I’m Kate Dewhirst.

I’m a lawyer who writes about legal issues affecting healthcare in Canada

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My biggest competitive advantage as a lawyer is …

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My biggest competitive advantage as a lawyer is … visiting my clients in person.

I know. I know. This is going to be controversial.

Some lawyers are going to rail against this idea because they never see their clients in person and that works beautifully for them. They have a digital practice and it is not necessary to meet people in person.

But my biggest competitive advantage really comes down to the thousands of kilometres I have put on the road, in the air, on boats, on trains and on foot to visit my healthcare clients in person over the last 20 years.

I just spent 2 full days traveling to Manitouwadge, Ontario and back to Toronto to deliver legal training for healthcare providers.

This calendar year alone, I have been to Northern Ontario 11 times.

I know what it’s like there in the dead of winter.

I know how to plug in my car.

I know what happens if you DON’T plug in your car. (NOTE: you have the embarrassing experience of having to call the CEO to come pick you up so you don’t miss the meeting – which she did graciously)

I know what the shlep is like for patients to get basic diagnostic imaging and that it is often not available in their local community.

I know what’s up on the walls in hospitals, medical clinics and community and mental health centres. I have read every poster. I see the reading materials available for patients and their caregivers waiting for their appointments.

I navigate the buildings and parking lots like every patient, caregiver and visitor experiences.

I have made another 13 trips this year to different cities, towns and municipalities across Ontario. I know where healthcare staff have their morning coffee.  I see how they communicate with their patients. I eat lunch with front line staff and I hear what they are worried about and what jokes they tell each other. I know what they listen to on the radio.

I go to health industry conferences. I know what health leaders and clinicians are learning about completely unrelated to the law.  I pick up the lingo. I hear about their opportunities and their worries for the reorganization of the health sector.

Because of these experiences, when there is a legal issue on which health leaders need advice – I know the context of their questions. I know what questions they may not be asking me, but should. I know how to think about possible solutions that address their mission, vision and values.  I know what others are doing that has worked and what has gone horribly wrong elsewhere.

My father was a police officer and one big lesson I learned from him as a skilled investigator is to “visit the scene” myself.

The knowledge gained by physical presence cannot be replicated through secondhand reports.

Witnesses share what is relevant from their own perspective. That intel is vital.  So too is witnessing it myself when I can.

I come at data collection about how healthcare organizations work as an invested outsider.  I see the work from an outsider’s perspective. It’s not the same as a patient’s perspective or a caregiver’s perspective – and it is not the same as a staff member’s perspective. It’s my perspective.

Many of you will have listened to Stuart McLean and The Vinyl Cafe on CBC Radio.  I loved listening to him because I felt he truly knew us as Canadians through visiting actual Canadians. I loved when he would describe the town he was in and the local lore.  I loved hearing the love stories, the funny antics and the tragic losses he observed through his travels. He crossed this country countless times.  He was a better journalist and broadcaster because of his firsthand knowledge of our country and our people.

As a lawyer, I truly believe I become better at my work every time I meet my clients in their own environment.

Technology has been an incredible enabler to us in the legal industry.  But don’t forget to visit the scene.  Go see what your clients feel and do for yourself.  You’ll be able to find new solutions for them when you see, taste, smell, hear, touch and experience the same things they do.   You’ll be an even better lawyer for it. I promise.

P.S.: If you want to be coached on how to scale your legal practice beyond billable hours and how to have more fun and impact as a lawyer, join my Law2Life Community.

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Kate Dewhirst Health Law

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My mission is bringing the law to life. I make legal theory understandable, accessible and fun! I’m available and love to work for all organizations in the healthcare sector across Ontario and beyond.

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