Learning from Doctors--How to Not Be Sued

Posted by Stephen M. Nipper at October 6, 2005 12:30 AM

Upon the recommendation of a friend, I recently picked up a copy of the audiobook (via for Malcolm Gladwell's book entitled "Blink."  [ Link]

Blink is about (in my own words) gut impressions...reading people, reading situations...going with your intuition.  It is a very fascinating read (listen).  Via Amazon you can even read an excerpt that gives you a good sense of what the book is about.  Anyway...

Section five of the book is entitled "Listening to Doctors."

[Replace the word doctor with the word lawyer in the rest of this post ( is painful to do that, but trust me).] 

In that section, Gladwell talks about various studies on the incidences of malpractice among doctors.  Do you know what studies show?  They show (paraphrasing Gladwell) that the risk of being sued for malpractice has little to do with the number of mistakes you, in fact there is another element. 

That element the patients were treated on a personal level by their doctor.  Did they have a relationship with their doctor?  Was he snotty with them?  Negative?  Condescending?

One study Gladwell mentions provides some interesting pointers to all of us lawyers...doctors who spent even a few minutes longer in consultations with patients, who gave orienting comments explaining the process, who were active listeners and who had a sense of humor/tried to be funny were much much much less likely to be sued for malpractice even though they made just as many mistakes as other doctors (who WERE sued).

Gladwell points out that it is all about your tone of voice with your clients, are you dominant or concerned?  That one aspect (tone of voice) makes all the difference in the world. are you treating your clients these days? How long does it take to you return a client's phone call? When was the last time you sat down with a client to actually explain your opinion letter to them?

Update: I noticed that Ernie Svenson mentioned Blink a few months ago in a post entitled "Strange book recommendation for lawyers."

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