if not referred by another client)?
    • What issues does the lawyer recommend focusing on during the contract review?

    What to look for in the responses

    Your health care lawyer should be willing and able to respond to questions about their experience in reviewing health care contracts. Answers to many of your questions may be available on their firm’s website, which will usually state the type of clients they represent as well as their area of expertise. You should also look for articles or presentations they have done related to physician contract issues.

    Asking About Practice Style

    Why ask about a lawyer’s style

    Select an attorney with whom you are comfortable and whose professional judgment you trust. You should understand what to expect as you work with the attorney so you don’t later feel that you aren’t getting what you thought you were paying for. 

    You should also be sensitive to how the lawyer’s style when working with the employer can reflect on you. An overly aggressive or curt lawyer can send the wrong message in a friendly contract negotiation. Similarly, a lawyer who presents a long list of demands or changes without first encouraging you to discuss them with the employer can negatively impact both the negotiation process and any future employment relationship.

    Questions to ask

    • How will the attorney work with you to review the contract and advise you as you negotiate (e.g., working with you to develop a list of issues to discuss with the employer, coaching you on how to negotiate, redlining the agreement to send to the employer, reaching out to counsel directly)?
    • How would the lawyer describe their style of negotiation?
    • What items in the employment contract does the lawyer think are most important for you to understand and discuss with the employer?
    • What guidance would the lawyer offer if the employer will not make any changes?
    • How quickly does the lawyer respond to inquiries from clients?
    • How many times should you expect to meet or exchange calls with the lawyer during the process?
    • Once you receive your contract, how long will it take the attorney to review and provide you feedback?

    What to look for in the responses

    The attorney should provide you with clear expectations about how you will work together. Make sure they address how they will communicate with you during the process, and what approach they will take when negotiating.

    Asking About Cost to Hire

    Why ask about a laywer's cost for services

    You need to understand what you can expect to spend as you work together in the contracting process and be able to compare services before selecting an attorney. 

    Questions to ask

    • What fee structure will the lawyer use for the work being performed?
    • Are fees discounted for residents/fellows?
    • What is the anticipated amount of time the lawyer will spend on the contract process?
    • How is time billed (e.g., per hour or per minute increments)? 

    What to look for in the responses

    You want to clearly understand the rate the attorney will bill, about how many billable hours to expect, and when you will be billed. A lot of lawyers charge a flat fee, which can leave you paying for time you never use. For physicians joining employers that use a contract form in which little can be negotiated, the lawyer’s role will be to review and highlight issues in the contract the physician should know about and fully understand. Under these circumstances, the time commitment will be much less than that for an intense negotiation process.

    In general, lawyers in large firms are likely to charge more for their services than a smaller law practice or solo lawyer. Shopping around to compare costs and services is likely worth your time.

    How do I find a lawyer?

    • Access attorneys through Resolve. Use code AAFP10 for a 10% discount.
    • Reach out to your AAFP chapter for recommendations
    • Talk with other physicians
    • City bar associations, health law section
    • State health care bar associations

    Befor you meet with a lawyer, be prepared to tell them:

    1. Specific goals (e.g., to be able to continue in practice in the same geographic area after leaving this job, to be able to leave easily because of a spouse relocation, to be able to control schedule for balance with family needs, and ability to define your scope of practice)
    2. Specific concerns (e.g., previous bad experience, things you have heard about the employer)
    3. Specific promises the employer made during an interview or otherwise on which you may be relying as you decide whether to take the job

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