The Lawyer Says Enough

Many of you who know me, whether in person or via social media, know that I complain about people expecting free legal advice. Between you, me, and the fencepost, I’ve actually done quite a bit over the years for the EMS world, whether it’s for personal friends, EMS organizations, EMS publications, or EMS conferences.

This morning, I received a Facebook message from a college EMS faculty member with a very specific legal question that was clearly about an ongoing issue for their institution. When I told them that I did not have an immediate answer and would require research, they began to pout and ask where they could find the answer.

Here’s some reality. First, legal questions don’t always have a simple yes/no answer. As such, they require legal research. Second, legal questions, even seemingly innocent ones, can raise ethical issues. Notably, these issues can be made even more treacherous when you (typically your organization) is already represented by counsel. As I’ve noted in previous blog entries, asking for legal advice has the potential to create an attorney-client relationship. When such a relationship is created, it also creates obligations and responsibilities on me as an attorney that go well above and beyond answering a simple question.

I find it ironic that there are a lot in the EMS world, especially online, who state that volunteer EMS prevents EMS from receiving the compensation it deserves. There may be some validity to this argument, but said argument loses much of its support when EMS folks expect free legal advice. As I stated to today’s offender privately, this is the equivalent of me asking a paramedic to provide me with free transport or treatment — or asking an EMS instructor to provide me with an ACLS class for free. In other words, knowing how to research and how to synthesize the law is how I make my living to pay for my EMS hobby. (Slight sarcasm and exaggeration goes without saying there.)

I’ve heard from several of these types how they’re only asking me as a fellow EMS provider. I call BS on this. Most of these folks know more than a few EMS providers, often who have significantly more EMS experience that I do — whether as an EMS field provider, educator, or manager. What said other “peers” don’t have is a professional degree and license to give legal advice. They’re looking for “a lawyer told me XYZ is the answer.” As I’ve said earlier, that answer carries certain ethical as well as legal ramifications for me — and those aren’t things I’m likely to undertake for free for a Facebook friend I hadn’t talked to in years.

Over the years, I’ve considered some of what I do in the EMS legal realm a form of paying back to the EMS community that has given so much to me. I’ve made a ton of friends over the years, gained a ton of confidence, and occasionally used the knowledge to help others. But the sense of entitlement from others has gone too far.

I’ve given freely of my time and expertise at my own sacrifice for too long. I’ve always been willing to support our EMS community and advance the profession. But freely answering legal questions is not something I can do.

And since this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this — and how it causes ethical issues for me as a legal professional — I’m less likely to be as nice as I have been in the past. To the last person who asked for advice, congrats. You’ve given me the courage and impetus to start saying “no” to much of the EMS world.

If you want legal advice, understand you’re asking an attorney for it. Said professional expertise comes at a price. And that price includes a retainer agreement and payment for said expertise.

Where EMS and education collide

This morning, I read an article with great interest about our local EMS system using a physician assistant who’s also a paramedic to provide enhanced EMS care — both for acute patients and to divert non-acute patients from the emergency room. The truth is that such a program has a ton of merit and would probably benefit a lot of EMS systems. While the funding may not be there, I personally believe that controlling the loss of funds from unreimbursed ambulance transports might be worth the money alone.

But this article illustrates a bigger problem with EMS. Namely, that a paramedic certification leads nowhere, except maybe a paramedic to RN bridge. The truth is that we know a lot of things about emergency medicine — and if you’re a decent provider, a lot of that knowledge carries over into other aspects of medicine. But there’s no recognized mechanism to transfer that knowledge to another discipline. And even if it did transfer over, most people in EMS don’t have the pre-requisites to get into other programs. Me included as my BA was a very studied attempt in avoiding hard science courses at UT because those courses were used to weed out pre-med students.

And the funny thing is that a MD friend of mine said she never uses those courses in her work. The truth is that the health care education field requires the wrong prerequisites. They attract people who do well in science and not necessarily those with the ability to communicate or even those who want to be caregivers. We see the results regularly, especially with physicians, when we see a clinician who can describe lab values to the molecular level but can’t communicate with a patient or their family, let alone show empathy.

We need to address two things as EMS. First, we need to find ways to bring our skillset, clinical knowledge, and life experience into healthcare above and beyond the usual two options of being on the ambulance or being a “tech” in an emergency department. Second, we need to encourage those in health care academia to recognize that alternate pathways to higher education in medical care can and should be recognized. I’d much rather attract clinicians with a proven interest in medical care as well as exposure to medicine than I would people who’ve checked off the right arbitrary coursework and who’ve never seen a sick person, much less talked to one or their family.

The challenge is for us to convince everyone else that an EMS certification brings something to the table when we want to move past working on the ambulance or the emergency department.

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