I spoke with a legal nurse consultant earlier this week about a new medical malpractice case she wanted me to review. We spent some time talking about the case, which was for a close friend of the nurse. I agreed to review some records and materials for her and we discussed getting together to see if she might be of assistance to our firm. I then asked her how she obtained my name. I ask everyone who calls me how they obtained my name and the sources vary.
In the past month, I have actually had a neurosurgeon refer me a case for a patient he thinks was the victim of medical malpractice from a prior surgeon, and also a family practice doctor who has a similar patient. It was gratifying to know that these doctors believe that other doctors should be held accountable and thought enough of me to refer me a client.

As I reflected on my conversation with the legal nurse consultant, it occurred to me the task of finding the right doctor or lawyer is a challenging one. I am asked often about a particular doctor or hospital, and I am reluctant to criticize any doctor. There are two neurosurgeons in Kansas City that I have referred patients, to as back or neck surgery is a very challenging undertaking and it is very important to obtain informed and competent care. I personally would never undergo back or neck surgery unless I obtained two opinions.

With regard to lawyers, there are some methods of determining whether a particular lawyer is the right lawyer for your matter. Experience is critical. I recently talked to a friend whose relative had suffered a major stroke after having been in the emergency room the day before with stroke-like symptoms. I mentioned to him that I had handled cases like this before and when his family chooses a lawyer, it is critical to make sure that the family does an extensive search for the right lawyer if the case is pursued.

There are a couple of sources to review for attorneys. First, there is a rating service called Martindale-Hubbell. It is operated through a website called martindale.com. Lawyers are rated by their peers for their competence and ethics. I periodically receive emails asking me to rate various lawyers. I take the job seriously and if I know the lawyer by experience or reputation, I rate the lawyer appropriately. The legal nurse consultant had checked us out and found out that my firm is listed as a preeminent firm by Martindale-Hubbell, and that I have the highest rating. She also determined that I had been rated as a Super Lawyer, which is another rating service. For example, there are approximately 10 lawyers in the region who competently handle medical malpractice cases, and all of them are listed in Super Lawyers.

When I first received notification that I was a “super lawyer” I was suspicious that someone was just trying to sell me a fancy plaque for my office. However, I learned that Super Lawyers undertakes a substantial review of lawyers and so it is fairly reliable.

Another valuable resource for finding a good lawyer is to ask a lawyer you know for a referral. Last Friday, an attorney who had referred me a very substantial case was in my office as we had settled the case. We spent some time talking about the importance of having lawyers refer cases to other lawyers. This particular lawyer is very good at what he does and if I have a problem in his area of practice, I refer people to him. He obviously has confidence in me.

Whether you are choosing a lawyer or a doctor, it is important to make sure you have a qualified competent professional. Unfortunately, I am not aware of a good rating service for doctors. There are some websites that have reviews of doctors, but there are only a handful of reviews for most doctors. Doctors are required to report malpractice settlements and judgments to a national data bank, but the public does not have access to this information.

You can also go to a website called Case Net: www.courts.mo.gov/casenet and find out if a doctor has been sued. Just because he or she has been sued does not give you much information. Many cases are filed and dismissed without prejudice, which means no payment was made. If the case dismissed with prejudice, that usually means that there was some kind of settlement or payment. However, even the best doctors and lawyers make mistakes, so that should not be the final determining factor. And there are bad doctors who have not been sued yet.

The decision to hire any professional is an important one, whether it is a lawyer, a doctor or even a plumber. Be sure to take some time to do your homework before you make your final decision.

Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence. Email him at bbuckley@wagblaw.com