Today is my 47th Birthday. How did another year pass so quickly? As I sit behind my desk at work, I want to reflect for a moment on where I am and where I am going.
I recently finished reading Walter Issacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. My father recommended it for me as something I had to read. As usual, he was right. It detailed the life of an extraordinary man with incomparable vision and creativity that seem tortured by extraordinary demons both professionally and personally.
Steve Jobs changed the world and deserves to be recognized in the same breath as Da Vinci and Einstein. But according to the book, he and his family suffered a lot on his journey. Ultimately, he died a slow and painful death with many amazing projects pending and undiscovered.
I took many things from the story of his life that both impressed and resonated in me as a lawyer, business owner, father, husband and son. 1- the need to balance my vision for helping people with my law firm’s profit; and 2- the importance of collaborating with others and recognizing their contribution to my success.
Jobs passion and vision was unwavering. He had particular ideas on how his products should look, feel and function. And he stuck by his beliefs when virtually the entire computer-business world disagreed. At one point, he even was fired from his job as CEO of Apple, the company he co-created. Most importantly, occasionally and reluctantly he conceded his vision for perfection in order to make his business profitable. With these profits, Apple continued to innovate and grow.
As a Miami personal injury attorney, I sure can relate. Every day, I meet clients, hear the facts of their cases and research the law. I ask respected colleagues and experts for their opinions of the case and ultimately, have to rely on my own instincts as to whether or not to go to trial or when and how much to settle a case for. If I am wrong it can be very costly for my clients and for the members of my team, our vendors and their families who depend upon our success to survive.
I learned this year, for the very first time in my career that I had to prioritize case evaluations and selections on whether or not they made sense for my law firm as a business. Not too many lawyers like to admit and certainly not publicly that the practice of law really is a business. This is especially true in personal injury law, because lawyers take cases on a contingency fee basis, fund the case costs up-front and share in the results with their clients. If I take too many cases on, based upon my personal principles of justice, without regard to the return on investment for my law firm; I could go bankrupt. Because personal injury contingency lawyers not only have to win, they have to collect, in order to get paid.
I have been suing Florida doctors and hospitals for injuring and sometimes killing patients for over twenty years. When I started, in 1991 one of my very first cases involved a little boy who had a botched circumcision at Jackson Memorial Hospital. In those days, it was rare that a doctor could or would practice in Florida without medical malpractice insurance. Today, most doctors “go bare” with the hope that it will discourage any lawyer from taking a case against them.
Sadly, Florida law permits doctors to practice without malpractice insurance. Buried in §458.320 of the Florida Statutes is a provision that requires doctors to post a sign prominently in the reception area of their office proclaiming that they have decided not to carry medical malpractice insurance. Doctors who decided to do this must pay any judgment up to $100,000 if they do not have hospital privileges or up to $250,000 if they do. This may seem like a lot or even enough, but for most cases of medical mistakes, it barely compensates an injured patient or surviving family.
The real problem in Florida is that few lawyers can afford to take on a complex medical malpractice case against an uninsured doctor. Not because they are afraid they will not win, but because of the uncertainty of collecting once they do. The average medical malpractice case in Florida can cost nearly $100,000 in time and money to get to trial. Experts typically charge thousands of dollars to simply review a case and ten times that to travel and testify at trial.
Because there are so many obstacles and limitations placed on the legal rights of Florida’s injured patients that most medical malpractice cases do not make business sense for patient’s lawyers. Therefore, many injured patients in Florida are unable to obtain legal representation or any compensation for medical mistakes that result in injuries, lost time from work, additional medical expenses, pain and death.
Learning to balance and temper my desire to help those who have been injured by uninsured doctors along with my obligations to run a profitable law firm has been one of the most painful and difficult lessons for me to learn this year.
Understandably, many might question whether they would want to hire a lawyer that thinks of their case as a business investment. In reality you need to hire a Florida lawyer who not only believes in your case but has the means to fund and staff it to a successful conclusion.
Recently Aronfeld Trial Lawyers has begun to co-counsel with Whitfield, Bryson & Mason a national law firm with offices Kentucky, North Carolina and Washington, D.C. on a number of complex cases. I am excited about our new collaboration with these brilliant lawyers and talented paralegals. This alliance allows both firms to continue to provide our clients with the best possible legal representation. Amanda Mkamanga, their spectacular complex litigation paralegal, is already working in Miami on a number of our cases and helped edit this blog.
Jobs was often criticized for taking credit for things that were done by his team. Frequently, I undeservedly get all of the attention for the success of my law firm. But unlike Jobs I want to make sure I publicly acknowledge and thank my entire team for their loyalty, commitment and hard work. I am grateful to Kitty, Brandon, Dom, Gloria, Maria, Manny, David and my dear friend and our newest family member Bob Brown for all of their help in providing our clients legal representation.
Thank you to Elliott and Ellen at Worldwide Reporting Service and to Ian and Tara at Saurian Litigation Support for transcribing and videotaping all of our depositions. And thank you Urs Ebner for keeping our computers running.