Medical Mistrust: Can Personal Experience Make You A Better Malpractice Attorney?

Editor's Note: All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. 

When choosing a legal specialization, young lawyers face a number of pressures and influences. Excelling at a particular topic in school, demand for a particular specialization or associated income, and personal interest in a legal area, all come into play, and there’s no right way to choose. One factor that many lawyers consider, though, is their personal experience seeking legal help, especially if the system has failed them. This may be why so many women choose malpractice law as their area of specialization.

Law Meets Medicine

There are several different ways in which the law and medicine intersect, including working in corporate law with food, beverage, and health brands, working in medical malpractice, and representing hospitals and doctors in the courtroom. Even personal injury law intersects with the medical field – and each of these specializations can be tweaked to make your work more fulfilling and to deliver higher quality services.

Lawyers working in a specialized area they have a personal connection to also typically feel more motivated by their work and may have the opportunity to build a public reputation by building a new and innovative niche. For example, after attorney Michael Stevenson’s friend struggled to find proper representation after a motorcycle crash, he channeled his lifelong passion for bicycling into a niche practice as a bicycle attorney. Stevenson subsequently founded Bay Area Bicycle Law, working as a defense attorney for bicycle injury cases, offering just one example about how law and medicine can merge in a specialization based on personal interests. Stevenson’s path also models how many women decide to work in medical malpractice law.

Gender And Medical Neglect

Medical malpractice has the potential to ruin lives, but as with other sensitive topics like sexual harassment, many people are reticent to talk about it, particularly women, who are more vulnerable to malpractice and medical device injury. As Maya Dusenbery explains in her new book, Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick, medicine has a blind-spot when it comes to women. They’re often underrepresented in clinical trials, differences in biology are ignored, and conditions that are overrepresented in women aren’t given research funding. All of this leads to errors when treating women and can push female lawyers into medical law.

One negative experience women lawyers may have experienced that could influence their choice of specialization, and even result in increased skill in the field, is implantation of a defective medical device. Generally tried as a personal injury case, in recent years women have filed suits regarding the sterilization device Essure, vaginal mesh products, and the birth control product NuvaRing. And worst of all, many of these women have struggled to find a lawyer to take their case.

Meeting A Need

One benefit of books like Maya Dusenbery’s, as well as recent documentaries like The Bleeding Edge, which premiered on Netflix in 2018, is that medical malpractice is gaining increased personal and legal attention. This includes not just “typical” medical malpractice, but also poor oversight by the FDA, and other problems in the healthcare system, and patients are pursuing remedies. That means lawyers are more likely to have personal experience with the issue, either relating to their own health or that of a friend or loved one – and those experiences make the need to specialize in that area more obvious and pressing. Simply put, young lawyers choosing a specialization are more sensitive to the concerns of medical malpractice cases because they know what it’s like to be in distress and not be taken seriously.

Experiencing medical malpractice isn’t the only motivation for becoming a malpractice attorney, but personal experience always has an impact on our paths in life. Before you choose a specialty, then, think about your passions. How has injustice shaped your journey? Your answer could help you decide what comes next.

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