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Getting a group of doctors into a room with members of a legal profession is not what you’d call a common occurrence. But the University of Richmond School of Law wants to change that. The school is offering a medical malpractice law and litigation course for its law students and local practicing physicians who can earn continuing medical education credits. It’s the first law school course of its kind, and something many law schools are considering in order to bring lawyers and doctors together. The purpose of the course is to examine the intersection of law and medicine in medical malpractice litigation, said Sean Byrne, an instructor at the school who teaches the course. “Lawyers and physicians have a disconnect in the way they view medical malpractice issues,” he said. “The course gives health care professionals insight in the way the law governs their practice, and starts to get them thinking like lawyers a little bit.” The course encourages discussion between law students and health care professionals, said Meg Kamilakis, a third-year law student at the school who took the course last spring when it was first offered. All the students, doctors included, read material from a law and medicine textbook that easily explains issues of duty, negligence and malpractice. Every week, the class has a guest speaker, including plaintiffs’ attorneys and the president of the large insurance company, The Doctors Co. At the end of the course, the law students and the physicians put on a mock medical malpractice trial, with many doctors choosing to play lawyers. Byrne worked together with Porcher Taylor, head of the school’s paralegal studies program, to create the concept underlying the class, which will be offered again in the spring of 2007. Since news of the course spread, many other law schools contacted Byrne for information on starting similar courses around the country. Dr. Clark Watts, adjunct professor at University of Texas School of Law in Austin, hopes to get a similar program instituted in the next year, but it would be tailored more to Texas physicians. “In Texas, we have had a lot of success with tort reform, so pressure on physicians is lessening,” he said. “But we would use the same outline and process as a guideline and focus on the interaction between the two professions.” Similarly, Mary Coombs, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law, thinks in a few years she would like to teach a similar course. “Doctors and lawyers often have a corrosive relationship and that is not beneficial to patients or clients,” she said. Dr. Nathan Rabhan, a Richmond, Va., obstetrician and gynecologist, participated in the course and was able to have a better understanding of the job of a lawyer. But there is a natural competition between the two fields, he said. “If you’re a physician, you feel threatened by malpractice, so you are going to shoot the messenger-the lawyer,” he said. “And they say there are a lot of frivolous lawsuits and not to take it personally, but you feel that it is personal.” But through the class, Rabhan said he could see that the law is two-sided and that both sides need representation. The course just didn’t give doctors a legal perspective, it also enabled law students to be more understanding of how doctors are affected by medical malpractice and increased insurance rates, said Kamilakis. “I don’t think many lawyers know how much med-mal issues affect doctors’ practice decisions and their morale,” she said.

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