Lawyers aren’t the only ones starting to focus on the importance of client relations (as evidenced by the proliferation of blogs like What About Clients and In Search of Perfect Client Service). Peter Salgo, a professor of medicine at Columbia University, has this op-ed piece The Doctor Will See You Now for Seven Minutes in today’s New York Times (3/22/06) where he ponders whether pressure on health care costs has commoditized the medical profession and eroded the “doctor patient” relationship.
Salgo’s article points to little, imperceptible shifts within the profession, such as a young med student referring to a patient as a “55 year old male” rather than a man, reference to patients as “customers” or duration of hospital stays as “through put.” To Salvo, this jargon reduces patients to a business school financial concept or items on an assembly line, rather than humans. Salgo admits that restoring the doctor-patient relationship won’t save money, but that it doesn’t have to, because it can restore compassion and dignity to the medical profession.
As a lawyer, I know that serving clients is important and that clients complain that they don’t get the service they deserve. But maybe the solution isn’t client surveys or enhancing efficiencies or squeezing out every cent we can from clients, but little things like not charging clients every time we talk to them or taking the time to engage them in conversation or showing compassion or empathy for a client in a tough spot. There’s something inherently human about the lawyer-client relationship, and for most of us, it’s that human element that makes the practice of law frustrating at times, but ultimately richly rewarding.