Physician Contract Review: Do you Need a Formal Legal Consultation?

Physician Contract Review: Do you Need a Formal Legal Consultation?

It is unbelievable to consider the dearth of training the average physician receives regarding contracts.

Author: Robert A Felberg MD

Topic: Physician Contracts

Keywords: Physician employment contracts, Doctor contract negotiation, Doctor contract lawyer attorney

From the moment you enter practice, you are expected to understand, abide, and base your entire career on the content of contracts that you have no realistic hope of understanding. It’s almost like the gullible people you see on television who lose their homes after signing subprime mortgages or get gouged agreeing to pay-day loans at 35% interest. As a physician, you are accustomed to being the smartest person in the room, but you are not even close to being the expert when it comes to legal matters. Try this exercise- next time you are completing your contract look around the room and determine who is the lowest informed individual. I’m going to guess you won’t be happy with the answer.

[Introduction: This is part of a series delving into complicated professional and medical business skills that are vital to physician success, but are not covered as part of your training. Presented by physician advocates LLC, this is not intended to replace legal advice. Please sign up for our newsletter to keep informed and consider joining us for our upcoming CME approved seminar.]

Do you need a legal review of your contract? That’s as simple as asking if you should perform heart transplant surgery on yourself? You’d have to be crazy to leave something this vital to the success of your career up to the opinion of an untrained individual- You!   Of course, your future employer loves it when you don’t have the contract reviewed…

Here’s the facts, most attorneys are just as intelligent as you are.   They just chose to pursue another field that requires years of intense study, admission into a highly competitive (and expensive!)  graduate school, passing a notoriously difficult licensing exam, years of experience and continuous education. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I know that attorneys and physicians are natural enemies akin to giant squids and whales, but their level of skill and training does deserve respect. And, there’s two other similarities that physicians and attorneys share: 1. Everyone thinks they can perform their job with a Google search. 2. No one wants to pay for the expertise, service, and peace of mind that comes from sage advice.

Here are some useful hints to help you in your search for legal review of your physician contract

  • Choose a firm that specializes in physician contracts. Your brother-in-law or friend of a friend may be great attorneys, but that doesn’t mean they are the best for the job. You are looking for a group that sees hundreds or thousands of medical contracts, so they have a large database of elements and experience to draw upon. You also want someone who will really look into your contract with a particular interest in the field, rather than a less than dedicated individual skimming over for just the basics.
  • The price should be reasonable. Don’t let the cost of the review prevent you from seeking expert advice. The expense of most reviews are less than $1500. That is cheap compared to having to find a new position and buying a new home from a poorly executed contract! You’ll need to check with your accountant, but some legal fees may also be tax deductible.
  • The negotiation is usually over by the time the contract is printed and ready to be signed. This is a huge mistake that many physicians make! They accept an offer, receive a contract, and then think it’s time to start bargaining. There’s three problems with this approach-   1. The salary value has been securely anchored.    2. The contract and position has already been presented and approved by the physician recruitment committee, human resources, and the overseeing board. If anything financially related changes, your boss and concerned parties will need to go through committee again with reduced enthusiasm. 3. Your reputation is at risk by seemingly changing an agreed upon deal. Certainly, you can attempt to negotiate salary after the contract is drawn up, but you will be at a disadvantage. Instead, get your market value report, bone up your negotiation skills, take a course designed for physicians, and conclude your successful negotiation first. Then celebrate by signing on the dotted line, after you’ve had your contract reviewed.
  • Be sure to discuss the following items with your legal team.    (note: future posts will review each of these elements, so please sign up for our newsletter for updates)
    • Restrictive Covenant
    • Cure Provisions
    • Evergreen Provisions
    • Clear Explanation of Salary and Productivity Terms
    • Grounds for Termination
    • Malpractice Coverage, Terms, and Tail
    • Vesting Period for Benefits
    • Partnership or Practice Buy-in Provisions

Every physician’s career is dominated by contracts, even if they aren’t fully aware of it. When it comes to contracts, you want the best and the brightest on your side. Ensuring you are getting a fair deal means getting a specialized and high-quality legal evaluation. Protect your interests and the investment you made in yourself and your education. Negotiate hard and then get your contract reviewed!

What are your thoughts? Did you ever make the mistake of not getting your contract reviewed only to find you were treated unfairly? Do you have contract questions? Any great experiences of a contract review that caught your employer in a sneaky attempt to hide something from you? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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