Physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapist assistants (PTAs) practice in an environment that requires compliance with health care laws, rules, and regulations, and that necessitates attention to legal issues that arise in working for and/or running a business.
For assistance with such legal matters, PTs and PTAs should seek advice of legal counsel that can review their unique situation and provide advice tailored to the specific facts.
Please note that APTA is unable to provide legal advice or guidance or referrals to specific attorneys.
Securing Legal Counsel
Where to Start?
The American Bar Association (ABA) Consumer's Guide to Legal Help provides information on locating counsel. Also see information below on finding an attorney.
One Size Doesn't Fit All
Some attorneys specialize in malpractice, while others may specialize in human resources issues or reimbursement issues. Similarly, some attorneys may be equipped to represent clients in court or mediation, while others may have no courtroom or mediation experience at all. Further, some lawyers do transactional work only-such as drafting contracts or negotiating mergers, joint ventures, or acquisitions.
Review Your Specific Situation
Before selecting an attorney to help with your specific situation, be clear on your specific legal needs. If you are under investigation or fear you soon might be, for example, you'll likely need a litigator with experience in defending health care providers. Conversely, should your legal question or concern be related to how you run your practice's business, a corporate health care attorney may be your best bet. If you need help with a regulatory matter, consider an attorney with health care-related regulatory experience.
Finding an Attorney
Network. In general, the best way to locate a lawyer is by way of a recommendation from someone you know and trust, so networking is a good first step. Reach out and ask your colleagues for referrals to lawyers they've worked with in the past that did a good job.
Use the Internet. There are a number of Web sites that can help you find an attorney. (Please note: None of the resources listed below are endorsed by APTA, and the appearance of a link on this page doesn't imply endorsement.)
Ask questions. Once you've identified some prospective attorneys, be sure to ask each of them a similar list of questions so that you are comparing "apples to apples" in your decision-making process. Ask as many questions as you need to in order to be sure an attorney has the right mix of skills and expertise for your specific situation, that he/she will be responsive, and that you'll be comfortable working with he or she. Questions may include, but should not be limited to:
- Tell me about your experience with my kind of legal concern.
- Have you worked with physical therapists before?
- Have you worked with a [insert your practice-type - e.g. an outpatient pediatric physical therapy clinic] before?
- How long have you been practicing?
- How, and how often, do you communicate with your clients?
Buyer Beware. If something sounds too good to be true it probably is. Don't be taken in. Ask for concrete examples of accomplishments related to issues such as the one you are facing.
Pay attention to words and deeds. If someone makes statements or engages in actions that make you questions their ethics, their expertise, their professionalism, or their ability to really understand your issue, you probably should consider your decision to do business with them. Pay attention to your intuition, if you get a bad "vibe" from someone or he or she doesn't inspire your trust, you probably shouldn't do business with them.
Do Your Due Diligence. Don't just take someone's word for it when it comes to credentials and expertise. A verification of credentials and expertise can include, but is not necessarily limited to: making sure the person is properly licensed to practice, asking if he/she is a member of the American Health Lawyers Association or any other professional associations, and then checking those memberships, and contacting client references.
Be clear about how you will be billed. Legal fees can represent a significant financial investment, so find out the fee schedule and payment options up front and weigh them carefully so you won't be surprised when the bill for services arrives later. Also, don't be afraid to try and negotiate the billing rate and the terms of billing - e.g. are you going to be billed every 15 minutes (1/4 hour billing) or every six minutes (1/10 hour billing).
Remember that a low fee isn't everything. Making a decision to work with an attorney solely based on a low fee can sometimes turn out to be a very expensive choice. Keep in mind that responsiveness, efficiency, and experience are also important decision-making criteria.
Please note: The information provided is offered for general informational purposes only. It is not offered or intended, nor should it be relied upon, as legal advice. Legal doctrines, statutes, and case law vary from state to state. You should consult with your own attorney for specific legal advice on particular legal issues.