Every profession is facing the impact of baby boomers retiring – and trial lawyers are certainly no exception. At the PLUS Conference in April 2014, I was delighted to be part of a panel discussing a variety of topics impacting the medical malpractice community today, including the “changing of the guard” in defending these cases.
While I have tried several malpractice cases in my 20 years of practice, I don’t have nearly the number of verdicts under my belt as the senior trial attorneys did at my age. This reality is mostly the result of carriers and hospitals insisting on having the most experienced attorneys, those with whom they are familiar, try their cases. Such insistence is not always limited to high-exposure cases, and sometimes it occurs because the attorney is averse to losing the client relationship.
Naturally, these are good risk management and business decisions. However, it seems that the future of trials was not fully contemplated. Many of those “senior” trial lawyers are now “senior” citizens who are retiring and leaving behind less experienced though equally competent attorneys to handle the trials. Recognizing this problem has led many carriers and medical facilities to allow the next generation of trial attorneys to try their cases, or even pay the cost of second chair for those attorneys.
Some law firms, including Wilson Elser, have developed internal training programs specifically geared for medical malpractice cases. Of course, CLE credit is awarded for participation by all attorneys. In addition, Wilson Elser maintains a Senior Trial Group of its most experienced trial attorneys, who offer advice on significant and complex cases that may require more experienced analysis. The group members share their trial acumen and skills with select groups of associates and of-counsel professionals.
The incentive, and perhaps the responsibility, for the law firm is to maintain and even enhance the client relationship as the senior attorney nears retirement.
It is imperative that we as a community – lawyers, clients and claims professionals – join the drive to maintain excellence in trial advocacy for medical malpractice cases.