The words doctor and lawyer in the same sentence often spells malpractice. Today, however, I read a beautiful article that discusses how doctors are using legal literacy to improve the overall health of their patients. It offers delightful insights about the power of the law and offers some powerful parallels for how your business could benefit too.
The concept is simple. In treating patients doctors look beyond the symptoms to the underlying source of the problem on the belief that most health problems are related to diet, living conditions and stress. In business terms what they’re doing can be equated to a classic “quality analysis.”
Take for example the premature baby whose diet consisted of oatmeal so she was unable to grow and gain the weight she should. It turns out the mother’s food stamp application got caught in red tape. The doctors recognized that legal assistance was available to help this poor woman and they put her in touch with a paralegal that was able to immediately secure baby formula, resolve the food stamp logjam, and provide cash assistance. It wasn’t the kind of prescription you get filled at a pharmacy. But as a result of the referral, the mother was able to regroup and provide her baby with the nutrition she desperately needed for healthy development.
Then there was the case of the 16-year hold who was flunking out of school. He had a learning disability that wasn’t being properly diagnosed. The doctor’s referral to legal aid led to Medicaid coverage for the necessary neuropsychological exam. Those test results were instrumental in allowing the school to create an appropriate learning program. The 16-year old began to thrive academically and now actually likes school. We all know that the ability to learn can open doors, so in many ways we could say the neuropsychological exam helped save his life.
These example show how being able to successfully navigate the legal system and knowing what questions to ask and buttons to push helped improve the medical health and lives of patients. It happened because doctors became “better at spotting underlying threats to health and lawyers engaged in . . . ‘preventive law.‘”
Analogous to personal health, many business ills can be traced to a “diet” of miscommunications and misunderstandings, for example, “living conditions” consisting of inconsistently applied policies or contract terms, harassment, or discrimination; and “stress” related to more legal requirements than you have time to comply with.
Imagine the benefits and improved business health if more business owners, managers, executives and entrepreneurs were like these doctors and able to ask the right questions and push the right buttons? They’d be able to make their businesses healthier.
In knowing what legal buttons to push I’m not talking about a TARP-like, megabucks-food-stamp-handout. I’m talking about nuts and bolts legal concepts that are often under-utilized. Applying those concepts means that a liability, for example, could be side stepped or a smoking gun communication could be avoided. Here are a few examples:
- You could strengthen the “muscle tone” of your contracts and compliance programs.
- You could improve the communications “nerve centers” that alert you to a legal risk sooner, rather than later, before your options become narrower and more expensive.
- You could “see” the legal risks better and manage them before they “metastasize” and manage you.
- You could exercise more market power by “flexing” intellectual property rights.
- You might even look forward to conversations with your attorney.
OK, that last one might take some time. But you get the picture. With some successes under your belt you’ll be more inclined to view your lawyer as a valuable member of your “preventive health” management team instead of a necessary evil who picks up the pieces after a bad fall.
What’s in your management suite? How good are your business decision makers at spotting the underlying legal issues that can undermine the success of your business and working with lawyers proactively?