The trusted source for
healthcare information and
Rapport with in-house counsel comes in handy
(Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series on how to get the most from your relationship with both inside and outside counsel. In this article, we look at how to work best with your in-house counsel. Next month's Healthcare Risk Management will explore how to best work with outside counsel.)
A good relationship with in-house counsel will help you both to your jobs better, especially if you are employed by a large, complex health care organization, notes Earl Harcrow, JD, an attorney with the law firm of Haynes & Boone in Fort Worth, TX. The larger the organization, the more likely that you will be working with in-house counsel on many issues, he says.
Conversely, however, a large organization also can mean that the in-house counsel is in a different office in a different city. Even if you can't go out for lunch every week, risk managers should develop a relationship with in-house counsel so that you can communicate when business arises, Harcrow notes. Developing that relationship means taking steps to meet these people and at least become familiar with them, if not friendly, so that there is some common ground before you call them one day with a problem.
Ask the legal department to keep you informed about any changes in state or federal law that could have an impact on the organization, he says. "The more they can let you know about those changes and help you stay current on the law, the better you'll be able to do your job and the better you can work with them when an issue arises," he says. "Request that the legal department add you to any broadcast e-mails or other regular updates they do for their attorneys and paralegals. Get in the loop as much as you can."
Know what legal needs from you
Fred Smith, JD, a partner in the Chicago office of Sedgwick Detert, notes that, as with any relationship, people like it when you make their job easier. When working with in-house counsel, that step might mean getting a clear understanding of what they expect from your department.
"Risk managers should identify and address with in-house counsel the particular internal reporting and other requirements that are important to in-house counsel so that these needs can be met from the very beginning of the relationship," Smith says. "To ensure good communication, the risk manager should coordinate quarterly, or as needed, telephone conferences with in-house counsel to discuss cases, relationship needs, and any other issues."
Smith also suggests that the risk manager should establish a written survey to be sent to in-house counsel on a yearly basis, allowing counsel to comment on the relationship and identify positive elements and problems. The survey also should allow counsel to identify any other needs that have arisen.
Stacy Gulick, JD, an attorney with the law firm of Garfunkel Wild in Great Neck, NY, and a former hospital risk manager, points out that risk managers should be prepared before consulting counsel on any issue. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that you can be less prepared when talking with in-house counsel just you're not being charged by the minute.
"I did this myself as a young risk manager, calling for help from the lawyer before I had all the facts in front of me," she says. "The risk manager needs to call counsel early, but not so early that you don't know the basic facts that the attorney is going to ask you. Take a little time to get information before calling, and that will reduce the amount of back and forth work as you try to answer the attorney's questions."
At the same time, however, don't wait too long to call in-house counsel, Gulick says. Remember that the legal department is at your disposal and you're all on the same team. If you have established a good working relationship with the lawyers and paralegals, you will be able to call for assistance with some confidence that you know when and how to involve them, she adds.
Gulick notes that the best way to work with your in-house counsel is to be well educated regarding legal and liability issues. A good risk manager should be able to converse effectively with counsel and know when to let the legal counsel be responsible.
"There is a lot of overlap in abilities and knowledge, especially with a good risk manager, but there is a time when your counsel needs to take over," she says. "It's usually not cut and dried; but once there are other lawyers involved, once you have involvement with outside regulators, once anyone threatens legal action, legal counsel should take a leading role."
For more information about working well with attorneys, contact: