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Legal Speak

Need a Lawyer? Make Sure It’s the Right One

Published August 20, 2013 7:17 AM by Tony DeWitt
There was a great commercial many years ago by AAMCO, an automotive company, that featured a hapless mechanic saying "let me try boss, I always wanted to fix a transmission." The commercial's spokesperson looked like the kind of guy who couldn't fix a paperclip. The commercial was funny but it made a point. When something is broken, you take it to someone who knows how to fix it.

Several years ago I went to a conference that was represented to be a conference on healthcare law related to false billing. I assumed the attendees would be - like myself - legal practitioners.

Instead, when I arrived I found myself in the company of doctors, billing office coordinators, coders and hospital administrators. Over the course of the two-day seminar these folks sat through horror story after horror story about 31 USC § 3729, the federal False Claims Act. These folks paid $500 to come get the pants scared off of them.

On the last day the partners of the law firm laid out their corporate compliance program, something they represented as a complete solution to the problems of the False Claims Act, and demonstrated how they would come in, do an audit, and protect the healthcare providers from spurious claims that they had made simple billing errors that were somehow fraudulent.

As a marketing strategy for legal services it was top notch because the firm brought in one of the most successful False Claims Act attorneys in the country to talk about all the money he made off companies that cheated the government. However, it reminded me of the advice that business people offer: find a need and then fill it. Essentially the company was creating the need (defense against false claims) and offering a turn key system to address all the possible ways that a company could get sued.

As a general principle, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. While every healthcare provider (especially larger group medical practices and chains of skilled nursing facilities) needs a corporate compliance plan, there is no "one size fits all" approach that will work. And if what you need is a litigator, these firms that offer compliance expertise are probably not your best bet.

Moreover, there are some firms that have a recognized expertise in this area (Jones Day, Katten Muchin Rosenman,Ropes and Gray, WilmerHale, etc.) and others that merely list the area on their website without having a solid track record in the area. In a False Claims Act case you will need someone with knowledge of the many technical defenses that can apply.

Most folks wouldn't go to a podiatrist and, thinking he's a nice guy, let him perform brain surgery. But people do that with lawyers every day. Always make sure that any lawyer you hire has actually handled similar cases or can affiliate with someone who has. The corporation you save may be your own.

(The author has no relationship with any of the law firms mentioned above, other than the fact that several of them have opposed him honorably in Fals
posted by Tony DeWitt

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About this Blog


    A.L. "Tony" DeWitt, RRT, CRT, JD, FAARC
    Occupation: Attorney
    Setting: Jefferson City, Mo.
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