The reality of legal services

July 1, 1999
With the new millennium rapidly approaching, it is time to recognize that dentistry is more of a business now than ever before. In almost all businesses, legal issues arise from time to time that need to be addressed by an expert lawyer who can protect you and keep you out of trouble. In today`s modern era of dentistry, practices must surround themselves with expert advisers. This includes accountants, financial-investment advisers, management consultants, and lawyers.

Roger Levin, DDS, MBA

With the new millennium rapidly approaching, it is time to recognize that dentistry is more of a business now than ever before. In almost all businesses, legal issues arise from time to time that need to be addressed by an expert lawyer who can protect you and keep you out of trouble. In today`s modern era of dentistry, practices must surround themselves with expert advisers. This includes accountants, financial-investment advisers, management consultants, and lawyers.

With this in mind, it is essential that you are prepared to contact a lawyer who has dental experience. A lawyer with dental-practice experience will be able to give you sound advice on hiring an associate, creating a partnership, merging a practice, selling a practice, purchasing a practice, or dealing with internal-labor issues.

Every dentist needs a lawyer

You should routinely consult two types of lawyers. The first is a general lawyer, who can act as your "family" attorney on a multitude of issues. Unfortunately, many general attorneys do not have much experience in the area of dental practices. This can lead to bad negotiations and arrangements for certain legal activities, as well as contracts that leave you unprotected in the event of a problem.

Associateships, partnerships, practice valuations, and practice sales or purchases are all very complex legal activities that require extensive legal experience. The development of a legal contract for dental practices must be written carefully with an understanding of the laws and regulations for dental practices.

As has been stated by the Levin Group lawyer for our clients, "It is more important to have a lawyer who is well-versed in dentistry than one who is well-versed in local laws and regulations. It is always possible to have a local attorney review contracts to ensure that they comply with any local legal factors. Otherwise, you may have a contract that complies with local regulation, but does not truly protect the dentist or the practice." Therefore, the second type of lawyer you should be in contact with is one who has experience working with dentists.

For example, your lawyer should have experience in some of the following areas relating to setting up an associateship:

- Employment agreements

- Compensation and benefits

- Restrictive covenants/non-compete clauses

- Production scheduling

- Confidentiality provisions

- Patient protection

- Partnership considerations

Partnerships, valuations, practice-management issues, mergers, and practice sales or purchases all have specific checklists. Each list contains items that have to be covered and well-understood prior to completing the legal aspects of these areas.

How do you choose a lawyer?

Selecting a dental-expert lawyer is based on finding someone who has extensive experience and has been involved in a number of different dental legal arrangements. You can find these individuals by speaking with management consultants, other dentists who have worked with expert dental lawyers, the American Dental Association, or other societies. The key question you want to ask is whether this individual has sufficient experience and understands dentistry, and how long he/she has been involved in dental negotiations and contracts.

As the saying goes: "buyer beware" or "seller beware." If you are not properly represented, you will be at-risk.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA, president and CEO of The Levin Group and the Levin Advanced Learning Institute, provides worldwide leadership in dental management and marketing for general dentists, specialists, and dental-products companies.

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