The Primary Care Approach Applied to Legal Services
A century ago it was feasible for a physician to have sufficient mastery over medical treatments and remedies so that he or she could offer treatment to patients no matter what the diagnosis. As the range of treatment approaches, surgical techniques, and the sheer volume of medical information readily available has mushroomed, it has become virtually impossible to master even a small fraction of these approaches. Thus, the primary care physician has evolved as the point person guiding patients to appropriate specialists as warranted. The primary care physician offers more personalized diagnostic services as a means of ensuring that the patient is pointed in the proper direction. Moreover, the primary care physician has at his or her disposal a network of specialists to whom patients can be referred as situations dictate.
In similar ways, the practice of law has evolved and changed in so many ways over the past century to the point at which it is simply not possible for one attorney to amass significant expertise in more than one or two substantive areas. But, unlike medicine, if an attorney holds himself out to have expertise in an area in which he or she is actually lacking, the end result is unlikely to be serious physical harm to the client. So, especially in the case of solo practitioners, an attorney is often likely to provide services to clients in areas where bona fide experience is lacking or, probably more common, completely overlook more efficacious solutions because of his or her pigeon-holing the client into substantive areas in which he or she feels most comfortable.
The time has come for the legal system to embrace a “primary care” model of legal services. This model is the foundation of holistic lawyering. Instead of holding him or herself out as an attorney in specific practice area(s), the holistic lawyer places a primary emphasis on each client as an individual with unique life situations. The holistic lawyer approaches the attorney-client relationship with no preconceived notions as to the substantive practice area(s) that a client’s problems might neatly slot into. Instead, the holistic lawyer brings to the table a broad general knowledge of potential solutions drawing on a panoply of practice areas and professional experience, and a network of specialists in the community to whom the client may be referred as situations dictate.
The holistic lawyer has as his or her primary strength the ability to help individuals come to understand their legal problems in the context of their past learned conditioning and future intentions so that a optimal treatment approach can be crafted. The holistic lawyer can then reach out to specialists in the community in a variety of practice areas to ensure that the agreed-upon objectives are pursued in a most competent and cost-effective manner. Not only will these holistic approach lead to better legal solutions, but the client will come away with a life improved and not negatively colored by his or her involvement with attorneys and the legal system.