If you are a physician looking for an alternative to clinical practice, there are two key objectives you should keep in mind. First, you have made a significant investment of both time and money in order to get your medical degree, therefore any new career should leverage the skills that you already have. Second, many alternative careers do not offer the same financial rewards as being a doctor, and therefore it is important to select one that does.
One new career that can meet both of these criteria is that of a medical malpractice lawyer. While the primary focus of malpractice lawyers is on litigation, a keen understanding of the medical facts in each case is highly advantageous. While you will still rely on the testimony of independent medical experts, having a medical background will help you to formulate the best way to represent your clients, and increase the number of cases that you win.
As with any field of law, winning cases as a medical malpractice lawyer is your overriding objective. However, it is particularly important in this field, since most medical malpractice attorneys work on a contingency fee basis – they do not receive any upfront payment from the clients, but instead take a percentage of any damages that are awarded by the court. This can range between approximately 30% and 45% of the amount awarded. Because of this, it is also essential that malpractice lawyers are able to assess the merits of individual cases, so that they only take on those that have a high likelihood of success. Again, having a medical background in addition to a legal background can help with this.
In terms of the award amounts, these can be quite high, as they cover all the economic loss suffered by the victim. In addition, many states allow punitive damages in medical malpractice cases, although they may cap this amount. For example, in Texas, the amount of punitive damages is limited to $250,000. The number of potential cases available to a medical malpractice lawyer is also high – for example, the National Institutes of Health report that medical malpractice leads to well over 200,000 preventable deaths in the United States each year.
Becoming a medical malpractice attorney may also allow you to diversify into other areas of personal injury law. For instance, Textrial, a personal injury and accident attorney located in Dallas, is involved in litigation in no less than 20 different areas. These include such diverse sectors as workplace injuries, fire injuries, foodborne illnesses and car accidents.
Becoming a medical malpractice lawyer normally requires seven years of post-high-school education. However, for a qualified physician, this can be reduced to three years, since part of the requirement is for a four-year undergraduate degree – which does not have to be in pre-law. Instead, you will have to spend three years at an ABA-accredited law school, and then take the state bar examination. You may also want to acquire board certification from a body such as the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys, although this is not a requirement.