There’s an old saying among trial lawyers that ‘Tough cases make great lawyers.’ It came to mind during a recent visit to the doctor.
My doctor – let’s call him Doug- walked into his office where my wife and I were already seated. His silver hair and crisp white lab coat were straight out of a daytime soap. Doug got right to it. ‘Hi guys,’ he began, ‘the biopsy results confirm Mark has prostate cancer. Let’s go through what that means here, analyze some key data points, and review the options. I know you have undoubtedly read up on this and have lots of questions. Please let me give you the full picture and afterward ask anything you like. Then we can discuss my recommendations. I encourage you to get a second or third opinion and will gladly provide some names. We should agree on our course of action within the next ten days or so. I’m confident Mark will be fine.’
I was impressed by Doug’s opening statement. It was direct, matter-of-fact, and delivered in a calm, confident manner. Doug maintained steady eye contact, and leaned in when he said, ‘I’m confident Mark will be fine.’ It reminded me of when I delivered opening statements at trial. Each one of the nearly one hundred I had given began the same way: ‘This is a case about (one-word fill-in-the-blank).’ I would maintain eye contact with the jury or judge and speak in a calm, assertive voice. The parallels to my experience made me comfortable with Doug and got me past the word ‘cancer.’ I realized that tough cases make great doctors, too.
Doug took us through the biopsy and pathology report, a battery of test results, and his clinical observations. There was lots of information to process, and Doug cogently synthesized everything, ensuring with his calm gaze that we were following the narrative. Twenty minutes into his overview of my disease, we had a clear picture. Doug covered all thirteen questions I had prepared in advance–another good sign. He reviewed treatment options from a statistical perspective, laying out pros and cons. Then he applied each one to my case–reviewing its impact on my lifestyle. This was similar to when, as I lawyer, I would fashion a case strategy based on client objectives.
We tentatively agreed to surgery, in part because Doug had performed 2,400 procedures without any significant complications. ‘Of course with surgery, you never know exactly what you’ll be dealing with until you get into it. So no guarantees,’ he said. Then he added, ‘I’m confident of a good result here.’ Déjà vu set in again; Doug could have been me speaking with a client shortly before the start of a trial. It was comforting.