I spent the better part of last week railing against (and about) doctors.  This is not a rant against the medical profession, although it may seem so.  Rather, it is a comparative view of our two little guild monopolies and their mirror-image foibles.

My mother was hospitalized recently, and I very quickly concluded that specialists don’t look outside their own particular silo of practice to see how various problems interact.  The endocrinologist doesn’t pay much attention to pulmonology, the pulmonologist has nothing to do with anything not pertaining directly to breathing, and the GP just shrugs and points to the specialists, as if to say “I dunno“.  It seems that only extraordinary physicians of whatever type actually talk to the patient.

Perhaps it’s because they fear ATLA members coming after them in the night with torches and pitchforks, but their lack of a broader view diminishes treatment value.  If nobody is coordinating the specialists, there is no continuity, and the patient takes longer to heal.  (Not to mention, her lawyer son tries like mad to come up with a cause of action.)

It’s excruciatingly simple, folks.  The lungs, the heart, the glands, the feet… all those systems are interconnected.  One body, one person, one whole.  So how about treating the patient rather than the symptom?  There is certainly merit in a doctor deferring to experts outside his specialty—nobody wants a radiologist to wield a scalpel—but there is far too little holistic treatment going on in our hospitals.  (Exception: Osteopaths.  An entire degree classification dedicated to holistic treatment.)

Lawyers seem to have the opposite problem.  We have far too much holistic representation going on.  Lots of general practice attorneys—and even many specialists — are too hesitant to admit that a client’s needs go beyond their expertise and they have to call in outside help.  Very often we want too much to be all things to all people.

But the best lawyers recognize that all the research they have available to them doesn’t make up for a solid consultation with a Sherpa.2

A close friend called me a while back to ask if I would represent her husband in a med-mal case.  Hell no, I told her.  Sure, I know in general how to do it, but you need a whole lot more expertise than I can offer.

I referred it to a Sherpa, with a promise to second chair if it came to trial.  Sure, I could have studied up, researched into the wee hours of every night for the next month, and probably gotten a paltry settlement.  The wiser course of action was to look to my colleagues for help.

The first rule in the book—literally, the first—demands legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.  Going it alone isn’t going to reach that level.  (I’m thrilled every day when I see so many colleagues on the Missouri Solo & Small Firm Listserv asking seemingly inane questions.  They are only inane to someone who works in a particular arena regularly.  To the rest of us, the questions are completely valid.)

The takeway: don’t be afraid to reach out for help.  Refer it to a colleague.  Ask for guidance from others.  Call a Sherpa.

I don’t look much like anybody from Nepal (except perhaps this very good-looking yak)…


… but a client told me a while back that he “sure (was) glad to have a Sherpa along with us on this thing.”  Before you tackle that issue in China or Germany or Mexico yourself, pick up the phone.  Yes, I’m going to charge you, just as you’re going to charge your client.  But your client will pay a whole lot less—and with significantly less risk.

Of course, ethical rules prohibit statements such as “I specialize in traffic tickets” or “I’m a probate specialist” because they might lead the public to believe we have more expertise than we really do.  But let’s be real.  When we refer a client, we ask each other, “who do we know who specializes in XYZ?”  It makes far more sense for us to describe our specialty than to post some inane statement like “practice limited to tax matters”.  It’s just plain silly, but we have to accept the limitation in light of disciplinary actions where somebody claimed expertise they didn’t actually have.  I’ve taken to generalities like “I handle cross-border issues in litigation.”  That indicates to people that I specialize in the stuff.  I just can’t say I specialize in the stuff.  The mind reels.

Sherpa:  a mountain guide in the Himalayas, relied upon by even the most experienced climbers for their skill, knowledge, and ability to function at high altitudes.  Without a Sherpa named Tenzig Norgay (read: badass), Sir Edmund Hilary would have simply been simply Ed from Auckland, a frozen fellow halfway up the side of Mount Everest.


Photo credits:  both public domain images via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Slos_on_a_farm.jpg and https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bos_grunniens_at_Letdar_on_Annapurna_Circuit.jpg respectively.