I wouldn’t recommend it as a hobby, but a lot can be learned from spending some inpatient time in a hospital. First, the impact of how you are treated. A compassionate nurse, who seems to actually care not only about how you are doing, but even about who you are, can make a hospital stay if not exactly pleasant, at least much more bearable. Their taking the time to speak with you, listen to you, and even get to know you a bit can change your mood, perhaps even improve your recovery. The same is true of other health care practitioners, but nurses are at the heart of the overall, hour to hour patient care.
The same is true in a law firm environment. Clients want regular, honest, and caring communication. Clients who receive phone calls or emails to let them know what has happened in their cases feel that they matter to their attorneys. They also appreciate receiving get well cards, or calls to see how their recovery is going. Treating them as unique, important people is meaningful to them, and helps develop positive, mutually beneficial attorney/client relationships. Going long intervals with no communication at all, or communicating without any sincere sense of caring about them as people, leaves them feeling like numbers and not like people. This creates very poor attorney/client relationships, sometimes unresolvable problems, termination of relationships, and, at worst, malpractice claims.
Second, consider the roles that are played in a hospital environment. There are so many unique positions, somewhat like a very large professional sports team. A hospital is staffed by attending physicians, residents, surgeons, nurses and nurse practitioners, technicians, nutritionists, social workers, maintenance employees, and so many more. Each person in the hospital has a unique role, and the hospital could not operate properly without that role being filled, from the person ensuring cleanliness of the environment to the surgeon performing high risk surgery. When it is working well, the individuals involved understand their roles, and how they fit into the hospital’s mission of quality care being provided to patients.
The same is true in a law firm. A friendly, caring receptionist helps clients and others feel welcomed. A diligent paralegal ensures that all the necessary records in a case are received. An office manager keeps the day-to-day operations working smoothly, and has a finger on the pulse of personnel issues. Secretaries keep the work flowing. And, of course, attorneys have multiple roles within a law firm environment: bringing in work, handling cases, interacting with personnel, and much more. Clarity of one’s role in a law firm helps the firm thrive, and understanding others’ roles help each person know to whom to turn when they become involved in an issue that is best handled by someone else.
It’s likely that the lessons learned from a hospital environment can be applied to many others. As for their application to law firms, a firm that treats clients and others humanely, sincerely and compassionately, will have strong and enduring attorney/client relationships. The same, of course, is true for a firm’s treatment of those who work within the environment. In addition, the work environment and work product is greatly enhanced when each member has a clear sense of the firm’s overall mission, how each member fits within and contributes to that mission, and the nature of each person’s specific role. Although the medical profession and legal profession often appear at odds, in truth they both have a common mission of serving those in need, and both have much to learn from and share with each other, including how to create a healthy and productive work environment.