Physicians with an interest in legal justice may find providing expert medical opinion or advising a legal team for case preparation to be quite rewarding. Many simply find it to be a great way to supplement a clinical career. Physicians often play a critical role in medical record review for medical malpractice cases, the explanation of medical diagnoses or procedures during trial, and the education and advising of legal teams to appropriately build their case, among other roles.
The main medical-legal consulting positions that physicians hold are either medical expert witness or medical support consultant. Physician medical expert witnesses carefully review medical records and provide medical testimony for depositions or trials. Medical support consultants work in a variety of roles providing overall support to the legal team in bolstering their case, making sure that it is medically accurate, potentially recruiting medical expert witnesses, and researching information for the case. Physicians can be called upon to consult on cases regarding personal injury, mass torts, medical devices, medical malpractice, or pharmaceuticals.
Medical Expert Witness
Medical Support Consultant
▪ Review medical case records
▪ Provide expert medical opinion for depositions or trial
▪ Educate and support the legal team regarding medical background of the case
▪ Help recruit medical expert witnesses
▪ Research background medical information pertinent to the case
▪ Clinical practice
▪ Medical-legal consulting firm
▪ Legal office
▪ Medical-legal consulting firm
It is important to note that medical-legal consultants used to be immune with regard to the testimony they provided. In some states, physicians are now open to litigation as a result of testimony provided in medical malpractice or other cases. Physicians may also be subject to disciplinary action from state medical boards or professional organizations governing their specialty. It’s vital that a physician consulting on a legal case know the risks they may be taking in providing expert testimony.
Job responsibilities in the field of medical-legal consulting can include providing medical expert opinion in a variety of formats and situations including written, email, or telephone review of medical cases.
Various job responsibilities may include:
- Reviewing medical records to ensure healthcare providers followed established standards of care
- Providing expert testimony in court to educate jurors of medical procedures or practices
- Explaining the type and extent of disability or injury sustained in various cases
- Researching, interviewing, and preparing other healthcare providers for expert witness testimonials
- Assisting and educating the legal team in case preparation that is medically accurate
- Traveling for court testimony or depositions
Work Environment and Schedule
Many physicians juggle performing medical-legal consulting part-time along with clinical duties; therefore, the work schedule of this career is flexible. Physicians may be able to provide many of their consultation services remotely via email or telephone correspondence. However, physicians may have to carefully coordinate their clinical schedule if they need to appear in court. Physicians can also exert some control over their career by determining how they are employed. They can work for a medical-legal consulting firm that provides services to attorneys, work directly for a legal firm, or contract out their services independently.
Although some physicians have made full-time careers out of medical-legal consulting, credibility remains higher if they continue practicing clinically in some capacity. At the very least, physicians who transition to full-time careers in medical-legal consulting need to stay up to date on changing guidelines and standards of care in their fields. Those who consult with legal firms often help the firm prep for medical cases but are not called as a medical expert witness during trial. In this case, physician may not be subject to standards that are quite so stringent. Schedule and stress levels may increase closer to trials, as this is when pressure may be exerted from legal teams to assist in ensuring that their team is prepared, or that physicians serving as the medical expert witness are prepared to give their testimony.
Required Skills and Training
Generally, to be an expert medical-legal consultant, it is advantageous to have many years of clinical practice under your belt, as it leads to your perceived ‘expert’ status, or to be distinguished in your field of practice for a particularly novel innovation.
Required skills include:
- Completion of medical training, residency, and any other training pertinent to your field of practice.
- Usually several years of clinical practice and particular expertise in your specialty is highly desired
- Knowledge of the standards of care and practice guidelines governing your field
- No history of disciplinary action
- Good written and verbal communication skills
Residency, Licensure, and Training Requirements
Board certification and an active license are typically required.
Is This a Career for You?
Medical-legal consulting can be a great way to supplement your income as a physician by providing occasional medical expert witness consulting services. Some physicians that have left the field of medicine after longer clinical careers have found that there are no shortage of attorneys looking for physicians to provide consulting services. Those more senior or distinguished in their medical careers may fare particularly well.
Physicians who enter medical-legal consulting need to be strong minded and willing to turn down less than ethical arrangements that may arise and could jeopardize their medical careers. They should always advise based on current evidence and standards of care, and not let financial compensation or any other personal factors interfere with providing a testimony that is as objective as possible. To be in the medical-legal consulting business, you must be comfortable with conflict and legal politics to some degree, be confident in your decisions, and be up-to-date in your practice as a physician in your specialty.