You’ve received years of training to become an expert in your field, but little to no training on how to go about finding a job and ensuring that contract terms are fair and equitable.
Though you may be able to successfully navigate the process of finding your first practice on your own, you may not have adequate knowledge of physician contracts to successfully ensure your interests are fully protected. That’s why it’s highly advisable to retain a health care contract attorney when it comes time to review a contract. It is well worth spending a few hundred dollars before signing a contract worth millions of dollars. The employer had the contract drawn up and reviewed by their attorney to protect their interests….there is no reason you shouldn’t do the same.
But with no shortage of attorney options, how do you choose the best option? Here are some key factors to consider as you make your selection.
The first thing you should know is that attorneys specialize just like physicians. Just like you don’t want to go to a pediatrician to get a colonoscopy, you don’t want to select an attorney that specializes in family law to review your health care contract.
Without having reviewed a large number of physician contracts previously, nor being up-to-date on the multitude of changes taking place within the health care industry, there is much that can be overlooked.
All too often, we see physicians use their friend/cousin/neighbor who doesn’t specialize in health care contracts just to save a few dollars on the review. Remember: This contract is worth millions of dollars over the course of your career and should be treated as such.
We’re frequently asked if the attorney needs to be located in the area where the physician will practice. The simple answer is no.
The reality is that most physician contracts are standard nationwide with regards to content and structure. The clauses that may vary by state (such as restrictive covenants) can all be researched via case law that’s accessible by any attorney, no matter the location. This recommendation would be different if you were challenging or being challenged by the employer for a contract you had already signed. But for the purpose of simply evaluating a contract before signature, physical location has little bearing. Let experience instead be the deciding factor.
It is very important to know what actual services will be provided as part of your contract review - specifically how the findings are shared, your access to the attorney, and if you will receive negotiation assistance.
Will the attorney simply review your contract and send over their feedback via notes? Are you responsible for negotiating on you own? Will you have access to the attorney via phone following the review to discuss the findings? Does the attorney also have access to market compensation data to evaluate the offer from a financial perspective?
Most attorney fee structure options will fall into one of two categories: flat rate or hourly. This is especially important to note considering not only the potential back-and-forth between you and the attorney with regards to contract questions, but also the potential back-and-forth between you and the employer if negotiations ensue.
That’s not to say you should automatically dismiss hourly arrangement options; just be aware that the hours can quickly add up and the rate should be evaluated accordingly. You don’t want to select an attorney and then be dissuaded from using their services to the fullest out of fear of the running clock.
Jeff Hinds, MHA is president of Premier Physician Agency, LLC, a national consulting firm specializing in physician job search and contracts.